From the moment Webster and Anne started singing together regularly, they were very popular with the public. Few remembered Webster’s acrimonious divorce from Paddy Prior in 1938 when Anne had been named as the co-respondent. The public was happy to accept the glamorous couple who sang beautiful songs and duets together so melodiously and with such feeling as glamorous sweethearts in song. Unlike ordinary couples whose marriages settled down after a year or two, Anne and Webster’s marriage was seen as one filled with the constant romance and passion of a permanent honeymoon.
Anne and Webster before their marriage. (1938)
When they took their act to the Variety circuit in 1940 Webster still managed to carry on singing at more serious concerts and in oratorio, but it was probably at this time that people began to regard him as a “romantic duettist” instead of one of the “elect” and one of the finest British tenors of the century as he had been regarded in the thirties. During this time they made their name on the stage in productions of The Vagabond King, Sweet Yesterday and And So to Bed, and in several films.
Webster as Francois Villon in The Vagabond King (1943)
The Laughing Lady film in 1946 with music by Hans May was a starring vehicle for them both as singers and actors although it was not generally liked by critics. They did many concerts for the impresario, Harold Fielding and must have known every place in Britain like the back of their hands as they went from place to place to fulfill engagements.
Their concert tour of New Zealand and Australia in 1948 was very successful indeed, although some of the Australian critics did not always give them good reviews. I sometimes wonder whether their glamorous stage act, complete with crinolines, sparkling jewellery, and gardenias in the buttonhole of Webster’s immaculate evening dress did not become slightly tedious to them after a while. They had a limited repertoire – possibly a repertoire demanded by their many fans who did not want to hear any new or innovative material.
In 1952 their recording contract with HMV was cancelled and although they made several recordings for Decca this did not result in a steady stream of recording dates. By the fifties Harold Fielding was enlarging the number of performers he employed for his concerts; post-war audience preferred American performers on the stage of the London Palladium, and as the fifties progressed rock ‘n roll was appealing to younger audiences.
Through no fault of their own, they received a very large tax demand for unpaid American recording royalties which Webster could not afford to pay at that time. He told me that he had been foolish and should have offered to pay the tax off gradually, but because he had flatly refused to pay, there was talk of the Inland Revenue seizing their property. The satirical revue Airs on a Shoestring made a mockery of their act, and of Hiawatha, the work with which Webster was closely associated. Perhaps that was the last straw for them.
They had made a successful short tour of the Cape Province of South Africa in November of 1955 and although they were not short of work in the UK they decided to move to that country in July of 1956.
JEAN COLLEN – 13 OCTOBER 2018.