Swim with Rolf (lost BBC One Rolf Harris educational show; 1971)
Swim with Rolf is a four-part BBC One educational show. Presented by Rolf Harris, it aimed to educate and encourage younger viewers to take up swimming, including by learning to float, breathe within the water, the various strokes involved in swimming, and diving. Broadcast from April to May 1971, the show alongside many other shows made Harris be deemed a national treasure within British and Australian society. However, his legacy was permanently darkened when he was convicted of twelve counts of sexually abusing young girls.
The show was conceptualised as part of the United Kingdom's "Teach them to swim" campaign, which aimed to encourage an increase of young people becoming confident swimmers and reduce drowning cases. Harris starred in a public information film promoting the campaign, explaining how he nearly passed away aged three after accidentally ending up in a river, only barely escaping after scrambling to the riverbank. He noted his parents immediately began teaching him to swim, lessons that would contribute towards him becoming a confident, Western Australia backstroke champion swimmer during the 1940s and early-1950s. He also stressed how teaching children at a young age would ensure their safety in the water, explaining he taught his daughter to swim as soon as possible.
Produced by Michael Grafton-Robinson, and directed by Douglas Hespe, Swim with Rolf primarily aimed to not just provide swimming education, but encourage young and older viewers alike to gain sufficient confidence within the water. According to Radio Times, Harris felt examples and demonstration were critical in developing one's swimming capabilities. Each episode lasted around 25 minutes. Episode 1 was broadcast on 7th April 1971, with Harris first showcasing how to float, a fundamental step in learning to swim. A week later, Harris demonstrated in the second episode how to properly breathe while in the water. The show's third episode, broadcast on 21st April, intensified the lessons, with Harris teaching the breaststroke, then backstroke, front crawl, and presumably butterfly as the synopsis stated the presenter would "show how to do them all." The show concluded a week later by teaching viewers various types of diving into the water, giving tips to children present at London's National Sports Centre. The episodes were repeated in May 1972, and April 1973, before never airing again on BBC television.
Harris would continue teaching swimming, including in the 1982 film Rolf Harris Water Safety. Harris' long career in television, music, and painting would contribute towards him becoming a national treasure within both the United Kingdom and in his native Australia. Among his films included a 20-minute anti-child sexual abuse educational video titled Kids Can Say No!, which aimed to teach children between 5-8 on safeguarding themselves against this crime. However, it was later learned that Harris had already committed the majority of his sexual assaults against young girls prior to the film's release, and would commit more a year onwards. Harris was arrested as part of Operation Yewtree in March 2013, the operation launching following investigations of abuse committed by Jimmy Savile. Harris was convicted of twelve counts, many involving long-term sexual abuse against his daughter's best friend. Harris was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison on 4th July 2014, but was released on-licence on 19th May 2017. While he successfully had one count overturned in 2017, the others remained until his death on 10th May 2023 aged 93, permanently damaging his reputation and legacy.
Ultimately, Kaleidoscope determines that the Swim with Rolf episodes no longer exist within the BBC's archives. It is therefore a victim of the BBC's tape-wiping policy, where its tapes were reused to save costs in recording new programs. No other recordings, nor images of the show have since resurfaced.
- BBC News summarising the public information film, Kids Can Say No!, and Harris' conviction. Retrieved 31st Oct '22
- Andrew Wiseman's Television Room summarising Harris' "Teach them to swim" public information film. Retrieved 31st Oct '22
- Independent detailing Harris' success in swimming events. Retrieved 31st Oct '22
- Crime and Investigation summarising the life and career of Harris, and his conviction of abuse in 2014. Retrieved 31st Oct '22
- BBC Genome listing all airings of Swim with Rolf according to Radio Times issues. Retrieved 31st Oct '22
- Issue 2,473 of Radio Times summarising Episode 1. Retrieved 31st Oct '22
- Issue 2,474 of Radio Times summarising Episode 2. Retrieved 31st Oct '22
- Issue 2,475 of Radio Times summarising Episode 3. Retrieved 31st Oct '22
- Issue 2,476 of Radio Times summarising Episode 4. Retrieved 31st Oct '22
- British Film Institute summarising Rolf Harris Water Safety. Retrieved 31st Oct '22
- National Yewtree summarising Operation Yewtree. Retrieved 31st Oct '22
- BBC News reporting on the death of Harris. Retrieved 24th May '23
- Kaleidoscope noting all four episodes no longer exist within the BBC's archives. Retrieved 31st Oct '22
- Mental Floss detailing the BBC's tape-wiping policy that affected many of its older shows. Retrieved 31st Oct '22