Biography

The son of actor Rex Harrison, Noel Harrison was born In 1934.

As a teenager he joined the Ipswich repertory theatre group and taught himself guitar, but his main interest was sport and most of his spare time was spent skiing in Switzerland.

At an early age he was a member of the British ski team, becoming its first giant-slalom champion in 1953 and representing Britain at the Winter Olympics in Oslo in 1952 and  Italy in 1956, competing in both down-hill and slalom events.

Noel also did his National Service and, after leaving the army in the fifties, toyed with the idea of becoming a journalist, but instead he concentrated on his guitar.
When he was 20, he started playing professionally, around the tables in a Greek restaurant in London, for meals and tips.

He also made a living playing in bars and nightclubs all over Europe, including appearances at the famous Blue Angel Club, where one show was recorded for a live album.

But his early break came in 1958 when he took a regular part in the BBC TV programme Tonight, as part of a team who sang the day's news in a calypso style.

He left England for America in 1965, working as a nightclub entertainer at such venues as San Francisco's Hungry I and at the Persian Room in New York

Thanks to his managers Bob Chartoff and lrwin Winkler, who went on to produce the Rocky films, he had a record hit the charts, A Young Girl, written by Charles Aznavour. The song was included on his first studio album, Noel Harrison, which was released in 1966.

He also landed the co-lead with Stefanie Powers in the television show The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.

The TV series, plus the top 40 record, landed Noel a contract with Reprise, who he released three albums for, Collage, Santa Monica Pier and The Great Electric Experiment is Over.

He also toured with the Beach Boys, and Sonny and Cher and appeared on both the Ed Sullivan show and Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.

The high point of his Hollywood period though came with his Oscar-winning version of The Windmills of Your Mind, written for the original Thomas Crown Affair film.

Despite the song winning the 1969 Oscar for best original song, Noel did not sing it at the Oscar ceremony. Instead his place was taken by Jose Feliciano.

The change came because Noel was working on the film Take A Girl Like You in England with Oliver Reed and Hayley Mills.
 
With Noel now an established actor, when Roger Moore announced his departure from the hit television show, The Persuaders, to take on the role of James Bond in 1972, Noel was considered as a replacement for him by television legend, Sir Lew Grade, but a second series of the show was never made.

Later in 1972, Harrison left America for Nova Scotia on Canada’s south-east coast and built a house from scratch with no electricity, inspired by the fashionable pioneers Scott and Helen Nearing and their self-help bible, Living The Good Life.

But one day the wood stove caught fire and the house burned down.

Noel rebuilt it with money earned from touring musicals in America and hosting a show called Take Time for Canada’s CBC channel. The fire was also the inspiration for one of the tracks on his 1979 classic album, Mount Hanley Song.

During the Seventies Noel also toured America in productions of Camelot and The Sound of Music.

He also played Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, the part made famous by his father in the film of the same name.

Other touring roles included King Arthur in Camelot, Count von Trapp in The Sound of Music, Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, Brian Runicles in No Sex Please, We're British and Lloyd Dallas in Noises Off.

An admirer of Jacques Brel, the Belgian troubadour, Noel later created a one-man musical, Adieu Jacques, and released a CD of songs from the show.


During the 1990s, Noel also turned his hand to script writing, penning the plots for a number of soft-porn television shows in America, including Justine: Crazy Love and Emmanuel, Queen of the Galaxy.

Before the millennium he returned to Britain, moving to Devon.

He still sung, putting on occasional gigs and financed his own CDs, including the album Hold Back Time.

A compilation of his work for Reprise called Life is a Dream was released in 2003, his debut album, Noel Harrison, was re-released in 2008 and his three Reprise albums were re-released in 2011.
 
In 2010, he recorded a new album called From the Sublime to the Ridiclious! The record was made as part of the internet event, the RPM Challenge, which challenges musicians to record a new album from scratch during the month of February.
 
At the beginning of 2013, despite having to cancel a number of gigs due to illness, Noel released the album Six Songs with fellow musician Phil Rossiter.

On October 19, 2013, Noel played a gig in the village of Black Dog in Devon. Following a long drive home he had a heart attack and was taken to hospital. Sadly, he died in hospital on Sunday, October 20, aged 79. On Tuesday, October 29, Noel was buried in a woodland close to his home in Devon.
 
 

 
 
Noel Harrison on Rex Harrison
 
Watch Noel discuss his father Rex's films, including Dr Dolittle and My Fair Lady, as part of the 2005 TV show, The 100 Greatest Family Films.
 

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