Portrait by Allan Warren
Fredric Russell Harty
5 September 1934
|Died||8 June 1988 (aged 53)|
|Occupation||Talk show host|
Harty was the son of Fred Harty, a fruit and vegetable stallholder on the local market in Blackburn, Lancashire, and Myrtle Rishton. He attended Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School on West Park Road where he enjoyed appearing in school plays and met, for the first time, the then English teacher Ronald Eyre who directed a number of the productions and thereafter at Exeter College, Oxford, where he obtained a degree in English Literature.
On leaving university, Harty became an English and drama teacher in Giggleswick, North Yorkshire. "I got a first-class degree and was a hopeless teacher. Russell Harty got a third-class degree and taught brilliantly", recalled his Oxford contemporary, Alan Bennett, in Keeping On Keeping On.
In 1964, he started a year lecturing in English Literature at the City University of New York, and finally began his broadcasting career a few years later, when he became a radio producer for the BBC Third Programme, reviewing arts and literature.
He got his first break in 1970 presenting the arts programme Aquarius, that was intended to be London Weekend Television's response to the BBC's Omnibus. One programme involving a "meeting of cultures" saw Harty travelling to Italy in 1974 to engineer an encounter between the entertainer Gracie Fields and the composer William Walton, two fellow Lancastrians now living on the neighbouring islands of Capri and Ischia. A documentary on Salvador Dalí ("Hello Dalí") directed by Bruce Gowers, won an Emmy. Another award-winning documentary was Finnan Games about a Scottish community, Glenfinnan, where "Bonnie Prince Charlie" raised his standard to begin the Jacobite rising of 1745, and its Highland Games.
In 1972, Harty interviewed Marc Bolan, who at that time was at the height of his fame as a teen idol and king of glam rock. During the interview, Harty asked Bolan what he thought he would be doing when he was forty or sixty years old. He replied that he didn't think he would live that long. Bolan died two weeks before his 30th birthday on 16 September 1977.
In 1972, he was given his own series, Russell Harty Plus (later simply titled Russell Harty), conducting lengthy celebrity interviews, on ITV, which placed him against the BBC's Parkinson. Parts of Russell Harty's interview with the Who in 1973 were included in Jeff Stein's 1979 film The Kids Are Alright, providing notable moments, such as Pete Townshend and Keith Moon ripping off each other's shirt sleeves. In 1975, he interviewed French singer Claude François and was one of the first to acknowledge the fact that the Paul Anka song "My Way" was based on a French song of Claude's called "Comme D'Habitude". He would also interview François again in 1977. The show lasted until 1981 and some of his interviews included show business legends Tony Curtis, Danny Kaye, Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, David Carradine, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Harty won a Pye Television Award for the Most Outstanding New Personality of the Year in 1973.
Harty remained on ITV until 1980, at which point his show moved to the BBC. Harty interviewed the Jamaican American singer Grace Jones on the show in November 1980. After he had interviewed Jones and turned away from her to address another guest, Jones appeared to become offended and started repeatedly hitting him. Initially shown on BBC-2 in a mid-evening slot, Harty's chatshow ran until 1982 before being moved to an early evening BBC-1 slot in 1983 where it was now simply titled Harty. The show ended in late 1984, though Harty would continue to present factual programmes for the BBC for some time afterwards.
Russell Harty was a good friend of the playwright Alan Bennett, who talks about him and his family, in relation with Bennett's own family, in the episode "Written on the Body", taken from his semi-biography Untold Stories. He had strong connections with the village of Giggleswick in North Yorkshire: before beginning his TV career he worked as an English teacher at Giggleswick School, where one of his pupils was Richard Whiteley, the future journalist, TV presenter, and host of Countdown. Anthony Daniels, C-3PO in Star Wars was also a pupil. Harty subsequently lived in the heart of Giggleswick village.
In 1988, Harty became ill with hepatitis B and started treatment at the St James's University Hospital, Leeds. The Sun started a campaign of allegations about his private life, claiming that the disease was "transmitted the same way as AIDS" and that Harty was using the services of "teenage rent boys", while the newspaper sent photographers in a flat across the hospital to train their lens at his room. Reports of Harty possessing child porn videotapes were published by the Sunday Mirror in 1989.
He died on 8 June 1988 from liver failure caused by the hepatitis infection. At the funeral, Alan Bennett commented in his eulogy that "the gutter press finished [Harty] off". He was buried in the churchyard of St Alkelda, Giggleswick.
His partner of five years was the Irish novelist Jamie O'Neill.
- Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 403. ISBN 1-84854-195-3.
- Walton, Susana (May 1988). William Walton: Behind the Façade. Oxford University Press. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-19-315156-7.
- Interview of Marc Bolan by Russell Harty, BBC (08:55)
- "Russell Harty". www.bigredbook.info.
- Clews Colin.Gay in the 80s: From Fighting our Rights to Fighting for our Lives, Troubador Publishing, 2017, ISBN 978-1788036740
- "Child Sex Secret of Gay Star Harty" by Tim Wilcox, The Sunday Mirror, 25 June 1989