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Russell Harty
Born Frederic Russell Harty
5 September 1934(1934-09-05)
Blackburn, Lancashire, England
Died 8 June 1988 (aged 53)
Leeds, England
Occupation Talk show host
Domestic partner(s) Jamie O'Neill

Russell Harty (5 September 1934 – 8 June 1988) was an English television presenter of arts programmes and chat shows.


Early life

Born Frederick Russell Harty in Blackburn, Lancashire, he was the son of a fruit and vegetable stallholder on the local market. He attended Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School on West Park Road and Exeter College, Oxford, where he obtained a first-class degree in English Literature.


On leaving university, Harty became an English and drama teacher in Giggleswick, North Yorkshire. 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. A memorable programme involved a typically bizarre clash of cultures as Harty travelled to Italy to unite on camera the singer Gracie Fields and the classical composer William Walton.

In 1973 he was given his own series Russell Harty Plus on ITV which placed him against the BBC's Parkinson, conducting lengthy celebrity interviews. Parts of Russell Harty's interview with The Who in 1973 were included in Jeff Stein's 1979 film The Kids Are Alright, providing some of its most memorable moments, such as Pete Townshend and Keith Moon ripping off each other's shirt sleeves. The show lasted until 1981.

In 1981, Harty moved to the BBC with an early evening celebrity chatshow, which gained some notoriety when he was smacked in the face by Grace Jones on live TV. He had offended Jones by turning away from her to talk to another guest. This show ended in 1985.

Harty began working on a new series Russell Harty's Grand Tour for the BBC in 1987; the few interviews completed before his death included Salvador Dalí and Dirk Bogarde. His partner from 1982 to 1988 was the novelist Jamie O'Neill.

Harty had a distinctly camp turn of phrase; his name has been used as Cockney rhyming slang for party. One of his catchphrases was "you were, were you not?".

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".

Harty 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 TV presenter and host of Countdown. Harty subsequently lived in the heart of Giggleswick village, and was buried in the nearby churchyard of St Akelda.


He died of hepatitis B in 1988 in Leeds, aged 53.

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