Harry King, aka the Piss Harry and the King of the Golden River is a businessman in Ankh-Morpork. He is a large pink-faced man who is usually seen smoking a big cigar. He makes his living as a "night soil" removals man, his staff emptying the chamber pots of Ankh-Morpork for a fee. He also collects the rubbish from around the city and the river. He then sells the contents; saltpetre and ammonia to alchemists, urine and feces to tanners and farmers, lost valuables to the pawn brokers, etc. Since he makes money at both ends, people paying him to take away unwanted material, which he sells for more money, it is a perfect operation, one that everyone is happy to have someone else do if they can avoid doing it themselves. In the process, Harry becomes the most wealthy many in Ankh-Morpoork. The only problem with the business is that it is an undesirable trade and not conducive to making you a fixture in high society, something to which his wife Effie aspires. After all, you can't talk about business around the dinner table.
He employs a large staff including trolls, golems, goblins, and gnolls who man the conveyor belts to pick through the rubbish (the only problem being that the gnolls might eat some of the stuff while the goblins might convert likely-looking waste into unggue pots) as well as fleets of carts and wagons to collect the rubbish. As well as an impressive fleet of honey-wagons, carts and horsedrawn drays, Harry also runs a fleet of river barges and lighters to patrol the Ankh for likely-looking waste, before it dissolves or alchemically transmutes. He has a personal barge called the Lady Euphemia, presumably named after his wife. He is not a Guild member and resents the Guilds for trying to pressure him into joining the Beggars Guild because, as he says he has never begged for anything in his life. Why he hasn't joined the Guild of Plumbers and Dunnikin divers is unknown but likely due to the fact that he is prompt in his removal service rather than the common plumber's refrain of "I'll be by in a week or two".
Harry came to the trade early in life as a mudlark scrounging for lost valuables in the detritus of the Ankh-Morpork River, As a young man he was quick to spy the valuable waste, (tosheroons) which could then be sold. As his wealth grew, he hired gangs of street kids to act as workers instead of doing the actual scavenging himself. At this stage of his live, he developed a ruthless efficiency toward dealing with competition. Rival gangs were driven off or taken over, with Harry willing to hire trolls to act as enforcers long before anyone else caught on to the idea. Since earliest childhood, Harry has had a very direct way with those who want to cheat him.
Harry is mainly illiterate (although by Raising Steam his wife is trying to make him more posh by encouraging him to learn some Quirmian). He is a smart business man though and has the sense to hire clerks who can and will honestly do his paperwork for him as well as lawyers like the Troll Mr. Thunderbolt who he can trust. Those who are less than honest quickly find out the price for their crookedness is steep; a kick down a steep set of stairs and the potential for a visit with Harry's Lipwigzer guard dogs followed by ending up as small amounts of profitable end-product in the compost pile.
Harry has a large compound outside of town in New Ankh where he processes his products away from the city center. A large sign used to hang over the entrance way with the slogan "H. King – taking the piss since 1961" but on the insistence of his upwardly mobile wife he changed the latter part to "recycling nature's bounty" the kind of modern marketing euphemism that would go down well in Roundworld. To guard his valuables, Harry keeps ferocious mongrel guard dogs on his property - why 'buy posh foreign dogs when he can buy the crossbreeds'. Moist von Lipwig mistakes the dogs for pedigree Lipwigzers (like our Rottweilers, although Rottweilers are referred to by name in Carpe Jugulum), a particularly savage breed of dog, but one with which, as a Lipwig expat, Moist is familiar. Moist is quite intrigued to find that the commands used to discipline Lipwigzers still work on these dogs so that must be part of their cross breeding, although they may have been responding to the tone and confidence shown by Moist, a man who can charm anything. Harry prefers it when burglars break in, so that he doesn't have to feed the dogs but theft is not a regular occurrence.
Harry is happily married to he childhood sweetheart, Euphemia "Effie" King, (his pet name for her is "Duchess"), with whom Harry has several daughters (Daphne and Hermione are named in the series) and is a grandfather by one of them. In addition he as a favourite niece named Emily King. He adores his family and lavishes luxury on them in compensation for the perpetual bad smell around him. He is rich beyond measure and wants the things that money can't buy, social status for his wife and family. He is constantly seeking the best company and initially is rebuffed because of his trade. By the end of the series though he has achieved his goal and is an accepted member of society. Lady Euphemia is said to come down hard on any improper usage of her title, and by association his title as well.
Harry has a small but pivotal role in Making Money where his acumen as a businessman and developer is set is stark contrast to the money-making sleight of hand of Moist von Lipwig. His confidence in Moist's leadership of the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork leads him to deposit a large sum of money and save the bank just as the bank is about to fold. In Snuff, he reaches his goal of becoming more acceptable in society when Lord Vetinari knights him, dubbing him Sir Harold King and officially naming his wife "a ladyship". But to old friends, Sir Harold is just fine with an informal "Harry" in the privacy of his office.
In The Compleat Discworld Atlas, it is revealed that Harry has also expanded his barges used for patrolling the river for debris into a full shipping business including managing a dockyard, with the establishment of King's Dock located rimwards of the River Gate.
In Raising Steam, Harry branches away from the waste business when he is swayed by the new steam engine designed by Dick Simnel a young self-taught engineer, (who becomes romantically involved with Harry King's favorite niece, Emily), Harry provides the capital to build the "Ankh-Morpork and Sto Plains Hygienic Railway", Moist von Lipwig provides the negotating skills needed to get right of ways across the continent and Dick Simnel provides the engineering expertise to design and build the railway. By the end of the book Harry s given a lordship and, instead of the guests being somewhat reluctant to attend when he was first enobled, this time around the reception is well attended by an enthusiastic crowd of supporters who recognize that he is no longer the Piss Harry but is Lord King of the Permanent Way. Dick Simnel is knighted with Emily by his side, the prospect of marriage fully supported by Harry who sees that this will keep all the money in the family.
The "King of the Golden River", in connection to Harry King, is a reference to the classic 1842 fairy tale written by John Ruskin only this king finds gold in the shit and piss of Ankh-Morpork. His name is also possibly a play on the mystical "King of the Silver River" character who appears in the Tolkien-derived fantasy Shannara series by American writer Terry Brooks. Pratchett himself says that "practically everything in the career of Harry King is fairly based on fact (except for the trolls)." There are many parallels between Harry's career and those of Dickens' characters in Victorian England and in many poor countries the trades continue to this day. Mudlarks were children (usually) who made a living scrounging in the sewage of the Thames (and other) rivers for valuables that had been lost. The rag and bone men collected unwanted household items and sold them to merchants. Linen rags were turned into paper. Bones were used for knife handles, toys and ornaments. Harry's poem, "Tinkle, Tinkle, little spoon, Wedding ring will follow soon" is a macabre version of the saccharine child's nursery rhyme "Twinkle Twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are". Night soil collectors sold the urine and excrement that they collected (and still do it some countries). Urine contains urea which degrades into ammonia and is used in a number of industries. Tanners use it to loosen hair on animal hides. Laundresses used it to whiten and clean clothes. It could be used to make saltpeter for gunpowder. It was used to set dyes in the fabric trade and also used as a teeth whitener mouth wash. Human excrement was used as a fertilizer for crops as is animal excrement. Animal excrement is used as a fuel source and to mix into adobe brick to make buildings. Dog droppings were used in the tanning industry to soften the leather.
Important Character in:
The Celebrated Discworld Almanak
The World of Poo