Sean Harris, ‘SOBE,’ and the Weasleys

Rowling first revealed her friendship with Sean Harris by dedicating Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to him in 1997. “For Sean P. F. Harris, Getaway Driver and Foul-Weather Friend.” She has since dedicated Career of Evil  to Sean and his brother, Matthew, and acknowledged Sean under the code-name ‘SOBE’ for his help with military details at the back of both Silkworm and Career.  Harris and Rowling have each received Order of the British Empire or OBE honors from the Queen, which titles they have playfully changed, it seems to reflect their real standing, emphasis on the ‘SOB.’

Rowling explained her friendship debt to Sean Harris on her first web site’s biography page, one our friends at The Rowling Library have preserved and reposted.

My secondary school, Wyedean, where I went when I was eleven, was the place I met Sean Harris, to whom Chamber of Secrets is dedicated and who owned the original Ford Anglia. He was the first of my friends to learn to drive and that turquoise and white car meant FREEDOM and no more having to ask my father to give me lifts, which is the worst thing about living in the countryside when you are a teenager. Some of the happiest memories of my teenage years involve zooming off into the darkness in Sean’s car. He was the first person with whom I really discussed my serious ambition to be a writer and he was also the only person who thought I was bound to be a success at it, which meant much more to me than I ever told him at the time.

We all owe a debt, then, to Sean Harris. Rowling called him a “Foul-Weather Friend” in her Chamber dedication, though, because her debt at one time, the nadir of her personal and professional life on her return to the UK as single mom, was actually financial; Harris floated her an emergency loan that helped get her through the worst. Loyal as he is, he has also never participated in an interview about Rowling except in her presence. One such occasion was the BBC 2001 show ‘Harry Potter and Me’ in which the two friends appeared and Rowling revealed that Ron Weasley is in essence Sean Harris:

JKR: It was at Wydean that I met Sean, which has been a very important friendship in my life. Huge friendship in my life. I always felt a bit of an outsider and that might perhaps explain why Sean and I were so close, because he came in late and like me he didn’t have the local accent, and so I think to an extent we both felt like outsiders in the place, and that probably formed quite a big bond between us….

JKR [standing with Sean, a bridge in the background (Angharad suspects this is the Severn Bridge)]: So this is Sean to whom the second Harry Potter book is dedicated. And Ron owes a fair bit to Sean….

JKR: I never set out to describe Sean in Ron, but Ron has a Sean-ish turn of phrase….

SEAN HARRIS [SH], friend : I suppose the similarities are that he’s not … he’s never quite first-eleven but he’s on the verges of being first-eleven. And I think…

JKR: Well, if I may joke — sorry.

SH: I was gonna say, academically, for example, in school, it was quite clear that Jo was … I’m not being … embarrassment aside … was first-eleven. And I was very definitely hanging on the coattails there. Borrowing essays, occasionally, and uh …

SH: I think with the … the Ron character, I think what comes through to me anyway, maybe I’ve misinterpreted it, is that he’s he’s always there or thereabouts well-intentioned.

JKR: He’s always there when you need him, that’s Ron Weasley!… Sean was the first of my friends to pass his driving test and he had this old Ford Anglia — claptop Ford Anglia turquoise, some white, which is now quite famous as the car that the Weasleys drive — I was obviously going to give the Weasleys Sean’s old car. And that car was freedom to us. My heart still lifts when I see an old Ford Anglia, which is a bit sad…

JKR: He was the coolest man in school, he had a turquoise [they’re laughing] Ford Anglia, and you were pretty cutting edge, I think.

SH: I was in those days yeah.

JKR: Yeah.

SH: It’s all gone horribly wrong since, but —

JKR: Spandau Ballet haircut. Sorry.

SH: And — of an evening she’d phone up and say Come pick me up, and I’d drive down there, and we’d head off somewhere else in the car, so the car became —

JKR: — and sit under the Severn Bridge.

SH: Sit under Severn Bridge, or or elsewhere.

JKR: And discuss Life! And drink.

SH: Absolutely.

