Mollie Randle MBE (1927)

Many Old Edwardians will have fond memories of the dramatic side of KEHS, that is to say, the performance of a variety of theatrical pieces. Whether it was the thrill of performing, the intellectual stimulation of watching, or the allure of meeting certain members of the neighbouring boys’ school, drama was, and is, an integral part of life at KEHS. Over the years there have been many hundreds of dramatic performances, ranging from the comical, traditional to the more challenging, both to perform and watch.

Mollie Randle, like countless girls before and since, adored drama and the arts and much of this blossomed after her school days. Together with her husband, John English, she later set up the Midlands Art Centre (the MAC), on our doorstep in Cannon Hill Park, which is now a leading light in sponsoring many art and drama events, with a multitude of workshops for all ages.

Mollie attended KEHS from 1922 until 1927. She belonged to Bordeaux House and was in the Historical Society. Evidence tells us that an aunt took her to her first serious play when she was twelve, whetting her appetite for the theatre and drama. Records show that when she left school, she worked in an accountants’ office and then as a civil servant in a tax office. Her mother was furious with her when she gave up a ‘safe job’ with good pay for a more precarious career working to bring theatre, drama and the arts to the people of Birmingham, especially children and young people.

After KEHS and the increasing boredom of ‘good, steady jobs’, Mollie became involved in the amateur theatrical world. She was Dramatic Section Secretary of the BGOEC, also appearing in the all-female cast of ‘Nine Till Six’, which made a grand profit of £4 IIs Id! By 1941, she had joined the Highbury Little Theatre in Sutton Coldfield, helping to make it one of the most successful amateur theatres in the Midlands. Here she met and worked with John English, who had also given up a successful career as an industrial chemist, to follow his passion of the arts and drama.

Mollie and John went on to set up a dramatic touring company, the Arena Theatre, to explore their shared ideas about introducing young people to the world of theatre. Both she and John strongly believed that creativity and the arts had been neglected in young people in the post-war years. After the touring company’s success, the idea for creating a permanent centre where children could learn about the theatre was born. In between drama and the arts, Mollie and John were married in 1959 in Sutton Coldfield Register Office. With the help of Councillor Sir Frank Price, they lobbied Birmingham City Council to help them accomplish their ambitious idea to create an arts centre in Birmingham. Mollie knocked on the doors of local businesses and charities as part of the fundraising for the project. In 1962 the Council approved their proposal for the Arts Centre and donated 8.6 acres of land in Cannon Hill Park for that purpose. The shared dream of Mollie and John had finally become a reality.

The MAC went from strength to strength, offering a vast variety of art forms, as well as sponsoring young artists and performers. John was paid a salary as Director, whilst Mollie was General Manager for some fifteen years, totally unpaid. They celebrated his OBE in 1968. After John’s death, Mollie still continued on the MAC’s board, even after suffering a stroke the board members refused her offer of resignation, even though she could no longer “butt in” at Board meetings!

Quite deservedly, on December 31st 1999, Mollie Randle received her MBE at Buckingham Palace, for her services to Community Arts. She had seen her MAC blossom in providing ground-breaking opportunities for the young and old in our ever evolving city. She and John were not wrong when they had said many years before, “a good theatre never stands still.”

Mollie’s name recently appeared in a Birmingham Mail feature on “Influential women who make you proud to be from the Midlands.” She was a shining example of a KEHS girl, with a dream and a passion: inspirational and certainly fitting to be called a distinguished Old Edwardian.

Written by members of The Archives Club: Philippa, Sophie, Zahrah, Lydia, Millie, Annette and Cas.