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At last a fitting award for art's sake; Mollie Randle was awarded the MBE for services to community arts.

You're honoured: Mollie Randle helped found the Midland Arts Centre with husband John English OBE.

You probably know of the MAC. And maybe you have even heard of the founder of the MAC, John English OBE, honoured and celebrated by the city of Birmingham and even recognised by the Queen.

But unless you are working very closely with the MAC, you will most likely never have heard of his wife, Mrs Mollie Randle, and what her part was in starting up what was then called the Midlands Arts Centre for young people.

To the people running the MAC, there was never just one man a good idea behind the centre. John English was only one half of the dynamic duo of John and Mollie which created it and the new list of honours shows that the word finally got to the Queen: Mollie Randle will be following in her husband's footsteps as she will be going to Buckingham Palace later this year to receive an MBE for her services to community arts.

Unfortunately, her beloved John will not be there to share the moment with her - he passed away a year ago after six years of illness.

"I immediately thought 'If only John was here', he would have been so happy," says a surprised Mollie. "He always said it ought to have been the two of us who had the honour, when he had his OBE in the early 80s."

And hearing the story, no doubt he was right. Mollie Randle fought just as hard as her husband in realising their shared dream of a place where children could have their first taste of arts and theatre. She sparked ideas and knocked on the doors of local business people and charities to get money for more than a year before the centre was finally a reality.

Then she accepted to work as the general manager for more than a decade and a half - unpaid, because there was only money to pay the director (who was then John English).

But her dedication did not stop there - she has been on the board of the MAC ever since she resigned in the mid-70s, and she still is to this day, despite the fact that she is 89 years old and suffering from the after-effects of a stroke in August last year.

The stroke came out of the blue one day - she went to answer the phone and found she couldn't speak. She was taken to hospital but since then she has been struggling with speaking. "It's horrible," Mollie Randle admits sadly, "the stroke has taken a bit out of me".

Her initial reaction to the stroke was to write to the MAC to resign but she was soon given evidence of how important she is to the centre. They had only just received her letter before they phoned her and told her she must not resign, even if she could not talk!

So Mollie was persuaded to continue her work and she admits that she is quite happy to do so - even if she cannot butt in at the board meetings as quickly as she used to.

But Mollie Randle's life was not just theatre, though theatre played a big part in it ever since her aunt took her to see her first serious play at 12. When she left school a couple of years later, her interest in acting made her join an amateur dramatic group but she kept up a living by working first in an accountant's office, then as a civil servant in the tax department while acting in her spare time.

Her career in theatre only took off when she helped establishing the Highbury Little Theatre in Sutton Coldfield in the early 1940s.

John English was one of the forces behind the theatre and the first time they worked together it was soon obvious that he and Mollie Randle formed a powerful duo, workwise as well as privately.

Ten years later, they married and then they both quit their jobs to dedicate their lives to working with theatre.

The Arena Theatre was John English's idea: touring Birmingham parks in the summer and halls around the country in the winter, the theatre performed a range of popular plays and classic for adults and children's plays. "My mother was furious when I quit my job," laughs Mollie, admitting she must have been mad leaving good pay and pension behind and instead spending her savings on funding their theatre:

"We really struggled, we never had a holiday and we worked hard, but we loved it. Every time we stopped we said to each other 'we'll start again'."

But after 12 years they did not. Because that was when the idea of creating the MAC really took off. All around the country, theatres were fighting to get people in but to John English and Mollie Randle, the way to make that happen was obvious: Give even young children the chance to appreciate going to theatre. And thus the dream of a Midlands Arts Centre was born.

Mollie Randle was talking to Mette Andrea Boesgaard.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 8, 2000
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