In 1943, Jean Buckley (née Newman) was thirteen years of age, living in wartime Manchester. Jean, an only child, was originally from London and the family had lived in Brighton for a time. When the war came her father decided that they might be safer living in Manchester. This did not prove to be the case. Jean spent many nights in a damp air raid shelter as German bombs fell on the city.
Jean had always loved Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth’s singing. She had a clear memory of hearing Webster singing Phil, the Fluter’s Ball with Fred Hartley and his quintet on the radio when she was a young child. As light relief from the sleepless nights in the damp air raid shelter, she and her mother attended many of their concerts and broadcasts in the city. They 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 when they went backstage. Anne and Webster saw Jean so often that they sent them complimentary tickets for broadcasts of Variety Bandbox and Variety Fanfare. She remembers Webster coming into the dressing room and greeting them with, “How are my two lovelies this evening?”
When Jean left school she went to work for Singer’s Sewing Machines and became a top sales woman with the company. Unknown to Anne and Webster she began to take singing lessons on a part time basis at the Northern School of Music and managed to obtain a few engagements. She told me that she did not mention this to the Booths in case they felt obliged to use their influence to advance her singing career.
Jean married Maurice Buckley in 1956 but was very upset when Anne and Webster decided to move to South Africa in the same year. They kept in touch with the Booths and she sent them copies of The Stage and other British newspapers while they were living there.
When they returned to the UK in 1978 they lived near Jean and Maurice, and spent a lot of time with them. Jean said that Webster always enjoyed watching cricket on TV with Maurice. Jean baked a cake for Anne and Webster’s fortieth wedding anniversary in 1978.
A few years later, Jean and Maurice celebrated their Silver wedding anniversary. Here is a lovely photograph of Anne and Webster on that happy occasion. I used this photo as a front cover to my book, Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth.
When Webster became ill and was admitted to a nursing home, Jean visited him regularly and took him out for a drive or for tea occasionally to give him a break from the nursing home. She put a tape recording of his records on the car radio. He disliked the nursing home and never wanted to return after his outing with Jean.
After his death, Jean did a great deal for Anne in one way and another. Jean was very hurt when Anne’s friend, Babs Wilson Hill introduced her to someone as “Anne’s greatest fan.” Jean replied, “I think I might be considered Anne’s greatest friend by now.”
The first time I heard of plans to establish a scholarship in Webster Booth’s name at the Royal Northern College of Music was in a letter from Anne Ziegler, dated 20 November 1985, just over a year after Webster Booth’s death on 21 June 1984.
Anne mentioned that a coffee morning had been held in the local church hall in aid of the Webster Booth Memorial Fund. Jean had proposed the idea of providing a scholarship in Webster’s name for a tenor to attend the RNCM for a year’s post-graduate study. Jean and her husband, Maurice worked hard to raise money for the Fund and by the time Anne wrote to me £1,600 had been raised towards the initial goal of £3,500. Anne’s letter continued:
I wondered why the scholarship was to be awarded at the RNCM as Webster had studied singing with Dr Richard Wassall at the Midland Institute in Birmingham, fitting in lessons after he finished work at a firm of accountants. I knew that conductor Sir Charles Groves was chairman of the RNCM council at that time and Webster had often referred to him affectionately as “Charlie Groves” who had often conducted him in radio broadcasts, so I though that perhaps this was why Jean had chosen the RNCM for the Award.
Many years later, Jean told me why she had chosen the RNCM. In her late teens, she had studied singing part-time at the Northern School of Music, Manchester. This school and the Royal Manchester College of Music amalgamated in 1975 to form the Royal Northern College of Music, which was producing singing graduates of a very high calibre. Manchester was not too far from North Wales where Anne, Jean and Maurice lived. The trip to the College for the annual competition would not be too onerous for Anne as she grew older and it would not be necessary to stay overnight in the city after the Award had been presented.
Jean’s friend, journalist and broadcaster Natalie Anglesey, interviewed her on the BBC about the Webster Booth Memorial Fund, bringing news of it to a wider radio audience. Jean’s interview with Natalie
Jean continued to raise funds by making things to sell, doing clothing alterations for a small fee, organising raffles, and collecting donations to the Fund from friends, fans, relatives of Webster and Anne, and local neighbours. Donations were often as little as £1 or £2, but occasionally bigger donations were made by societies such as the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society. Webster’s older brother, Edwin Norman Booth, his wife Annie and daughter Margaret took great interest in the progress of the Fund and helped Jean with fund-raising. Annie made beautiful rag dolls to sell, and each member of the family made regular substantial donations. Jean’s early singing training at the Northern College also benefited the Fund in a round-about way. She and her accompanist, Maureen, began entertaining at hotels around Llandudno and all the money Jean earned in this way went towards the fund. To publicise the Award she gave talks to various societies and clubs about Anne and Webster’s career.
Anne and Jean in Penrhyn Bay before going to the Royal Northern College, Manchester for the prize winners’ concert for the Webster Booth prize.
I did not meet Jean when I visited Anne in Penrhyn Bay in 1990, although Anne told me a great deal about her while I was there. Jean had even made a cake for our tea! Jean and I began our correspondence in 2007 and we often said how sorry we were that we had not met each other in 1990 as we could have become good friends.
After Webster’s death, Anne went on holiday with the Buckleys every year. They usually took self-catering accommodation and Jean did all the cooking.
Maurice and Jean on holiday with Anne and Bonnie in the 1990s.
Jean did a great deal to help Anne as she got older. She and Maurice created an en suite room in their home and would have been happy to have Anne to live there if ever she felt unable to continue living in her own home. Even when Maurice became ill, Jean still took Anne shopping, to doctor’s appointments and to the annual prize winners’ concert at the RNCM. When Anne’s gardener could not continue working Jean even helped Anne with the gardening!
Sadly, Anne and Jean fell out over a trivial matter several years before Anne’s death and they were never reconciled. I corresponded regularly with Jean for over ten years and I was sad when she lost her sight and had to move to a frail care home. She developed Alzheimer’s disease and I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to be in strange surroundings, unable to see and not remembering very much. She was an only child and had no children of her own. I was sad to hear that she died on 20 July 2017 at the age of eighty-seven. I hope she is now at peace. I will treasure the letters and emails she wrote to me, and the photos and memorabilia she sent to me. She will be sadly missed, but fondly remembered by me and friends who loved her.
Jean Collen ©
23 July 2017