I invited Webster to dinner with my parents during those two halcyon weeks when I was playing for him. As we sat
chatting in his car in front of my house in Juno Street, Kensington after he had driven me home one evening, I asked him, rather nervously, whether he would like to come to dinner with us one night the following week. I had not imagined that he would agree as he was probably quite tired after spending the day teaching in the studio in the city but to my great surprise he seemed delighted at the idea and agreed to dine with us on the following Tuesday, as we finished fairly early at the studio on that day.
As you will have read in a previous post, we had a memorable lunch at Dawson’s Hotel earlier that day. After he had taught Winnie, the only pupil who arrived for her lesson that afternoon, he drove me home in the Hillman and stayed to dinner with my parents. He took an immediate fancy to our dog, Shandy, whom he christened “my girlfriend,” and kept her on his knee for the rest of the evening.
My father offered him a whisky, and he informed us that whisky had never done him any harm so far. He teased me because I had refused a drink at lunchtime when we dined at Dawson’s Hotel. My father looked suitably alarmed at the thought of his innocent teenage daughter being plied with alcohol. No doubt he was relieved that I had turned down the offer.
Webster talked to my parents about Britain, and all the artists he and Anne had known and worked with during the war, people like Max Miller and Tommy Handley and many others. He looked so at home in our sitting room, smoking and drinking whisky, with Shandy on his lap. Who would have thought that he was a famous tenor with a world-beating voice? I didn’t know nearly as much about his illustrious career then as I do now, years after his death. Neither he nor Anne ever boasted about their achievements as so many lesser people do.
When he was about to go home and was standing on our balcony, which was enclosed with an indigo bougainvillea creeper in those days, my mother said, “Thank you for looking after Jean.” He regarded me fondly and replied, “I think it’s Jean who’s looking after me”. My heart was bursting with happiness to think of the perfect day I had spent with him.
Although I can remember that lovely day, fifty-five years ago, as though it were yesterday, it still saddens me to think that Dawson’s is no longer the plush hotel it once was, while my mother, father, Shandy, and Webster himself are all long dead and gone.
The next few days passed all too quickly and soon Anne was phoning the studio to say she had returned from her holiday with Leslie Green, the radio announcer. She had sent me a card from Fish Hoek and Webster had pretended to be cross because she had not yet written to him at that juncture.
On the last night of my accompanying stint, Webster drove me home, and said quite pensively, “I shall miss my Sylvia Pass next week,” referring to the route he took from Juno Street to his home in Buckingham Avenue, Craighall Park.
”I have enjoyed having you play for me, darling,” he added.
”So have I,” I replied fervently.
”We’ll see you on Tuesday at your lesson, dear,” he said.
The following day my great friend Ruth Ormond phoned to say that Webster had raved about me at her lesson that Saturday morning. He said I was a very good accompanist and the whole experience of playing for him had boosted my ego. I was a lovely girl and he had so enjoyed having dinner at my home and meeting my parents. Ruth had the impression that Anne was slightly put out by his unstinted enthusiasm.
“He seems very much taken with you,” said Ruth.
That afternoon I phoned Anne to welcome her home and we chatted for an hour about her trip, and how they had always dreamed of owning a smallholding in England, but they would never be able to afford one now. And so ended two wonderful weeks. I had enjoyed playing for the pupils, had acquitted myself creditably and had got to know Webster very well indeed. I thought that I would probably not be accompanying for Webster again. But luckily that was not the case. I went on accompanying for Webster in the studio for some time to come.
Jean Collen 15 May 2018.