I have collected records, cuttings, photos and letters in connection with Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler since I first met them nearly sixty years ago. Originally, I hoped to be able to pass my collection on to a British theatrical museum but then I realised that it would be extremely expensive to ship it to the UK from South Africa. Later, I was told about the National English Literary Museum in Grahamstown, now known as Makhanda, (NELMS). I wrote to Mr Malcolm Hacksley who was in charge of NELMS at that time, and received an enthusiastic reply to my letter:
From: Jean Collen
Sent: 05 April 2009 10:06 PM
Subject: Anne Ziegler-Webster Booth collection
Dear Mr Hacksley,
Johan Geldenhuys suggested that I should contact you in connection with my collection of letters, photographs, records (78s, LPs, CDs, tapes), press
cuttings and programmes connected with the British duettists, Anne Ziegler
and Webster Booth.
After I left school at the end of 1960 I studied singing with them at their
studio in Johannesburg, was Webster’s studio accompanist for several years
and remained friends with them until Webster’s death in 1984 and Anne’s in
2003. During that time I accumulated a considerable collection of
memorabilia related to them, including about 250 letters. I published a book
called “Sweethearts of Song: a Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth” on https://www.lulu.com/duettists in 2006. They had written their autobiography, “Duet” before they left the UK in 1951. My book concentrates mainly on the 22 years they spent in South Africa,
and after they returned to the UK in 1978. Since that time I have written other books about the couple. You can see more information about them at the links below.
I contacted the Theatre Museum in London about donating this collection
there after my death, and the curator expressed interest in it, but it would
cost a great deal to have it sent to the UK, and since they spent 22 years
here, Johan suggested that HELMS might be interested in having it after my
death. While I know you are concerned with English literature in South
Africa, I have noticed in your magazine that you have accepted various other theatrical archives, so I wonder whether you would be interested in this one after my death?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Jean Collen (Mrs)
Mr Hacksley replied as follows:
Dear Mrs Collen
Johan is absolutely right – we most definitely WOULD want your collection of the Ziegler-Booth memorabilia! I remember their radio broadcasts with great pleasure. (We must be of much the same vintage: I left school at the end of 1961.) We have an immense amount of SA theatre material – mainly unpublished playscripts, programmes, press-cuttings, etc stretching way, way back. Yours would be a very welcome addition.
I am rather glad you have had second thoughts about the theatre museum in London. It seems to have fallen on very hard times – I’m told they had to
vacate their Covent Garden premises because they had lost their national
grant. And this was before the world-wide economic crisis, so the chances of a realistic rescue package for them are remote in the extreme. One doesn’t wish to rejoice in another’s misfortune, but we would be very glad to be able to keep your collection in SA. We accepted Moira Lister’s whole
personal archive just weeks before she died.
If you should decide to part with it before the Grim Reaper comes calling,
please do let us know and we will fetch it from you. Whatever you do, please
do NOT consider entrusting it to the tender or other mercies of the postal
services OR to the courier companies. Bitter experience has taught us that
we have to retrieve precious materials in person. (An instance: a set of
documents sent to us from Cape Town last month by “overnight courier” took SEVENTEEN days to reach us – despite being perfectly correctly addressed…)
With warm regards
Mr Hacksley retired from his position not long after this correspondence took place. I heard recently that the museum had changed its name so I decided to contact them to see whether they were still interested in my collection.
I received the following email a few days ago. I will not mention the name of the writer but I would be interested to know what you think I should do with my collection now.
Received on 27 November 2019
Dear Mrs Collen
Thank you for contacting Amazwi about your collection. My apologies for the delay in responding. I took it to the selection committee meeting and then had to attend meetings in Pretoria before I could reply.
I was asked to request a bit more information about Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth. From your email it seems that they were primarily musicians. Is this correct?
Amazwi is a museum of literature. We do collect material relating to theatre and plays, but not really music or dance. The focus is on productions of plays with South African scripts, and material relating to the playwrights.
As you have noted, this year the museum’s name was changed from the National English Literary Museum to Amazwi South African Museum of Literature. This will enable us to collect material in other South African languages as well as English. The collection policies remain the same, just broadened in terms of language. Our concerns about your collection, important as it is, have to do with the museum’s focus on literature as opposed to music.
If your collection is more theatre based, then please do let me know.
From the tone of the email, I do not think that this is a suitable place for my collection any more. I am far nearer to meeting the Grim Reaper today than I was when I first wrote to Mr Hacksley ten years ago. If anyone can suggest what I should do with my collection now I would be interested to hear from you. I do not think I could consider including the records any longer as they are far too heavy to be shipped anywhere. Most of them have been digitised by Mike Taylor of The Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler Appreciation Group on Facebook, but surely photos, letters from Anne and Webster, cuttings, my diaries and books I have written should be of interest to someone?
I received two or three comments to this post here and on other places – two had some good suggestions which I will follow up. I replied to the email as follows:
Dear Ms W,
Thank you for your email. It is just as well that I contacted you with regard to my Anne Ziegler-Webster Booth collection for I can see that your view of it is very different to the one so enthusiastically expressed to me ten years ago by Mr Hacksley.
Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth were world famous British duettists, active in theatre, film, recording and radio. They came to South Africa in 1956 and remained here for 22 years before returning to the UK. I have consulted with various people and have decided to contact the Victoria and Albert Museum or the British Library in the UK as these might be more suitable places for my collection.
Jean Collen (Mrs)
I recently published the second edition of my first book: Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth (Second Edition)