Happy Dominion Day to Canadians at home and abroad. I have a few thoughts on a great nation here, as well as a somewhat unlikely song for the season.
~I would especially like to thank all those among my compatriots who've swung by to help my end of the upcoming Mann vs Steyn trial of the century. The climate of fear that Dr Mann and his fellow warm-mongers have imposed is an important matter with implications for science far beyond Pennsylvania State University [apologies to University of Pennsylvania students for earlier draft]. That said, I'm very touched by how many of my fellow Canadians have been willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with me over a foreign case in a foreign courtroom. I thank you.
There's been a flurry of new commentary on the suit in recent days, as well as one of those "Michael E Mann answers your questions" things from a public radio host, in which he doesn't, and in which a taxpayer-funded radio show persists in the fraud that Mann is a Nobel laureate. We'll discuss that and other matters a little later today.
~Later this year, I'll be touring Canada's sister dominion Down Under. Last time I was in Oz, I sang a few bars of "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" on stage in Perth - in reference to an Australian who had taken an Englishman to the European Court of Human Rights for making kangaroo jokes to him and thereby abusing his human rights. Anyway, Perth is where Rolf Harris grew up, so I figured you can't go wrong with a couple of bars of his biggest hit.
I don't suppose I'll be reprising the number on this year's Perth gig. Yesterday, a jury at Southwark Crown Court found Rolf Harris guilty of 12 counts of indecent assault on young girls during the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. This is big news in Britain and Australia. In American terms, it's maybe like Mister Rogers behind convicted as a sexual predator. Except even that doesn't quite embrace the extent of Harris' downfall. The unraveling of a six-decade career began when a fellow icon of children's TV, the BBC's Jimmy Savile, was posthumously exposed as Britain's biggest pedophile. I wrote about Savile here, and recalled a weird observation from the novelist Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange:
One day, my sister, a BBC producer, was in make-up with Burgess. It was 1989, in the first days after the ayatollah's fatwa, and she remarked to him that Rushdie had just gone into hiding. As the make-up lady tamped down his glare, Burgess responded with noticeable vehemence: "There's only one man I loathe more than Salman Rushdie, and that's Jimmy Savile!"
Like hundreds - thousands? - of others, Burgess knew - or had heard something. Savile hid in plain sight, answering the phone with the words "I never touched her!", etc. Rolf Harris was considerably less weird. But he and Savile achieved something hardly anyone in this line of work does: They were big stars on TV and radio on their own terms for half-a-century, into their eighties. And Rolf conquered fields that Savile, a man of limited skills, couldn't get anywhere near, and on two continents. He had hit records; the Beatles were happy to sing along as his backing group; and his awful paintings sold for six-figure sums. The generations he'd entertained as children stuck with him in adulthood: he played Glastonbury to the delight of the crowds, and his wobble-board cover version of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" was a big hit.
Along the way, the honors piled up: In 2006, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 2008, he was inducted into the Australian recording industry's hall of fame. In 2012, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday Honours, and a Fellow of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. These days, Obama hangs with Jay-Z and everyone thinks it's cool. Officialdom was wary of pop culture when Harris and Savile were young. Yet they were two of the few stars politicians and the Royal Family were happy to embrace. Mrs Thatcher named Rolf's "Two Little Boys" as one of her favorite records, and only a year before his arrest he led an audience of thousands in a singalong of the song at the Diamond Jubilee concert in the Mall outside Buckingham Palace.
The post-Savile hysteria that has dragged any number of telly and radio celebs into the local police station to answer allegations from 40 years ago is not altogether savory. The prosecutions of Dave Lee Travis and Coronation Street's "Ken Barlow" certainly had a faintly disreputable whiff to them. One notes, too, that the British constabulary now zealously investigating every allegation of "inappropriate touching" on "Top Of The Pops" in 1973 is the same constabulary that colluded with and covered up for Jimmy Savile for decades - and that the politicians expressing their outrage at the behavior of minor showbiz personalities are far more silent when it comes to the sex fiends among their own number, like the grotesque Liberal Party paedo-in-chief Sir Cyril Smith. Nevertheless, notwithstanding growing unease about the ever wider net of the coppers' "Operation Yewtree", it has certainly claimed a prominent scalp.
I wrote about Harris and "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" on the occasion of his 80th birthday. The piece concludes:
There's a Fijian version, which perhaps gets closest to Rolf's original "Kangalypso" concept, and a Jewish punk version, and a rude version:
I got a joey for you, girl
I got a joey for you
Put your hand in my pouch, girl
And I'll jump all over you...
A joey is a baby kangaroo. Speaking of which, in 2005 Rolf himself did an ill-advised remake with the Australian children's act, the Wiggles. I confess a little of the Wiggles goes a very long way with me. By contrast, Rolf has managed to parlay a piece of Masonite board, a hollowed out eucalyptus and a half-dozen pots of paint into six decades of international success. I don't know what his birthday plans are, but I figure he's got a ways to go yet before he's ready for his last verse:
Tan me hide when I'm dead, Fred
Tan me hide when I'm dead
So we tanned his hide when he died, Clyde
And that's it hanging on the shed...
They tanned his hide before he was dead. Jimmy Savile was luckier: He died before disgrace. For Rolf Harris, the years that remain will be a living death.