No sooner had news of comedian Bob Hope's death been announced than the star was popping up to say he was off to do his shopping, writes Reg Little...

Laurie Leigh's heart missed a beat when she learned that her former boss had died.

But when the ex-boss in question just happens to be Bob Hope, she might have guessed who would be having the last laugh.

So it was to prove. No sooner had an American senator announced news of the star's death to a shocked world than Bob was popping up to announce he was off to do some late shopping at his local supermarket.

Few people felt greater relief than Laurie, for 22 years the owner of an antiques shop in High Street, Oxford.

At the height of his fame she worked as the comedian's personal assistant and made up her own mind long ago about his staying power.

"To me Bob has always seemed indestructible, like he would go on for ever," said Laurie, 65, who lives in Charlbury. "But hearing his death announced on television didn't half give me a jolt."

As antiques dealers go, Laurie can certainly claim to have a past that is glittering, carefully preserved in bulging scrap-books and genuinely unique.

The lady, who can boast one of the city's finest glass collections, has in her time starred as an actress opposite the likes of Oliver Reed and Claire Bloom. She can even claim to have had a hand in winning the role of James Bond for Sean Connery, whom she knew from the beginning of his career.

But the job she remembers with greatest fondness was working for the world's best loved comic. "When there was no acting work going, I would sometimes work as a secretary," said Laurie. "I ended up working for quite a few famous film producers and directors. "When I was offered the chance to work for Bob I just didn't want to know at first. Enough acting work had been coming my way and I had to get up at 5am to be taken to Pinewood Studios to meet him."

She met Hope on the set of his 1962 film Call Me Bwana.

"The first time I set eyes on Bob he was wearing zebra-striped pyjamas and a pair of slippers with big rhinoceros horns sticking out of the toe of each one.

"He was the most wonderful boss. Even though he was then already in his sixties, he was still doing all his own stunts. I remember him dangling from his ankles by a rope.

"He was crazy about golf then. He had a golf scene written into the film just so he could get on the golf course. My first view of golf was seeing him play with Arnold Palmer."

When it came to helping charity he was equally keen. Laurie recalled: "He was ridiculously generous and because he had a charitable foundation, people were always phoning up begging. We had women calling to say that they could not pay their rent. "I used to have to say, 'No Bob. You can't help someone like this. You'll have hundreds of them calling.'"

She was later shocked to find that the master of the spontaneous quip in fact used "idiot boards" during live performances. Each joke was written in huge lettering.

Said Laurie: "There were so many jokes. In the end I did not find them at all funny because the gags were coming out by the hundred. For one show, Tony Hancock was used as the warm-up."

Laurie married clock restorer Woolf Leigh, who died six years ago. Her son David is a well-known instrument restorer and classical musician.

Years later she eventually met up with Hope again at the Dorchester Hotel, when the comedian was in London for an Eamon Andrews show.

He even introduced her to his old sparring partner Bing Crosby, who was passing through.

Laurie didn't take to the old crooner one bit. No doubt her old boss loved her all the more for that.


Laurie played a part in creating the first James Bond.

When Dr No, the first 007 film, was being planned, she was working for the movie's creators Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli.

Saltzman's desk was covered in pictures of hunks. Laurie spotted Sean Connery, with whom she had appeared in a TV production of Anna Karenina.

Saltzman asked her view of the big Scot. She replied: "He's nice. Very nice."

Saltzman later took Connery for lunch at the Dorchester. When he saw every female in the restaurant turning to look at his guest, he realised they shared Laurie's assessment. Connery got the job.

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