FEW falls from grace have come as spectacularly as that of Rolf Harris this week.
Even as the reported evidence was mounting and the case against him looked increasingly convincing, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in half-imagining some piece of evidence might come to light at the last minute, Perry Mason-style, that might have shed a different light on the trial.
And – even with that growing weight of testimony – when the guilty verdict came in this week the reaction in this office had a hint of disbelief about it. Really? Rolf Harris did all that?? But...he’s Rolf Harris...
Frankly, even as a young viewer of Jim’ll Fix It, I can’t remember ever having much regard for Jimmy Savile, who is becoming an increasingly grotesque figure with every passing revelation about him.
In fact, regardless of the rumours that clearly swirled about the shamed TV presenter in certain circles when he was still alive, reports of his horrific crimes haven’t delivered the same kind of shock as those of Harris. The thing that really staggers about Savile is the sheer scale and extent of his offences. Even the most ardent fan of Savile would have to admit he always seemed a bit odd – creepy, in hindsight.
For decades, though, the image of Rolf Harris was one of a kindly uncle figure, with a warm manner and a pleasant way about him. It is hard to imagine that anyone who grew up in the 80s could not have had a bit of affection for him.
From hosting his cartoon shows, doodling his characters, popularising an unlikely range of Australian musical instruments, and more recently painting the Queen and putting on serious art shows, he became nothing short of a national treasure (albeit an ex-pat Antipodean one). We even saw him shed tears along with pet owners when bad news came their way in the likes of Animal Hospital – the sort of thing that always scores highly on the ‘nice’ scale.
For years one of the BFP’s former reporters even proudly had on display a signed sketch on his desk that Harris did for him when he met him at a public event some time ago. I suspect he hastily took that down from his current office on Monday (if, indeed, he was optimistic enough to still have it up).
Even the reaction from his peers over his grotty crimes has been muted and shell-shocked – words like ‘saddened’ and ‘disappointed’ have been bandied about more than the outright disgust that usually accompanies the news of guilty verdicts in cases of indecent assault involving children.
It is a bleak truism that no one can ever really know what another person might be capable of, but, by the same token, even the most cynical of us can’t help but hope for the best sometimes.
It’s a frequent phenomenon of the media these days that celebrities become strangely woven into the everyday fabric of people’s lives. Even though we know there is no reason in the world to truly believe a person’s public persona should be trusted, it can hard to accept that what we think we know about them falls so far from what they actually may be.
And you can say what you like about trying to pick public figures to admire more wisely – there is simply no way anyone can know what such people could be up to if they hide it carefully enough.
So as surprising as it may be that the accusations about Harris have been found to be true, it really shouldn’t be. Most of us only knew him via a TV set or perhaps the odd public appearance - and that doesn’t constitute knowing someone at all.