Long ago, Neil Dixon (@ndixon on Twitter) told the story of meeting Rolf Harris at a book signing. I asked if he’d be interested in hearing my stories of Rolf meetings. He said he would, and I never got around to writing them up to send to him. Now’s as good a time as any to do it, and I might as well post them here for others to see too…
Rolf Harris at the Aston May Ball
I was a techie at Aston. That meant I helped with running the events. Mostly, it was just carrying gear in and out – I wasn’t as knowledgeable on setting up sound or light gear as many others, but I could lift and carry fairly well, and I was geeky enough to remember the names of lots of types of cables.
It was May Ball time. Several venues, several hired in PAs, along with all of our own sound and lighting rigs. Multiple bands and other acts in each venue. Bars everywhere around the main university building and the Guild (our Students’ Union). It was a big event for the techies, starting one morning, and finishing early the next. We worked shifts, a couple of hours at a time.
I finished a shift just before Rolf was due to play the Guild’s main hall. As my shift was coming to an end, I was looking forward to a break and a beer or two.
Rolf’s stage manager had told me various bits about what would happen at different times, and who needed to go where. My plan was to pass this information on to whoever was going to be working next, but it soon became obvious that wouldn’t work. There were too many odd bits of information, and too many people that now knew who I was, and didn’t need me suddenly disappearing and leaving them wondering who they were supposed to be dealing with. I realised I was stuck there until after Rolf’s show.
I wasn’t especially looking forward to it. Yes, I had fond memories of Rolf’s shows from childhood, but I was now a student. This evening wasn’t about cartoons, or guessing what someone was painting.
I stood in the wide doorway leading to the stage, leaning my back against the door frame on one side, head hung, worn out.
Someone joined me, leaning on the other side, with the two of us pretty much blocking the doorway.
I looked at their feet. I counted them. Twice.
There were three.
That was unusual. Most people have two. A few have one.
Only Jake the Peg had three.
A smile started to creep across my face as I slowly looked up at Rolf, standing in the doorway with me, maybe two or three feet away.
Then, right in front of me, he started singing Jake the Peg, and doing his strange three-legged dance.
The smile won, and I was happy to stay for the rest of the show.
He went on stage to a huge crowd of screaming students, and could silence them in a second. People who yelled abuse were cut down quickly, as he taught a crowd of mostly English youngsters to say ‘barstard’ properly, instead of the pathetic ‘fat bastad’ some people were yelling.
He seems to be able to do this anywhere – Sam and I saw him years later at Rock City in Nottingham, and even there people played along with his games, and sang along with Stairway to Heaven.
Sadly, it turned out he really wasn’t well at the time of the Aston show. Nobody watching the show would have guessed, but as soon as he was out of sight of the audience, he had to be helped back to his dressing room, barely able to walk. There wasn’t a chance for any of us to meet him after the show.
Rolf at BUGS
When I was a techie at Aston, we met up with the techies at Birmingham University (BUGS = Birmingham University Guild of Students). We set up a couple of swap-over events, where their techies came over to Aston for an event, and we went over there for one of theirs. It made for a couple of fun evenings, swapping stories. Their Rolf story was better than ours, though.
Like us, they’d had Rolf there for a show. He performed the show, then was lead back to his dressing room, where food was to be laid on for him.
A short time later, there was a knock at their office door, where the techies were all sitting around drinking and talking. They opened the door.
There was Rolf.
He asked what they were doing, and if they’d mind if he joined them. They said that was fine. He joined them in their office, telling stories and jokes, getting them all singing along with him, and drawing things for them.
He asked what they were planning on doing for food. They told him they had a pile of leftover Indian snacks from Diwali, and they were planning on heating them on a metal tray suspended over a couple of par cans (small lights, 1kw each – a lot of heat output). Rolf said that a barbie sounded much better than anything else around, and joined them.
(We tried the par can barbie later – it works well. A couple of 1kw lights quickly heat a metal tray up to a good cooking temperature. We used ours for leftover pizza.)
One of the best parts of the BUGS techie office was the door – because they sometimes had valuable stuff there, they had a steel-plated door. It looked pretty cool.
It looked even better when the full size of the door had a Rolfaroo drawn on it.