Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler were associated with Edward German’s comic opera, Merrie England for most of their lives, and they sang other Edward German songs into the bargain. Anne had taken the role of the May Queen in an amateur production of Merrie England when still in her teens, and she sang Bessie Throckmorton’s Waltz Song as a test recording when she auditioned for HMV in the nineteen-thirties.
Anne is seated
One of her few solo recordings was the Waltz Song from German’s Tom Jones.
Webster, as part of the HMV Light Opera Company had recorded The English Rose, Robin Hood’s Wedding and With a Hey, Robin in the nineteen thirties’ recording of Merrie England Vocal Gems (C2106):
He made his own solo recording of The English Rose in 1939. The latter recording was one of his most popular recordings.
Later he made a recording of Where Haven Lies from German’s A Princess of Kensington and told me he considered this song to be “the greatest love song ever written”.
The first time they appeared together in Merrie England was in a concert version in a Circus Big Top in Blackpool in the summer of 1941. In 1945 they starred in a concert performance of Merrie England with the Oldham Choral Society at the Odeon Cinema, Oldham. The performance took place on a Sunday afternoon, conducted by the resident conductor, Ernest Craig. The show was so popular that it had to be repeated again that evening by public demand.
But it was in the early nineteen-fifties when Anne and Webster came into their own in Merrie England, taking the starring roles of Bessie Throckmorton and Sir Walter Raleigh with various amateur operatic societies. The first such performance was from 15 – 18 August 1951 at Westbourne Gardens, Liskeard, Cornwall. The show was presented by Liskeard Musical Theatre, directed by Thomas J. Bell and conducted by Percival Hill.
Anne and Marjorie Eyre signing autograph books
The next performance was in 1952 at Priory Park, Chichester. The show was an open air production presented by the Chichester Amateur Operatic Society and starred Anne and Webster in their usual roles, with Leslie Rands and Marjorie Eyre, another husband and wife singing team, once distinguished members of D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, playing the Earl of Essex and Jill-All-Alone.
1953 was Coronation Year so Merrie England, set in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, seemed like an ideal work to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Anne and Webster were booked to appear in a number of these productions.
There was even a concert performance of the work in Canada. An advance notice about this notified the public that it would take place in the Stampede Corral, Calgary in May conducted by Harold Ramsay, an old friend of the Booths. He had been born Harold Ramsbottom in England, but raised in Canada. He changed his name to Harold Ramsay and became a gifted cinema organist, first in Canada and the USA. He went to England in 1933 and became Granada’s Chief Organist. He returned to Canada after World War 2.
The Calgary Herald, 3 March 1953 read as follows:
28 April 1953 The Ottawa Citizen reported:
British Stars Flying 8,800 Miles to Sing London –
Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler, Britain’s top man-and-wife operatic team, will ditch a well-earned holiday to fly 8,800 miles to a one-night stand in Calgary. Calgarians can than a long-standing friendship between the British couple and Harold Ramsay, former British Broadcasting Corporation organist who founded the Calgary Choral Society under the sponsorship of the Calgary Kiwanis Club. Ramsay said wistfully in a letter describing a musical play he is producing: “I only wish you and Anne were free.”
The couple immediately gave up plans for a three-week holiday in France and will appear in the opening performance May 9 of Merrie England, a Tudor production well suited to the coronation of the second Elizabeth. They will be the only professionals in an otherwise all-Canadian cast.
Calgarians will be the more appreciative of Ramsay’s success because the Booths have leading roles in this country’s coronation summer entertainment plans. The Calgary appearance will be one in a series of Merrie England performances. The first in the United Kingdom is scheduled to begin June 1 at Newport, Wales. One of the biggest will be at the country home of Sir Harold Wernher at Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire.
Bulldozers have processed three acres for a vast open-air stage that will hold a cast of 1,000, of which 300 will be on horseback. Forty-one microphones have been installed to acoommodate audiences of about 21,000 expected every day in a week-long festival starting June 8.
It will be Miss Ziegler’s first trip to Canada. Booth last visited the country in the ‘20s when the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company toured North America. They will have three days’ holidays here before leaving for Calgary and will make a few radio, and possibly television appearances before returning by sea.
17 May 1953 MERRIE ENGLAND, Calgary, Canada; Kiwani’s Club sponsored Anne and Webster in one performance of Merrie England in the incongruous setting of the Rodeo Stadium, Calgary. As part of their fee they were treated to a memorable luxurious train journey through the Canadian Rockies to Montreal.
They arrived in Liverpool from Montreal on Friday 29 May 1953 on the Canadian Pacific liner Empress of France, where a Coronation Dinner was held on Wednesday, May 27 1953.
Although the show in Canada was a great success, the trip was spoilt when Webster suffered a severe bout of sciatica in his hip. He could barely move his right leg.
Here is the criticism of the show: Calgary Herald 11 May 1953
Merrie England show pleases 6000 persons by Shirley McNeill
From the opening chorus of Merrie England at the Stampede Corral Saturday night, the audience of 6,000 people who went to hear the premier performances of the Calgary Choral Society showed by their applause that hey approved heartily of what they heard.
