Rolf was born in Perth, Western Australia, to Welsh parents in 1930. At the age of 15 he won the Junior Backstroke Swimming Championship of Australia.
He moved to England aged 22 as an art student and found work as a TV cartoonist, storyteller and artist who, in 1956, had his work exhibited at the Royal Academy.
But when Rolf was homesick he became a regular at the Down Under Club in London, where he began singing, playing his piano accordion and wobbling a warped Masonite board to create strange noises.
Rolf’s 1960 single Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport made #1 on the Australian charts, #9 in the UK, and peaked at #3 in the USA. His original version was first recorded in his bathroom with a tiny tape recorder.
Originally entitled Kangalypso, it was Rolf’s tribute to Harry Belafonte, whose hit Hold ‘Em Down included the lines “Don’t tie me donkey down there, let him bray, let him bray”.
Rolf turned the donkey into a kangaroo and created an Australian calypso which became a worldwide hit and was covered by an American artist called Arthur ‘Guitar Boogie’ Smith under the title Tie My Hunting Dog Down, Jed .
In 1970, his single Two Little Boys became one of the fastest-selling singles in English music history, having notched up sales of more than one million in just 15 weeks.
If the record seemed inescapable, it’s because it stayed in the charts for 24 weeks.
Luckily Rolf had no ambition to be a hit machine, contenting himself with popping up in surprising places, like Kate Bush‘s experimental LP, The Dreaming.
Although his music was frequently laughed at or ignored, Harris retained a frightening ability to persuade Brits to buy Stylophones, didgeridoos or wobble boards (55,000 sold after his first hit in 1960).
In the 1990s, Rolf enjoyed an unexpected new lease of life thanks largely to his bizarre cover version of Led Zeppelin‘s Stairway To Heaven, even playing at the famed Glastonbury Festival twice.
In June 2014 Harris was charged and convicted for 12 historical indecent assault offences and sentenced to nearly six years in prison. He served his sentence at HM Prison Stafford and was released on 19 May 2017, after serving three years.
On 16 November 2017, Harris’s conviction on a charge that he had indecently assaulted an eight-year-old girl at a community centre in Portsmouth in 1969 was overturned on the grounds that it was unsafe. The Court of Appeal dismissed applications to challenge the other eleven convictions from his 2014 trial.