JKR: It’s a very sad life, isn’t it? This, this is what we thought was exciting when we were seventeen. We used to sit down here in a Ford Anglia. Yeah, those urban kids, they don’t know what they miss! [laughing]

Harris may not have been great shakes in the Wyedean Comprehensive classroom as a teen or even in college — he took a second class degree at Aberystwyth University where he was captain of the hockey team — but he has since picked up three masters degrees, become conversant in Gurkha, and served a term in Nepal, his last in the British Army before retirement, where he was Commander British Gurkhas Nepal and United Kingdom Defence Attaché. I haven’t been able to find his OBE honors sheet, but it is clear from his life experience and current position, that this is nobody’s fool, if he is humble enough to play Ron’s part for the BBC narrative.

When Rowling told Emma Watson in 2014 that the Ron-Hermione match was wish-fulfillment on her part, the natural assumption is that, planning the Hogwarts Saga in Edinburgh, she was thinking fondly of her oldest mate, Sean Harris.

I know that Hermione is incredibly recognizable to a lot of readers and yet you don’t see a lot of Hermiones in film or on TV except to be laughed at. I mean that the intense, clever, in some ways not terribly self-aware, girl is rarely the heroine and I really wanted her to be the heroine. She is part of me, although she is not wholly me. I think that is how I might have appeared to people when I was younger, but that is not really how I was inside.

What I will say is that I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That’s how it was conceived, really. For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione with Ron….

I know, I’m sorry, I can hear the rage and fury it might cause some fans, but if I’m absolutely honest, distance has given me perspective on that. It was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility. 

In a 2000 interview with The Daily Herald, Rowling revealed that her love of large families and her including the Weasley clan in the Potter series was inspired by a certain friend of hers coming from a family with twelve children:

I have always been drawn to the idea of large families, even as a child; perhaps I wanted more siblings to boss around, or wanted to escape into a corner to daydream without being missed as easily. I’ve devoured biographies of the Kennedy and Mitford families for years, and one of my best friends is the oldest of 12, so I’m well aware that life in a large clan is not without its drawbacks. Nevertheless, the Harry Potter books were my chance to create my own, ideal big family, and my hero is never happier than when holidaying with the seven Weasleys.

I shared this passage with Nick Jeffrey in the hope he could confirm that the Harris family was this large. He found a 2009 article revealing that the Harris clan knows they are the Weasleys and which of the children represent which red-headed sons and daughter of Molly and Arthur. An Australian woman named Sarah met and married Chris Harris, one of Sean’s younger brothers, when they were both teachers at an English school. She only learned after their nuptials of the Harry Potter connection:

“I was captivated by [Chris’] magic. I truly believe he cast a spell on me, and we were engaged within six weeks.”

But it wasn’t until several years later that Sarah learnt J.K. Rowling was a family friend and had put the Harris clan into her books.

“My in-laws are Mr and Mrs Weasley,” she laughs. “My brother-in-law, Sean, is Ron Weasley and my husband is Percy Weasley.

The Weasley twins are my brother-in-law Matthew, and Ginny Weasley is my sister-in-law Anne Marie.”

The testimony of any woman bragging about having married the real-world equivalent of Percy Weasley may be suspect, as, frankly, are all those who claim to be the person having inspired Rowling to create specific Potter characters. In this case, though, I rather hope she is right. The Harrises seem a fine bunch and oldest child Sean, as OBE or SOBE, a fine man and exemplar friend.

My bet is that this friend has an extraordinary sense of humor. As Rowling told Watson, “Just like her creator, [Hermione] has a real weakness for a funny man. These uptight girls, they do like them funny.”

Comments

  1. Brian Basore says

    Thank you for this post. I’d read the novel Being Emily, by Anne Donovan, and hoped there were real people like the characters Jas and Fiona. Apparently so.

  2. “Just like her creator, [Hermione] has a real weakness for a funny man. These uptight girls, they do like them funny.”

    This part made me think of Janice in TB…

  3. Im just watching the BBC docu with JK on YouTube and came online to see if I could find anymore info on Sean. It was a wonderful surprise to find your page! Thank you for doing the hard work to put all this info together.

  4. Welcome to HogwartsProfessor, Netty!

    There’s more on Harris at https://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/troubled-blood-the-acknowledgments/ and for discussion of Rowling’s personal life being embedded in the stories she writes (and what to make of that rather than just gossip) at https://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/troubled-blood-rowling-father-echoes/.

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