BY LINDA HOPE
Every Tuesday my dad would do two radio shows, one on the east coast at 5pm and then he’d fly over and be on the radio at 8pm live from Los Angeles for his west coast audience. But in between the shows my mother, Dolores, my brother Tony, and I would meet him at Brown Derby, a little restaurant near the NBC studios in West Hollywood (our brother and sister were babies and stayed at home). My mother always made us get dressed up, and insisted we behave properly at the dinner table. But Dad was like her fifth child – he was always up for having fun. Often while Mother was explaining something, like which forks to use, suddenly a napkin would come flying out of nowhere, sent over by Dad. It would crack us up.
My father came from very humble beginnings. He was born Leslie Townes Hope in 1903 in Eltham, south-east London, but the family moved to America in 1907. His father was a stonemason and had gone ahead to find work, leaving my grandmother to come across in steerage on her own with six boys. But because everyone was using steel and concrete, my grandfather never found much work. So Dad was out at a young age (he left school at nine) trying to earn a living.
He found he was good at entertaining; he would busk and perform stand-up on the boardwalk. As soon as he was old enough he changed his name to Bob. He hated his real name – at school the teachers would read his surname first, so they called out 'Hope, Les’, and he was bullied. He started as a dancer in vaudeville, where he was 'discovered’ in the 1920s, and then he became a radio and film star in the 1930s and 40s. I was never all that keen to listen to him though – I always liked Jack Benny – but as I got older I started to appreciate what a genius he really was.
We could never go out to eat without people asking him for an autograph, but he loved the attention. I am the oldest of four (all adopted as babies) and throughout our lives he was famous so we didn’t know it any other way. But we did get the benefit of having him in private too. Some people say comedians are quite dark, but not Dad. He was always entertaining. He would sometimes knock underneath the table while we were eating dinner and then jump up and have a conversation with Bessie, our next-door neighbour out of the window. He’d say, 'Bessie, are you out at this hour of the night?’ and then reply, in a falsetto voice, 'Yes, I came to see if Lin and Tony could come out to play.’ That was the start of this whole routine and we absolutely adored it. We believed him for ages. Even when we finally caught on we pretended we didn’t know, because it was such fun...