Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris was a "Jekyll and Hyde" character whose "untouchable" reputation allowed him to carry out a string of alleged indecent assaults on under-age girls, a court has heard.

The 84-year-old was even known at an Australian TV channel as "the octopus" because of the way he put his hands all over women, London's Southwark Crown Court heard today.

Mr Harris faces a total of 12 counts of indecent assault between 1968 and 1986, all of which he denies.

Prosecutor Sasha Wass QC said Mr Harris's alleged victims were "overawed" at meeting him, saying: "Mr Harris was too famous, too powerful and his reputation made him untouchable."

She told the court that the 84-year-old is "not merely a celebrity but a national popular figure" who has widespread appeal, especially as a children's entertainer.

Opening the case to a packed courtroom, Ms Wass said Mr Harris was a regular fixture on television in the 1970s and his "glittering career" continued well into this millennium.

The prosecutor described him as "an immensely talented man" who excelled in art, music and children's entertainment, telling jurors that he painted a picture of the Queen in 2005 to commemorate her 80th birthday and was made a CBE the following year.

Ms Wass said it was Mr Harris's fame and reputation that meant nobody suspected him or challenged his behaviour and he was able to carry out "brazen" sexual assaults, often when other people were present or nearby.

She went on: "The prosecution does not, for a minute, suggest that there is not a good, talented and kind side to Mr Harris.

"But concealed behind this charming and amicable children's entertainer lay a man who exploited the very children who were drawn to him." 

Describing him as a "Jekyll and Hyde" character, she said: "This dark side of Rolf Harris was obviously not apparent to all of the other people he met during the course of his work, and it was not apparent to those who may want to testify to his good character."

She said it was "a side of him which is sexually attracted to children and under-age girls" and "a side which gave him the confidence to molest girls knowing that they could not object and, even if they did, nobody would believe them".