Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler were very popular and attracted a legion of fans who followed them for a variety of reasons.
Before he began working with Anne, Webster attracted many female fans who admired him, not only for his beautiful voice, but for his smouldering good looks. He told me that he often singled out the most attractive girl in the audience and sang for her alone. Invariably she would be waiting at the stage door after the show, either to ask shyly for his autograph, hoping for a few kind words from her hero, or hoping, better still, that he would ask her out for a drink! He had attractive photos made to hand out to his fans, such as this one, signed at Shanklin in 1931, and the same photo later signed to Elaine in 1933.
His practised seduction technique led directly to his second marriage with soubrette, Paddy Prior. He had been singing at a Monday evening concert at the Concert Artistes Association when he noticed an attractive young woman sitting in the audience obviously enjoying his singing. When he sang One Alone he directed his attention to her alone. After the concert, he was introduced to her and they were married after his divorce from his first wife, Winifred Keey, was finalised. Sadly, his marriage to Paddy did not last very long after he met Anne Ziegler during the filming of the Faust Fantasy at the end of 1934.
In July 1934, Madeleine wrote a note to her friends, Lily and Phil, from Shanklin on the Isle of Wight where Webster was appearing in the Sunshine summer show there.
He valued his fans and treated them with kindness and consideration.He answered fan mail himself, such as in these letters, dated September and December 1936:
During the 1990s Anne wrote to me and told me that her very first fan had visited her recently in Penrhyn Bay. The girl had been fifteen years of age in 1935 and saw Anne in a summer show in Ryde when Anne herself was only twenty-five years of age. She had been a fan of Anne’s ever since and kept in touch with her over the years.
Even before Webster’s divorce to Paddy Prior was finalised, he and Anne began singing together on the concert platform. They were an instant success. Both were very attractive with charming personalities. He wore an evening suit with a gardenia in his lapel; Anne was beautifully dressed. As their popularity grew, she had crinoline gowns designed for her, some by the Queen Mother’s dress-designer, Norman Hartnell.
They attracted a legion of adoring fans. Many followed them ardently from one engagement to another and listened to all their broadcasts on the radio. One of their fans was Gladys Reed, seen below with Anne at the stage door of the London Palladium in 1942. You can see how delighted she was to have her photo taken with her idol! Anne wrote a letter to Gladys telling her to give their regards to the “gang” – probably referring to the devoted fans who followed them around from one engagement to the other.
Letter to Gladys 1943
Imagine how Anne and Webster’s fairytale act must have lightened the lives of their fans during the difficult war years. No wonder they attracted so many people at that time.
In 1943, Jean Buckley (née Newman) was thirteen years of age, living in wartime Manchester and she and her mother spending many nights in an air raid shelter with bombs dropping around them, keeping them from sleep. She and her mother attended many of their concerts and broadcasts in the city for Jean was enchanted by their act. She and her mother always went backstage to see the couple and Jean saved her pocket money and collected coupons so that she could buy gifts to present to Anne whenever they went backstage after a show. Anne and Webster saw Jean so often that they often sent her complimentary tickets for their shows.
Jean was very upset when they decided to move to South Africa in 1956 but they kept in touch and she sent them copies of The Stage while they were living there. When they returned to the UK in 1978 they lived near Jean and her husband Maurice and spent a lot of time with them. Jean said that Webster enjoyed watching cricket on TV with Maurice.
When Webster became ill and was admitted to a nursing home, Jean visited him in the afternoon when she finished work and took him out occasionally to give him a break from the dull routine of the nursing home. After his death, Jean did a great deal for Anne in one way and another. She and Maurice raised money to inaugurate a prize in Webster’s name at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Jean was very hurt when Anne’s friend, Babs Wilson Hill condescendingly introduced her as “Anne’s greatest fan.” Jean replied, “I think I might be considered Anne’s greatest friend.” Sadly, Anne and Jean fell out over a trivial matter several years before Anne’s death and they were never reconciled. I corresponded with Jean for over ten years and I am sad that she has lost her sight and is now living in a frail care home at the age of eighty-seven.
Anne and Jean in Penrhyn Bay before going to the Royal Northern College, Manchester for prize winners’ concert for the Webster Booth prize.
Another fan was Pamela Davies (née James). She mentioned in her book Do You Remember Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth? that she and her fellow teaching students gathered round the radio to listen to the Victory Royal Command Performance in November 1945 to hear Anne and Webster singing. She made extensive notes of all their radio appearances.
When Anne and Webster returned to the UK in 1978 she wrote to them to say how pleased she was that they had returned to the country. Thus began a regular correspondence which resulted in Pam and her husband Walter taking Anne out to lunch whenever they went to North Wales.
Anne and Webster went on an extensive concert tour of New Zealand and Australia in 1948. Anne wrote in Duet: “I had an admirer in Christchurch who brought me flowers every day we were there. They were freesias, of the beautiful big New Zealand variety. Her name was Margaret Richardson, and she has since come over to England and obtained a job in New Zealand House.”
Margaret Richardson returned to New Zealand and she and Anne kept in touch over the years. Unfortunately, Margaret died shortly before Anne, so she did not receive the photos Anne had allocated to her in her will.
I wonder where these children are now and what they thought of their mother’s choice of names for them!
When they returned to the UK in 1978, aged 68 and 76, they expected to lead a quiet life in semi-retirement. They had been doing very little work in South Africa for years so it came as a surprise to them to find that they were in great demand in the UK. Many of their fans from the good old days were still alive. Soon they were travelling around the country, singing in concerts, giving talks, appearing on TV and presenting radio programmes. In 1975 they had given a farewell concert in Somerset West and they had not intended to sing again, but they gave in to public demand when they went back to the UK. Anne was still in fairly good voice but Webster’s voice had deteriorated and I thought it was very sad that he should have had to sing in public again when he was past his best. But they needed the money and their performances continued longer than they should have done. I don’t think their elderly fans were very critical – they were only too happy to see their favourites on stage once again.
Joan Tapper, a piano teacher, had been a life-long fan of the couple and when they sang in Mold, North Wales, she presented them with a gift after the concert. This led to a friendship which lasted until Anne’s death in 2003.
Webster’s health deteriorated and after a disastrous performance in Bridlington when he forgot the words of one of their most popular duets, Anne realised that this had been their swansong and they would never be able to sing together again.
Webster died in 1984, and Anne lived alone in the bungalow in Penrhyn Bay, North Wales for another nineteen years. The bungalow was owned by Babs Wilson Hill, who had been Anne’s friend and admirer since they appeared in pantomime together in Liverpool in 1935, although by the end of their lives they were not as close as they had been in earlier times. They died within a few weeks of one another.
Jean Collen © 22 June 2017