Rolf Harris convicted of indecent assault, but they're still talking about a "witch hunt"

rolf Rolf Harris, a beloved Australian children's TV entertainer resident in Britain since the 1950s, was sent down yesterday on sexual assault charges stemming from encounters dating back decades. His victims were as young as 7 years old. Artist Harris, for whom the Queen sat, faces the rest of his life in prison.

More victims have come forward recently, reports The Guardian and His paintings have been withdrawn from sale, but you can still buy limited edition prints.

Two years ago, Sir Jimmy Savile was posthumously exposed as a sexual abuser of children, with more than 500 people reportedly victimized. Savile's high position within the BBC, and the protection it afforded the star entertainer, drew the corporation much criticism.

Then, of course, there is Gary Glitter. And Max Clifford. And Chris Denning.

These men walked in the same circles, and to those of us who grew up with post-war Britain's light entertainment TV monoculture, their dethronings are amazing (If not unexpected in the case of Savile, left).

People knew, but it was only mentioned in the form of insinuations in TV comedy and radio remarks.

Which gets us to the outside-the-court interviews with some of Harris's light entertainment contemporaries following his conviction, embedded below. I don't quite know what to say about these interviews, except that they are strange.

The subjects are so nervous, but they babble on, shifting between performance, incredulity, and what they think is subtle cynicism.

When people should have spoken, they were quiet; now, when they would be wise to say nothing, they just can't stop themselves.

Ronnie Corbett, light entertainer

Interviewer #1: Rolf Harris was convicted today, what do you make of --

Corbett: Oh dear no, have ... fortunately, I haven't read the papers.

Interviewer #2: He's been convicted on twelve counts, what is your reaction to that?

Corbett: (having misheard) What, darling?

Interviewer #2: He's been convicted on all twelve counts of indecent assault.

Corbett: *sighs* Very upsetting. (walks away) Sorry to hear that.

Cilla Black, light entertainer

Black: I've never known Rolf any different from anybody else, um, he was lovely. And I'd rather not comment on it, really. I'm disappointed. Really disappointed.

Interviewer: is there a bit of a witchhunt on celebrities at the moment, from that era?

Black: Well I dont know! I don't know, you tell me. I don't know. I don't know. Ah. It's getting very political, this, isn't it?

Harvey Goldsmith, light entertainment promoter

Goldsmith: It's not very good, it's a mess and, post-the whole Savile thing, it's been a bit of a witch hunt. But if it's true, and he's been convicted, then he's been convicted, you know, what else is there to say?

Interviewer: Did you know him? Did you work with him?

Goldsmith: Yeah, I did. I did indeed. And it's not something you expect, to be honest, but if that's the case, it's the case. It's a bit of an odd case, reading though it. And, um. *shrugs*

Interviewer: Anything back then that you thought, you know, just wasn't quite right, or that you ever noticed when you worked with him?

Goldsmith: No, not really. Not at all. But you know, these things have been going on for years and years and years so, you know, who knows what comes out of the woodwork. It's just odd that it's taken so long anything to come out, you know. There's a whole slew of people. I'm sure there's going to be more as well.

Goldsmith: Maybe witch hunt's the wrong term, but obviously they've been rooting people out, and clearly a lot of people have suddenly come forward. I don't know where they've been all these years. It's a mess. But things in those, you know, the early days, uh, were completely different from what they are now. I mean. I don't think people had ever heard the word pedophile in the 70s or whatever. So it's a whole new regime today, and its very sad that all this is all coming out now, and its sadder that we've believed in all these people and heroes who've turned out to be not quite what we thought they were.

Emphasis mine.

A witch-hunt, say some, even now, like those kids just aren't there. Let's give Rolf the final word. Here he is explaining to children what to do when they are inappropriately touched by adults.

Notable Replies

  1. stumo says:

    How do you expect them to react? Someone they've liked and respected for years turns out to be awful. You've emphasised "not really" as if that has some meaning, to me it just looks like a figure of speech in context.

    This isn't some kind of a PR machine or political spin doctor where you have to read between the lines - these are human beings in shock and denial that someone they respected didn't deserve their respect.

    Like them, I don't want it to be true. I accept that it is, but I hate that it means someone I've watched on TV my entire life, and seen in Panto, wasn't actually the friendly nice character he portrayed.

    I'm sure you're trying to make a point with your post, but I'm not sure what it is.

  2. stumo says:

    Rob, I'm not sure how familiar you are with British English, this could be one of the ways it differes from American English? (1) "Not really" feels to my ears, in context, like something that comes out automatically while they're trying to work out what to say next.

    I suspect that these 3 weren't expecting to be asked to talk about the case, but might have been at a function somewhere and asked/ambushed on the way out - certainly they all appear to be interviewed in the same place.

    (1) There are definitely lots of others, e.g. I know of several visiting Americans who've been confused by the way sometimes we use "sorry" to mean the exact opposite.

  3. As a born and bred Englishman, I can confirm that "Not really" is a nonlexical filler word in Britain in exactly the same way that the word "cunt" is not a gendered slur there.

  4. I'm confused by the quotes you have pulled here. Ronnie Corbett is clearly being presented with the verdict for the very first time and has not had a chance to process the information, Cilla Black is doing her best not to be brought into the conversation and the interviewer is the one who mentions a witchhunt, and it sounds from his first comment, that Goldsmith is hearing about the verdict for the first time too and he goes on to say that in his opinion, he feels that there was nothing out of the ordinary about Harris' behaviour.

    The history of the Yewtree cases is, from what I understand as an average punter with no horse in the race, quite typical. One person makes a complaint and the publicity of that makes other victims realise that they might actually have the option to speak up as well and the whole thing snowballs. The biggest problem in my eyes is that there seems to have been a culture at the BBC and apparently other organisations to either dismiss as nonsense, or (more sinisterly) to actively cover up allegations against their high profile talent.

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