Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Harris, Rolf (1930-)

Presenter, Musician

Main image of Harris, Rolf (1930-)

Rolf Harris' long career as artist, singer and TV presenter often drew on his Australian roots, yet his stardom and status as a jovial, energetic and irrepressibly enthusiastic presenter has come mainly via his work on British television.

As a painter, his trademark large canvases which Harris daubed with large brushes dipped in pots of emulsion paint led to his enduring catchphrase "Can you tell what it is yet?" His musical legacy has brought unconventional instruments such as the didgeridoo, wobble board and the Stylophone to the world's attention. In between his art and music Harris established himself as a popular TV presenter spanning the decades with shows such as The Rolf Harris Show (BBC, 1967-71; ITV 1972-74), Quick on the Draw (ITV, 1974-1977), Cartoon Time (BBC, 1979-1989), Animal Hospital (BBC, 1994-2004) and Rolf on Art (BBC, 2001-2002).

He was born in Perth, Australia on 30 March, 1933. After enrolling in a teacher training college he decided that he wanted to be a painter and went to London in 1952 to study at the City and Guilds Art School. Gradually, TV work came via cartoons and illustrations for children's TV shows for both BBC and ITV.

He returned briefly to Perth in 1960, where he starred in children's shows and his own variety programme. Returning to Britain in 1962, he established himself via his own BBC variety programme, The Rolf Harris Show, which included the dance troupe The Young Generation and showcased his own songs.

As a singer and recording artist, he had a string of hits with mainly self-penned novelty records in the 1960s such as 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport', 'Jake the Peg', 'Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?' and 'Two Little Boys', the last of which reached number one. Yet, behind the whimsy there was also some serious work, such as 'Sun Arise' and his didgeridoo contribution to Kate Bush's single 'The Dreaming' and her album 'Aerial'. In 1993 he released a version of Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' and in 1994 further defied demographic convention by playing at the Glastonbury Festival.

His genial, empathetic manner made him the perfect host for Animal Hospital, the BBC's popular fly-on-the-wall study of of a veterinary practice where he presided over the life (and sometimes death) of injured pet animals.

His love of art manifested itself during his painting slots in his own shows and in programmes such as Quick on the Draw and Cartoon Time. However, Rolf on Art was wholly serious. In 2005 he was commissioned to paint a portrait of the Queen to mark her 80th birthday. Inevitably, this also became a television event.

In 2006 he received the CBE, having also received the OBE in 1977 and the MBE in 1977.

Eddie Dyja

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of You Lucky People! (1955)You Lucky People! (1955)

Successful Army comedy that did wonders for its star Tommy Trinder

Related collections

Related people and organisations