Much of the success of the concert must be credited to singing stars Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler, who came all the way from England to appear with the society. This accomplished vocal team turned in performances that were polished and professional throughout.
The two other soloists of Merrie England, Calgarians Janet Warren and Ian Smith, are deserving of high praise for their roles in the delightful little opera. Mrs Warren’s vibrant contralto voice gave her roles of Jill-all-Alone and Elizabeth both contrast and warmth.
Mr Smith as the Earl of Essex was a convincing, confident performer. His deep well-rounded tones and the good control he displayed were a pleasure to hear.
But the man who deserves perhaps the greatest share of laurels for the success of Merrie England is Harold Ramsay, who in a few short months conducted the Calgary Choral Society to the high standard of musical accomplishment which they gave the audience on Saturday evening. It was Mr Ramsay’s job to conduct the choir as well as the 50 members of the Calgary Symphony Orchestra who gave instrumental support to the singers. This double duty was commendably performed.
One of the most rousing songs from Merrie England, the finale to the first part, It is a Tale of Robin Hood, was unfortunately distorted by loudspeakers, particularly for those members of the audience seated directly beneath them. The chorus and the four soloists combining voices in this finale were all too powerful a singing combination for the public address system set up to carry to all corners of the vast Corral. The microphones, however, were a necessary evil. Without them, it is doubtful if the concert would have been clearly audible to the entire audience.
The story of Elizabethan court days was incidental to the vocal beauty which Merrie England provoked in the ears of the audience. The rigid training program undergone by the Choral Society in recent months came to the fore in such selections as Sing a Down, a Down and the grand finale, Robin Hood’s Wedding.
The Singing courtship of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth as Bessie Throckmorton and Sir Walter Raleigh was romance of a high calibre, particularly so in such songs as Bessie’s Who shall say sic (The Waltz Song) and Raleigh’s The English Rose, one of the loveliest songs in the entire light opera.
With the concert version of Merrie England over, Miss Ziegler and Mr Booth delighted the audience with an aria from Faust, a medley of Viennese waltz songs and a comic performance of the popular Wunderbar.
Before singing this song from Broadway, the team had been presented with big white cowboy hats by Art Baines, president of the Calgary Kiwanis club which sponsored the concert. Miss Ziegler, wearing a black and gold hoop-skirted gown, tossed aside a feather hair adornment, and, assuming a genuine western air, donned the ten-gallon hat to the delight of the audience.
Stampede Corral, Calgary – opened in 1950
June 1 1953 Merrie England in Newport, Wales
June 1953 MERRIE ENGLAND, Crescent Cinema, Leatherhead. Leatherhead Dramatic and Operatic Society’s 1953 Coronation production starring Webster Booth as Raleigh and Anne Ziegler as Bessie Throckmorton.
8 June 1953 MERRIE ENGLAND, Luton Hoo Anne and Webster, the Luton Girls Choir. There were over 600 people in the chorus. Pamela Davies remarked in her book, Do You Remember Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth? :
“After And so to Bed finished in April 1953, I was so busy preparing to go to work in the United States that I learned too late that Anne and Webster had taken part in a spectacular show in June, when Merrie England was staged as a pageant at the historic Luton Hoo. They had only just returned from a lightning trip to Canada, to take part in the same operetta. On a tour of Canada the following year I had a brief glimpse of the huge rodeo stadium in Calgary at the entrance to the Rockies where it was staged – a more unlikely setting for Merrie England is hard to imagine
As it was, the performance of Haydn’s Creation at the Royal Albert Hall, mentioned earlier, was the last occasion I saw them in the flesh for over a quarter of a century. “
Luton Hoo production. Douglas Fairbanks (Jnr) is in the middle of the group. Anne and Webster are to his right. Below: Chorus scene from the Luton Hoo production of Merrie England.
In late 1957 they were featured in an advert for Lloyd’s Adrenaline cream in South Africa. According to the advertisement, this cream had given Webster relief to excruciating sciatic pain he had suffered on their fleeting visit to Calgary to appear in Merrie England. Apparently Anne used the cream whenever she had an attack of fibrositis.
16 – 21 June 1958 MERRIE ENGLAND, City Hall, East London Anne and Webster, with Jimmy Nicholas, Mabel Fenney, Pam Emslie and others.
Mabel Fenney (extreme left), Pam Emslie (extreme right) next to Jimmy Nicholas
12 to 29 November 1958 MERRIE ENGLAND, Reps Theatre, Johannesburg JODS. Anne and Webster starred and produced the show, with Marian Saunders, June Bass, Nohline Mitchell, Kenneth Anderson, Len Rosen, and Dudley Cock, conducted by Drummond Bell.
The last time Anne and Webster sang in Merrie England was in Knysna, shortly after they moved there from Johannesburg.
11 to 13 July 1968: MERRIE ENGLAND (Concert Version) at 8.15 pm Knysna and District Choral Society D R Church Hall, Fichat Street, Knysna Webster, Anne, Dorothy Davies, James Squier and Ena Van der Vyver, directed by Anne Ziegler, conducted by Webster Booth, Accompanist: Wanda Willis.