Don’t airbrush Rolf Harris from history
We must preserve his archive to remind us how wrong we could be about a national treasure
A former editor of The Independent on Sunday, Janet Street-Porter is now the paper’s editor-at-large. As a journalist and broadcaster she has had an innovative and groundbreaking career in television, creating programmes for the BBC, Channel 4 and LWT, for which she has won a Bafta and the Prix Italia. She is also vice president of the Rambler’s Association.
Friday 04 July 2014
Airbrushing irons out cellulite, smooths away muffin tops and eradicates pimples. It results in bland, homogenised images of women (and some men) who are eerily perfect. People you never see on the street, in everyday life, where we sweat, bulge and grow hairs in inconvenient places. Now, airbrushing is being applied to our social history.
In the wake of recent scandals involving Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris, all sorts of organisations want to airbrush away their previous involvement with these repugnant characters. Within minutes of Harris’s conviction, the mayor of his birthplace in Australia was talking about removing all references to his association with the city and destroying an honorary plaque commemorating “the boy from Bassendean”.
Jimmy Savile’s headstone was removed from his grave, a statue in Glasgow taken down, and every public body he had been associated with quickly severed links with the late showman. Roads and hospital wards have been renamed.
Rolf Harris was a terrible artist as well as a creepy entertainer. He wrote asking if he could paint my portrait for a BBC series. I declined. But will the BBC now be wiping the tapes of all his shows? And what’s its position on its extensive catalogue of Savile material? And has Hall been deleted from the BBC library? As for Harris’s paintings, there’s been much speculation about his portrait of the Queen, but I doubt she cares. Why look at infantile daubs when you own Leonardo drawings?
Galleries holding stocks of Harris’s work have deleted any references to him and their links to his web page have been taken down. He is being chucked out of the Australian Hall of Fame by the recording industry and stripped of gongs, including the Office of the Order of Australia. Mind you, some in the art world think that Harris’s notoriety could enhance the long-term value of his second-rate portraits.
Hall had his OBE annulled by the Queen after his conviction for sex crimes. Savile was awarded an OBE and then a knighthood, which cannot be revoked when the person has died. Neither can his papal knighthood, according to the Vatican, although the borough of Scarborough took back Savile’s freedom of the borough.
As for Harris, over the years he was awarded an MBE, an OBE and a CBE – but these honours can be revoked only by the Queen. He’s had his Bafta fellowship annulled and I imagine university chancellors are deciding what to do about his two honorary doctorates.
Removing all these accolades and awards from sex criminals is pretty pointless. The fact that they were given in the first place tells you an awful lot about the society we live in. I don’t want any of the television shows made by this ghastly trio to be wiped. I want them to be studied for future generations, to try to understand how none of us spotted what these men were up to. I want their honours to stand as a condemnation of the whole rotten system of dishing out tributes to those who don’t deserve it.
I don’t want these three men to be airbrushed out of history, because that represents a futile attempt to diminish the horror of what they did. To stop it happening again, we need to keep their memory alive. And start asking questions about ourselves.
The pride of Yorkshire for all the world to see
Today I will be packing my spectator kit for the Tour de France and setting off early for my roadside pitch outside Masham, North Yorkshire. Folding chairs, a large umbrella, waterproof trousers and jacket. Maybe a Union flag – I’ll reuse the one bought for a Last Night of the Proms. I’ve got a patriotic picnic – mini pork pies, English cheeses, delicious terrine from Cheshire and English tomatoes.
Like most of you, I’m really hoping that British Team Sky – which includes the defending champion Chris Froome – will lighten our mood after a series of grim defeats. The World Cup, Murray’s exit from Wimbledon and our hopeless cricket team. I’m not even dwelling on David Cameron’s tussle with the EU, but overall, it adds up to a lot of losing, so let’s hope that our men in lycra can redeem national pride.
The Germans have already started sniping about the route through the wonderful Yorkshire Dales – one rider has claimed that the dry-stone walls lining part of the route were too narrow and “very dangerous” in parts. With 200 riders, there’s a danger they might slither off on to slippery gravel by the roadside. Well, I’ll be there to catch them, and offer snacks.
Harrogate is in a state of euphoria as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry will be at the finishing line this afternoon. I’m sure that Betty’s tearoom will have baked a special cake, although I’m not sure Kate will be eating any carbs.
Filming this week in Cheshire, I’ve negotiated packs of middle-aged men in shiny leggings on every country lane. Let’s check back in December to see how many turn out to be fair-weather fans. And let’s hope Yorkshire wins the right to stage another major event next year.
‘Unloved’ land can be loved again if put to proper use
The trees and open spaces that surround our cities are no longer sacrosanct, according to a report from the Royal Institute of British Architects. It seems to be agreeing with government ministers who have argued that some land in the green belt is “of low or negligible value”. Riba says protecting the green belt has resulted in longer journeys to work, and it wants local councils to be able to build on “unloved” land, which could amount to as much as a fifth of the total.
I disagree. We need to build far more densely in cities, and allow change of use to residential for the upper part of shops (often used as storage) and turn empty office blocks into homes. The Government should offer huge grants to enable brownfield sites, of which there are plenty, to be decontaminated. It’s estimated that they could provide 1.5 million homes, if it was financially attractive.
Who decides whether land is “lovely” and worth saving, or a bit scrubby and forgotten, and suitable for housing? We need more green spaces, not fewer, and any that exist need to be landscaped and cherished, not covered in little boxes. The only way to solve housing is by putting workers where they are needed – not further and further out in the suburbs. I’d rather have more trees and fewer architects, to be honest.
Out with the macrobiotic marriage – in with the meat
Since Gwyneth Paltrow announced on her website in March that she and her husband Chris Martin were in the process of “conscious uncoupling” after 10 years together, they have been seen together getting on in a very civilised way.
The end of a long-term relationship is also a chance to reset your priorities, and Gwyneth might not be too pleased to know that Chris is no longer a vegetarian. He now says he will only eat stuff he can kill, and that includes fish. This made me think about how many compromises you make (probably unconsciously) when you are in a long-term relationship. Although I mocked her pretentious terminology about uncoupling, the couple have touched on a basic truth – that relationships usually end when you get fed up with the compromises they require.
I bet Chris is listening to different music, at full volume. He’ll be wearing clothes she would have consigned to the bottom of the laundry basket, and eating carbs, something his former wife spent her time demonising.
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