Rolf Harris and that joke


There was an interesting moment on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster’s ‘Good Morning Ulster” this morning.  Noel Thompson played a clip of a live 1969 performance by Rolf Harris in front of a giggling audience, which Noel said hinted at the darker side of the man. The clip consisted of Rolf using two voices, one deep and melodramatic, the other squeaky and scared. It went  

Deep voice: Take them off

Squeaky voice: No, no

Deep voice: Take them off, I say.

Squeaky voice: But I’m only thirteen

Deep voice:  This is no time to start getting superstitious.

Now. That was 1969. Exactly ten years earlier, as a teenager,  I heard that same joke. It was one of a series that we ‘A’ Level students loved telling each other. I’m not sure where they originated.

Deep voice: To the woods.

Squeaky voice: No, no.

Deep voice: To the woods, I say.

Squeaky voice: No no – I’ll tell the vicar.

Deep voice: I AM the vicar!

Laugh?  Sure we could hardly stand up. My point in mentioning these is that different ages think differently about the same thing. Back then those jokes could be and were told, again and again. Today, no performer would use material like that, with its suggestion of under-age child sexual abuse. Just as, back in the 1950s, Vladimir Nabakov could write Lolita, and have it hailed as a masterpiece, and the film based on it  was also widely acclaimed. Not now. No chance. We think differently about under-age girls having sex with older men.

Back in the 1960s, every pop group had its screaming groupies, as one of my guest bloggers pointed out recently. My dictionary defines a groupie as

“a young woman who regularly follows a pop group or other celebrity, especially in the hope of having a sexual relationship with them. E.g., He pulled a different groupie every night.”

The only thing I’d question about that definition is the word ‘woman’. In most cases groupies were girls in their teens, often early-to-mid-teens. And yes, it was accepted that rock stars probably were pulling a different one every night and you may be sure no birth certificates were asked for.

I was discussing this point via email with my old friend and former classmate John Patton ( who also writes a blog and displays some stunning photography at ): to what extent do we accept that standards and ways of thinking in the past were different and shouldn’t be judged by the moral criteria of today? Were all slave-owners evil? Were those who denied women the vote consciously sexist?  Do we say that taking sexual advantage of under-age girls, be they willing or not, is unacceptable practice regardless of the time in which they lived?  I tend to lean towards the belief that people need to be judged by the standards of  the time, not our present-day standards; but then I find myself wondering if there aren’t things that are innately wrong and that people should held responsible for their actions,  regardless of the age or mores then prevalent.


19 Responses to Rolf Harris and that joke

  1. Paul Devlin July 1, 2014 at 10:43 am #

    The police,that fitted up the Guildford 4, Birmingham 6 et al, were doing the right thing by the standards of the time and this time as well. Otherwise, why have they never been investigated or charged? Back then, we were told that the passage of time made charges impossible. it must also make it impossible for a journalist just to go and doorstep the police who tortured and framed these people, for it has never happened, unlike the half-dead Freddie Starr. Apparently feeling up a girl nearly 40 years ago can be judged by the mores of our time but torture, framing and even extrajudicial killings? Well, that was all just a bit of a lark. Nothing to see here, now move along, sonny!

  2. Jude Collins July 1, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    I hate when I expose my ignorance, Paul – but is that true? No cop has been questioned/demoted/sacked for any of these incident? Given the concession that innocent people spent years in jail, it’s breath-taking. But then I suppose you’d maybe have to look at the judges involved and that would never do.

  3. Norma wilson July 1, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    Good Morning Jude,

    I thought I lived, as a child, through the most innocent time ever. I had the most protective parents.
    No going to an uncles house, if the aunt was not present. Sitting properly and adjusting your clothing, ( my parents were not square they did allow me to keep up with the fashion ie mini skirts, hot pants) .
    I can hear my Fathers voice now when I went out, “no dark secluded corners, head for home when the corporation lamps come on”.
    Rolfe Harris has floored me, if I was a gambling woman, I would have lost heavily.
    I believed, my little world was miles away from anything like that.
    In 1966 my parents had twins, I did not even know my Mother was pregnant, and I can recall, in that innocent time, calling my Father to show him the latest trick our dog could do. I won’t go into details, but the poor dog nearly got it’s back broke, and I never knew why?
    When I use to sing along to certain songs, like Manfred Man, Rolling Stones or even the Kinks, I would not know the meaning or the context of the song.
    I am deeply let down by RH who can you trust nowadays.


