When Mollie stood in as Bob Hope’s straight man

Stephen Booth (back left) with his visiting family, Steve and Kim O'Donnell, Harry and Mollie Harris and their grandchildren Kelcie, Kale and Calder.
Stephen Booth (back left) with his visiting family, Steve and Kim O'Donnell, Harry and Mollie Harris and their grandchildren Kelcie, Kale and Calder.

BRIGHOUSE man Stephen Booth has special guests to stay - and the flags flying outside his home are a bit of a clue.

The Stars and Stripes, hung up alongside the red cross of St George, are there to welcome visitors from America - Stephen’s aunt Mollie and her husband Melvin ‘Harry’ Harris, the couple’s daughter Kim O’Donnell and her husband Steve, and Mollie’s three grandchildren - Kelcie, aged 26, Calder, 23, and Kale, 22.

Eighty-year-old Mollie was born and brought up in Rastrick and last visited her home town 10 years ago. Now the family have returned to stay at Stephen’s home in Bracken Road to attend the wedding of Stephen’s daughter Louise to Gareth Lennox at St Matthew’s Church, Lightcliffe.

Happily settled in Colorado Springs with her family, Mollie says she has never felt homesick for England and was happy to take American citizenship - but returning to Brighouse brings the memories flooding back.

“Brighouse is very dear to me and I am proud of my birthplace and my heritage. But where I live now in America with my husband and family is home,” she said.

Mollie went to Longroyde Junior School and the former Victoria Central School before working at numerous jobs in the town. She even worked for a short time on the reception desk at the Brighouse Echo.

But her true passion was for entertaining and she made many appearances with her musical comedy act at Sunny Bunce’s pleasure gardens at Hipperholme. She sang on stage alongside Roy Castle, then an up-and-coming young performer from Holmfirth, and appeared on ‘Opportunity Knocks’, at the time a radio show, with Hughie Green.

Joining the entertainment troupe the New Kiltie Juniors gave Mollie the opportunity to escape from Brighouse and travel all over post-war Europe - and she seized it enthusiastically.

“We were a group of young people aged from 16 to 21 and we were away from home, many of us for the first time. We had great fun,” she recalled.

The group toured Europe extensively entertaining troops still based there and Mollie’s proudest moment was being asked by comedian Bob Hope to be the ‘straight man’ for his act at a concert in Finland.

“Bob Hope caught my eye and came up to me and asked me to help him. I was dumbfounded but I couldn’t refuse him.”

It was during one of the tours that Mollie met her future husband Harry, who was with the US Air Force. The couple married in 1954 at St Matthew’s Church, Rastrick, and moved back to America where Harry continued his Air Force service.

“I was excited about going and my parents gave me every encouragement because they knew I’d found a good man. I missed my family terribly at first but my mum and dad just wanted me to be happy,” said Mollie.

The couple eventually settled in Colorado, where Harry was based at the US Air Force Academy, and they had three children, Robin, Kim and Garner. Mollie worked as a school librarian and since retiring has been a professional story teller, entertaining children and adults with her tales.

“When I worked in the library I realised that it was much easier to hold children’s attention if I memorised the stories and then related them instead of just reading them. I’ve just carried on with it. I love communicating through stories.”

In 2001, when she was last in Brighouse, Mollie used her story-telling talents to entertain visitors to Brighouse Gala.

For Mollie’s daughter Kim being back in Brighouse is also a chance to take a trip down memory lane. She first visited the town as a child in 1965 when her father was posted to Germany. Mollie and her three children stayed in Brighouse for a few months and Kim, Robin and Garner went to Bailiff Bridge School.

“I can remember it well,” said Kim. “We went on a school trip in a coach - I had never been on a coach before - and I was most impressed that the teacher had a kettle in her classroom to make a cup of tea!”

l Mollie and Harry Harris are staying in Brighouse until August 4. Anyone who remembers her from her school days in Rastrick and would like to meet up is invited to contact Stephen Booth on 07904 217433.