The day I met Rolf Harris

Dr Brian Edwards
Rolf Harris

If you browsed hrough all my posts, you’d find a disproportionate number devoted to the author’s intemperate outbursts on the abysmal quality of radio and television interviewing in Godzone today.

In particular you’d find him railing against the current fashion for overly aggressive, highly interruptive and plain-bloody-rude cross-examination of public figures by self-important, snotty-nosed journalists whose only regret is that the rack, the bastinado and the iron maiden are no longer considered acceptable methods of getting confessions out of politicians, pilferers of the public purse and other worthless riff-raff.

Think Hosking, Espiner, Wilson, Dann, Gower, sadly now joined by the once pleasant and highly professional Lisa Owen. What they all have in common is the belief  that it is unacceptable for an interviewee to carry on talking while they are interrupting.

But hold on a minute, Edwards, isn’t this a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black? There were no aggressive interviews on radio or the telly in this neck of the woods until you came along. You started it before most of us were born.

I admit it. But really my interviews on Gallery were models of polite restraint, rarely interruptive, never rude and, by today’s standards, probably deadly dull. It was only by comparison with what had gone before that they seemed probing or aggressive.

My interview with Rolf Harris in1970 was a curious exception. I have no very clear memory of exactly what I asked him, except for  a question which went  something like this: ‘Mr Harris, on your TV show you tell stories, sing funny and sometimes rather sentimental songs,  play the wobble board and paint lightning sketches and cartoons.  Aren’t you really just a jack of all trades and a master of none?’

Harris’s current troubles brought that interview to mind along with something that at the time I found slightly odd and have never forgotten. I’d popped into the make-up room to have  a word with him before the interview. He was alone and browsing through a magazine or tabloid newspaper which appeared to have ‘pin-up-girl’ photos on several pages. What I found odd was not that Harris was looking at these, by today’s standards, relatively tame photos, but that he continued to look at them throughout our brief conversation, turning and sometimes inverting the page.

Whether this somewhat insulting behaviour affected the tone of my subsequent interview I can’t say. But the public and press were vocal in their disapproval of my rudeness to this highly talented and much-loved television icon and in particular to the suggestion that he was a jack of all trades and a master of none. Their disapproval was deserved. The question was gratuitous and its thesis probably false.

Harris’s failings would turn out to be failings of character rather than of talent. Whether, as we chatted in the make-up room, I was unwittingly privy to one expression of those failings, I have no idea. The much vaunted ‘benefit of hindsight’ can sometimes lead you down the garden path.

Media trainer and commentator Dr Brian Edwards posts at Brian Edwards Media.

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