News Letter columnist Lynda Bryans worked with shamed TV presenter Rolf Harris 20 years ago, and in her recent column in our NL Woman supplement, she spoke of her memories of him - and his wife, the woman she recalls who rarely left his side.
She said: “Rolf Harris is expected to be sent to jail today after being found guilty last Monday of 12 indecent assaults on girls as young as seven years old.
Growing up in the 1970s, a glorious age of TV light entertainment, Harris was hardly off our screens, whether it was hosting his own entertainment show or singing on Top of the Pops.
Perhaps like me you marvelled at his amazing talent with a paintbrush where, starting with a few abstruse splodges of paint on a blank canvas he would create the most amazing murals.
I watched him paint one of these almost exactly 20 years ago in August 1994, when I worked alongside him for a new week-long series of live programmes set in a veterinary hospital in north London. Animal Hospital was a show that had all the essential ingredients for television success – cute pets, and sick ones at that, human emotions from the pets’ owners, and Rolf Harris. The producers had brought me in to co-present because I had worked almost exclusively on live television, where it’s vital to be able to talk to a camera and listen to the live countdown at the same time to get a programme off the air to the very second. It had been years since Rolf Harris had worked in a live TV situation.
The show was a great success and Rolf was charming. A lovely man, I would have said. I watched him cry as he embraced a man whose elderly dog, Floss, was being put to sleep because of a fatal heart condition. They were genuine tears and the production crew cried along with them. The mural he painted featured Floss as its centrepiece and the nation watched as Rolf would paint a little more every evening during the live show.
But the hill of retrospect is a great place to view events and looking back, I remember thinking it slightly strange at the constant presence of his wife Alwen.
I remember her very well – quiet with a distinctive ethnic look - her hair at that time was beaded in corn rows. She seemed like a nice woman, we didn’t engage in much conversation, but I do remember that she hardly ever left his side which is unusual on a TV or film set. She was always there, close to him, like a woman who knows her husband has had affairs and is wary of other women. Was she protecting him from me (I was heavily pregnant at the time), from other women, or from himself?
This week Rolf Harris has someone else sticking close by him - a permanent security guard who protects his personal safety.
What we now know about Rolf Harris changes everything. Like most paedophiles, he was a deceiver, fooling us all into thinking he was that lovely, caring, charming man, the TV ‘friend to children everywhere’, the funny uncle with a mesmerising talent for art; in later years, cuddly grandfather figure. But like Jimmy Savile he thought his celebrity status put him above the law.
I felt privileged in 1994 to be working with a TV legend. Today I am sickened, saddened, and as Cilla Black put it when she heard about Harris’s guilty verdict, disappointed - very disappointed.
Where victims of abuse find the courage to speak out, we owe them our support, God knows it can’t be easy.
But neither is the quest for truth and justice – it requires the wisdom of Solomon and somehow I doubt Rolf Harris will be the last.”