MUCH modern nonsense has been written about Rolf Harris’ role in elevating Australia’s reputation in the world of entertainment and how he was a national treasure before “The Fall”.
Truth is, when he was gathering his peculiar form of fame in the 1960s, he was not much more than an embarrassing curiosity to an Australian generation in search of something approaching cool.
His unchallenging, cloying joviality was mostly popular with parents born even before him, which didn’t help his cause.
He wore a chin-beard from the vanished beatnik era, which didn’t improve things.
He had moved from Perth to England in 1952, aged 22.
He turned his energy to exploiting his short Australian heritage into a British music-hall caricature of itself. Some national treasure!
His big song, Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport, set back the hope of Australian cool about half a century, even though The Beatles sang backing vocals to it during a 1963 concert.
Tie Me Kangaroo Down was an unlikely blend of comical patter pretending to be from the Australian bush, and calypso, music with roots in the Afro-Caribbean population of Trinidad and had morphed into lounge entertainment for the terminally middle-aged.
“Keep me cockatoo cool, Curl” was a humorous enough line, and “Mind me platypus duck, Bill” was clever.
But even in the early ’60s, plenty of us bridled at “Let me Abos go loose, Lou; They’re of no further use, Lou”. The verse was, unsurprisingly, deleted some years later, but Harris didn’t express regret for writing it for another 40 years.
Our TV screens were regularly visited during the ’60s by BBC shows featuring Rolf painting on masonite - something he was talented at - playing his wobble board, and hopping around in his frankly ridiculous guise as “Jake the Peg” with the extra leg, diddle eedle eedle um.
We should have guessed.
Another of his big hits was not much more than syrup: Two Little Boys.
Margaret Thatcher declared it her favourite song. Of course.
The British public, who have always enjoyed syrup and comics like Benny Hill, and had fallen in love with good old Rolf from the colonies because he made them feel better about not emigrating, sent it to No.1 for six weeks.
It took decades for Harris to gain anything faintly resembling cool.
In the early 1990s, he recorded his version of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven.
The spectacle of a silly old bloke replacing Jimmy Page’s guitar with a wobble board and Robert Plant’s voice with Rolf’s strangled croak was so absurd it was judged brilliant by a generation lost to 1980s spandex-pop.
When it comes down to it, Harris was a song and dance man who lived most of his life in England, painted the Queen and used a confected Australian accent when it suited him.
And he was, if he were to seek old-time Australian vernacular to describe in song the activities for which he will be remembered, a kiddie fiddler.
We were right from the start. The man was never cool at all. He was, and remains, an embarrassing curiosity.