Saturday, 20 April 2013

Rolf Harris?

I don't really feel shocked when I hear about cases of sexual abuse in the church.  I feel deeply sad for the victims and angry at the perpetrators, and I feel betrayed when church leaders protect the abusers at the expense of their victims.  But I don't really feel shocked.  I've worked in child protection.  I know the statistics.  It is pretty much inevitable that somewhere in any big insitution there will be abuse going on.  When I read about it, my expectations are merely proved correct.

Rolf Harris is another matter altogether.  With Rolf it's personal.  He was the first singer I ever loved.  Before I discovered pop music, he was my number one musical taste.  I had some of his records, and watched his show on TV. 

His songs were also the first I ever performed in public.  I sang one of them at a scout concert and our leader (who despite the stereotypes was not the least bit abusive) was so taken with it that he got me to perform at various functions over the next couple of years.  I didn't do the obvious songs - "Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport", or "Court of King Caractacus" - and I certainly couldn't don the fake extra leg for "Jake the Peg".  Instead I sang songs from an obscure collection of amusing conservation-themed songs my family owned, called Rolf Harris Sings for Survival.  My scoutmaster's favourite was called "The Kangaroo Catchers" which doesn't even appear to have made it onto the internet.

The thing about Rolf is that he's never been a particularly gifted singer, but he was (and still is) a fabulous family entertainer.  He never does anything you'd worry about taking your kids to, but the adults have a great time as well.  He sings funny songs, tells corny jokes, plays odd instruments like the wobble board, and does those wonderful join-the-dots paintings where it seems like he's painting nothing and then the last few brush strokes reveal an illustration of the song he's singing or the story he's telling.  In a more serious vein, he was responsible for introducing Australian folk songs to a global audience in much the same way Pete Seeger did for the American tradition, although without the left-wing politics.

Along with all this is a down to earth personality which makes you feel like he's your funny uncle rather than a superstar entertainer.  Residents of small Australian towns where he has performed confirm this is not a stage act - he really is that nice.

How could this harmless and much loved entertainer - and my childhood hero - be guilty of child sexual abuse?  Friends and neighbours clearly share the widespread disbelief.  News reports are full of this kind of stuff.

A furious neighbour shouted to the cameras "he didn't do it. And if he did it doesn't matter." Another said "he's done nothing wrong and you should be ashamed of yourselves".  One visitor came to drop a note in Harris' letterbox and said afterwards: "he's a wonderful man and it's a load of baloney."

It's quite possible they're right.  He may be falsely accused.  I certainly hope so.  I'd rather not have to reassess the meaning of my childhood passions at the age of 51.

But it's also possible they're wrong, and if so it certainly does matter.  People who abuse children are not a species apart.  Jimmy Savile may look like an abuser from head to toe with his wild hair, odd glasses and weird persona, but don't let this lull you into thinking you would recognise an abuser if you met one.  Abusers can be nice, everyday people.  They can do lots of good.  Their public adulation can be well earned.

Seeing this adulation just makes their victims' grief that much more bitter.  Abuse victims are entitled to have their pain vindicated and its authors brought to account

If the price I have to bear for that is to have my own childhood tainted in a small way, then so be it.

1 comment:

Bernadette said...

Well said Ted. I share your shock, and hope it's proved false. But if he is an abuser, I hope he is prosecuted and incarcerated.