    • Jude Collins July 1, 2014 at 11:02 am #

      I would have lost heavily also, Norma – can you think of a nicer guy, all those pics – ‘Can you tell
      what it is yet?’ Now we know.

  4. RJC July 1, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    I think I may be a little younger than some on here, but the story from my youth which sticks in the mind is the old Bill Wyman/Mandy Smith thing. ‘They started going out when she was 13!’ people said, but I don’t recall there being any ‘Burn the Paedo!’ type media response. If anything, the public reaction was more of the “Ooh, isn’t he a rogue!” variety. By all accounts, he did sleep with Mandy Smith when she was 14 but there doesn’t seem to be any retroactive justice coming Bill Wyman’s way.

    There are tales told of other Stones (Mick ‘liked ’em young’ apparently) and Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page and Lori Maddox) – some have argued that these guys are too big, wealthy and powerful for the authorities to be able to touch them. Far easier to go after the Gary Glitters, Jonathan Kings and Rolf Harrises instead. Although didn’t Rolf Harris paint the Queen’s portrait not so long ago? How the mighty fall.

    It is perhaps worth remembering how young the bands were themselves in those days. There is perhaps a moral (legal?) argument to be made regarding a 21 year old sleeping with a 15 year old, but I won’t be making it here. Seeing men in their 70s up in court makes these sort of crimes seem worse, I think.

    The ‘Sir’ Jimmy Savile (good company you’re in there, Tony) thing is the most interesting of the lot though. It doesn’t help to get all tinfoil hat conspiracist about it, but can it really be true that he spent Christmas after Christmas with our good friend Margaret Thatcher? That he mediated between Charles and Diana as their marriage started to fail? Yet now his name is synonymous only with evil.

    The Daily Mail et al are quick to condemn the man now, but why didn’t these brave hacks expose Savile when it mattered, when he was alive? It seems that abuse, cover-up and miscarriages of justice can be admitted, but only on condition that they are confined to the past. That sort of thing couldn’t go on now. Could it?

    • Jude Collins July 1, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

      Excellent response, RJC – I like the complexity you’ve highlighted. Particularly 15 year old girl and 21 year old guy vs 15 year old girl and …30/40/50/60 year old guy. Two things: isn’t this deciding that something is ok or not ok on grounds of age – to wit, ageism? And then there’s the question of compliance. Clearly a 7/8 year old can’t really be said to comply, but a 15 year old can. And groupies were/are by definition willing participants.

  5. paddykool July 1, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

    Hi Jude..
    . Just to put things into some perspective, the Rolling Stones were and still are a very popular blues and rock group .This was on their highly acclaimed album “Beggars Banquet” which sold by the shipload. There is another more provocative live version on “Get your Ya Yas Out” in 1969 which changes the girl’s age down to thirteen. I wouldn’t want to make judgements which I think are of a time and a place and ther are arguments about compliance and even willingness of sexual partners that needs to be dealt with. There are also arguments as to whether a girl or a boy of a certain age are able to make proper judgements , even though, as Norma mentions, some are more “innocent” at a certain age than others…anyway , just remember , that at least one of these “Glimmer Twins …Wee Mick and Keef” is now Sir Michael, a knight of the Realm…. Good blues tune though! Here are the lyrics
    “Stray Cat Blues”
    (M. Jagger/K. Richards)
    I hear the click-clack of your feet on the stairs
    I know you’re no scare-eyed honey.
    There’ll be a feast if you just come upstairs
    But it’s no hanging matter
    It’s no capital crime
    I can see that you’re fifteen years old
    No I don’t want your I.D.
    And I can see that you’re so far from home
    But it’s no hanging matter
    It’s no capital crime
    Oh yeah, you’re a strange stray cat
    Oh yeah, don’tcha scratch like that
    Oh yeah, you’re a strange stray cat
    I bet, bet your mama don’t know you scream like that
    I bet your mother don’t know you can spit like that.
    You look so weird and you’re so far from home
    But you don’t really miss your mother
    Don’t look so scared I’m no mad-brained bear
    But it’s no hanging matter
    It’s no capital crime
    Oh, yeah
    I bet your mama don’t know that you scatch like that
    I bet she don’t know you can bite like that.
    You say you got a friend, that she’s wilder than you
    Why don’t you bring her upstairs
    If she’s so wild then she can join in too
    It’s no hanging matter
    It’s no capital crime
    Oh yeah, you’re a strange stray cat
    Oh yeah, don’tcha scratch like that

