Bob Harkness

Bob Harkness 1928-2001 - Issue 10 . Summer 2001

We're pleased to publish here a shortened version of the eulogy read at the funeral of Bob Harkness at Woodvale Crematorium on 9th May, by his great friend John Mann, the distinguished theatre organist. Thanks to John for his permission. © John Mann

Robert Harkness was born on the 17th August 1928. He trained as an electrical engineer and in 1953 worked in Zurich, Switzerland. His National Service was with the Royal Signals as an electrical fitter and driver-mechanic.

In civilian life he became a cinema projectionist, at which cinema we are not sure, but he did tell many amusing stories of his life as a projectionist, rushing in those days from cinema to cinema carrying the large heavy spools of film so that it could be shown in the next cinema. Film spools running out over the road, his antics en route were well-documented, I think many will gather what went on. Working within the cinema sparked his great interest in theatre and the world of make believe.


Being a great friend of Dorothy's he met his life-long partner Harry Hulse in 1959. Just as to how these two met is made very clear in a book written about Brighton's scene called Daring Hearts (see pages 40-41). Whilst at a fancy dress party someone judging the costumes asked them what they were dressed as, and quick as a flash they said they were The Bookends. This title remained throughout the partnership. As The Bookends indeed they were inseparable.

Having established this relationship Bob and Harry set up a small shop in Sompting, a sort of Open All Hours-type premises, 'a bit like the owners'. Confectionery was its business.

Bob's love of theatre and music and films played the greatest part in his life and he had quite a collection of photos of young glamorous film-star ladies. He was a member of several organ societies. He travelled many miles to concerts and every year went on the organ safaris in America as well as this country. He was a keen fan of mine and Bob and Harry together would always be in the audience. His other favourite organist was Robert Wolf. So you see had no taste...

Theatre organs

He really was heavily involved with the theatre organ scene, which is in itself heavily connected with our friend Dorothy again. So it was music and fun every time we met up. Being the generous chap Bob was, he made several large donations towards installations of theatre organs, which has helped keep the tradition of theatre organs buoyant. Respect for his gesture will live on within the organ world.

Bob liked his travelling and as well as trips to the States he adopted quite by chance a Greek family from the island of Crete. Here he took on a role which he enjoyed so much and the bond within the family was truly a strong and binding affair Bob took seriously. Kostas and his family are devastated at his passing.

Kind fun person

He never really got over the death of Harry back in 1996. He soldiered on continuing his hobbies and travel and being the kind fun person he was as ever, but The Bookends were parted and things were never the same. Sadly last October it was discovered he had prostate cancer, showing no signs or symptoms.

His departure has been a great shock and I'm sure we all feel a great sense of loss of a friend who was so kind, thoughtful, willing to help so many along the way. Farewell friend.

John Cockerill

We also record with sadness the death of John Cockerill on 16th February. Our thoughts are with his partner Chris and we join with him in hoping that John is 'hunting sausage in his gay heaven'.


All text and images copyright Brighton Ourstory, a registered charity, number 1106242. | sitebysimon