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A talent for art brought him to Britain

WHEN news of Rolf Harris's arrest broke, a collective gasp swept across the nation.

This was not just a famous face, this was one of the best-loved celebrities of past and present - a true family favourite.

Born in Australia in 1930, Harris grew up in the Perth suburb of Bassendean and went on to carve himself a 60-year career that saw him achieve success as an artist, musician and TV personality.

A champion swimmer, he was the Australian junior 110 yards backstroke champion in 1946. However a mysterious illness struck leaving him paralysed for several weeks and it was this that prompted him to take the leap and travel to England to pursue a career in art. "I thought if I were to continue teaching I would be a weekend painter, which is like a weekend driver, you never get any better than you were the previous weekend," he told jurors at his trial.

That was in 1952, and after a few failed attempts at art school, Harris managed to get himself a slot on a BBC show, despite his first audition being a self-confessed "disaster". Also a keen musician, he started by entertaining at the Down Under club, a haven for ex-pat Australians and New Zealanders, playing his piano accordion.

His song Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport, became a hit in Australia, the UK and the United States in the 1960s.

Harris's musical career was to grow and grow, and he became well-known for his use of instruments, from the didgeridoo to his famous "wobble board".

He released comedic song Jake the Peg in the 1960s, but his biggest hit was in 1969 with Two Little Boys, originally written in 1902, which became the Christmas No 1. He performed at Glastonbury for the first time in 1993. In 2005 he had the rare privilege of painting a portrait of the Queen to mark her 80th birthday. He latterly hosted TV programme Animal Hospital, but said in a 2011 TV interview he had suffered from depression.

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