    I suppose you really have to hear it, though….and then ask yourself whether the singer is in “character”…like the old slaver in “Brown Sugar” or whether it’s just Mick and Keith reporting facts from the frontlines.

    • Jude Collins July 1, 2014 at 2:04 pm #

      Jeez – brilliant, PK. How come the cops aren’t knocking on Mick’s door asking questions? I’m beginning to think two things: one, prosecutions are markedly selective; and two, just as the Catholic Church taught us that essentially sex was The Sin, today our lay priests are busy preaching that with Catholic priests / celebs, there is one sin and that’s Sex. (Thinks: do pop singers ever do anything bad aside from sex? Or are they too tired to??)

  6. paddykool July 1, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

    Jude :
    Y’know , I sometimes think it depends on the perceived audience and in some cases , how the public feels it’s been somehow fooled by their celebrity/rockstar/film star. It’s like this , Mick, Keef and the assorted Stones were painted in the media as rocknroll hoodlums of a sort.The press gave them that public persona…just like the press initially pretended that the Beatles were all neat and cuddly.

    The press makes a cartoon for public consumption…a label. The Stones were already seen as “bad boys” so there is no surprise when Mick , Keef, Bill Wyman and Brian Jones screw groupies and take drugs…it’s what the public basically expects of them.

    When old baco-foiled pantomime, glam buffoon Gary Glitter [ who actually is a bright man!] breaks the mould they’ve made for him , there is an over -reaction to anything he does .He , after all, was a genuine “teenie” pop star…not a serious “blues rock star” of the bacchanalian ilk of the Stones. They expected him to keep his trousers on. He was in the wrong box ! That’s why Bill Wyman gets away with it .He was the older Stone who slept with more females than any other Stone.He was like a child in a sweetie shop.. Mick and Keef were more choosy. Bill was known as the old roue anyway.
    rolf Harris let all the kiddies down.That’s the line.He was a cuddly family entertainer rather than an “artiste”…He let the nation down.As you know already Savile is one of the undead . They are now waiting with the silver stake for his first arising..

  7. Norma wilson July 1, 2014 at 6:11 pm #


    You are so full of wisdom, you know everything about everything.
    I am glad I was not a groupie, I have my Father to thank, you know the little cloud, the bubble, in the comics, well anytime I ever came near to experimenting, his face would appear.
    My Father was the sort of man who asked questions, after the reprimand. STRICT.
    Did you know the Stones stayed at the old Woodbourne Hotel. They have footage of them walking down the Stewartstown Road.

  8. paddykool July 1, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    Hi Norma : Maybe I should start my very own cult, eh? i’m afraid I have no super-powers to speak of. Your dad sounds like a lot of parents back then. They had been brought up in a different age entirely.. That’s a good one about the Stones. I ‘ve a whole film of them somewhere where they are on their Irish tour. It’s hard to believe it’s the same world at all.

  9. Jude Collins July 1, 2014 at 7:01 pm #

    Beware potential groupies, PK ….

    • paddykool July 1, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

      Glad you’re watching my back ,Jude!!

  10. dedeideoprofundis July 1, 2014 at 9:16 pm #

    I think the thing with Groupies was that they were making the running, the old men were just lapping it up.

  11. Anthony Miller July 2, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

    The thing is the main charges against him are credible … but some of the others on the charge sheet…. That he was at an event at a community centre in 1969 that no one can prove ever happened despite extensive searches through the papers. That he assulted someone in 1975 when they were 14 but no it was in 1978 and they were actually 17. I think they should have to narrow the timewindow down a bit more than that… if they say it was on a particular date he might be able to find an alibi … but how can you find an alibi for a three year time period? How do they get away with all those bad character witnesses? Surely if their evidence doesn’t relate to the indictment it is prejudicial? The whole thing is a farce

    And the worst of it is he probably did abuse his daughter’s friend … but the whole concept of corroboration by volume has serious flaws …particularly when you openly advertise for complainants as the police have been. Others investigated by Yewtree have got off but only in the case of Dave Lee Travis and Bill Roache because evidence came to light that showed they couldn’t have been where people claimed they were on the dates given. Widen the timewindow and it’s got miscarriage of justice written all over it. Rolf may have been about noncing … but someone innocent is going to go down if they carry on like this.

  12. Marianne July 2, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

    In answer to your original query about whether we should make allowances for the mores of an earlier era: I’d say yes but only to a limited extent. Slavery must always have been wrong because of the monstrous human suffering it caused, but it’s true that it wasn’t always thought to be wrong.

    One problem with cultural or historical relativism is this. If we only judge the past on its own terms, does that mean we must think people like the abolitionists or the suffragettes were wrong because they were insensitive to the ethos of the day? That would make progress impossible.

    Mark Williams-Thomas would think I was being too soft in making even limited allowances. He would say that the age of consent was the same as it is now.

    As for Rolf, I accept intellectually that the jury probably got it right, but on a visceral level I just can’t believe it! I didn’t like his art or music, which were crimes against good taste, but I did think he was a warm and kind person.

    You have to think “What! Dear old Rolf!” This is someone who was reduced to tears if a puppy sprained its paw!

    For some of us, it is as if someone had died. But in an eerie way, it’s even worse than that. If the jury’s got it right, the person we are mourning never really existed. The persona was just an act. It’s as if we’re all victims.

    Russell Brand had it right in his offbeat but excellent video. We feel that reality is not what we thought it was, and we stand on infirm ground. For if Rolf can’t be trusted, who can be?

    Brand went on to say that we can take no satisfaction from this. Few of us could take any satisfaction in seeing Rolf go to jail at 84, knowing he will very likely die there. It’s not as if it was Saddam Hussein whose evil was manifest.

  13. Mark July 2, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

    Whilst I don’t think it is necessarily ok for a young man to take advantage of a willing younger woman, the wrong age of consent… Saville and Harris haven’t been judged on the change in the perceived standards of that behaviour.

    This whole debate is being framed in terms of the shift in perceptions on the acceptability of certain age differences. The truth is, the pair of them are being judged on the crime of forcing themselves on unwilling individuals. That surely moves their behaviour into a whole different debate?

  14. wolfe tone July 6, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    I see the british regime are being accused of another cover up involving a paedophile network operating in the corridors of power in Britain. I am sure its another conspiracy theory that will be debunked in time; ). Although strangely the denials so far sound familiarly much like the denials fired out when those other conspiracy theories first surfaced eg bloody sunday,collusion,birmingham 6/guildford 4,hillsborough and Iraq.
    It would indeed be truly shocking if it emerged that the people who were involved in the above cover ups turned out to be involved in even more despicable deeds, wouldnt it? In fact if the allegations turn out to be true it would even dwarf the scandals the catholic church were involved in.
    Mind you it probably isnt true because i have just seen Leon Brittans close friend and former advisor to the EU Trade Commisioner, David mellor and Nick clegg attempting to downplay a cover up.mmmmmmmm. Say it isnt so william fay say it isnt so.

  15. Alice Jones December 4, 2016 at 7:36 pm #

    I was a teenager in the mid-1970s and it was commonplace for the boys at school to pounce on unsuspecting girls in the cloakrooms and try and put their hands in their pants. When I got a part time Saturday job, the bosses son was known to try and do the same. I was given a lift home from work by her husband one day (older than my dad) and he tried to kiss me. Yuck! When I went to uni in the 1980s I worked as a barmaid and men touching you up was the norm.

    Needless to say, I became a feminist. We needed to change the acceptance of such behaviour and far too much of what happens now is an expensive waste of time.