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SWEETHEARTS OF SONG

 

Front cover small-01Four years ago, I received a lovely letter about the book from a gentleman in Ireland. I share it with you  on the fourteenth anniversary of Anne’s death.He had recently read my book, Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth. He attached various photos of Penrhyn Bay, North Wales which he had taken during his trip. Ashampoo_Snap_2015.10.07_16h06m30s_002

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    Part of his note reads as follows:

  • “All thanks to you, I spent a really moving day rambling the highways and byways of Penrhyn Bay. To be standing outside Anne and Webster’s house was an extraordinary feeling and for me a real privilege. Looking at the house, and then walking on the beach, all the time internally hearing their wonderful music, and feeling a real sense of gratitude to them both for all the joy they brought to countless millions over the years with their unique gifts, their unique talents. And yes, as I looked out on Penrhyn Bay, and then further East to Rhos on Sea, Colwyn Bay, Llanddulas and Abergele, I would see in my mind’s eye, the beautiful Anne in her youth, as well as her undoubted beauty in her later years. It is, as you well know, a spectacular landscape: Snowdonia to the South, the Ormes to the West, and to the North the Irish Sea stretching as far as the eye can see—–all quite something, and a beautiful and moving backdrop to remember both Anne and Webster. 

 

So once again, many thanks, not only for your wonderful book but also for a memorable windswept day in Penrhyn Bay.”

It was good to know that my book had given him pleasure and had motivated him to pay a visit to Webster and Anne’s final home.
Jean Collen 13 October 2017.
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SOUTH AFRICA (2)

Later years in Johannesburg

Anne and Webster had never taught singing before. They had been far too busy performing in the UK to have had the time or even the inclination to teach, although an advert had appeared in the Musical Times in the middle of 1955 indicating that Webster was considering accepting a few selected pupils. As far as I know, he did not teach anyone in the UK as they decided to settle in South Africa shortly afterwards.

Musical Times 24 February 1955 Singing lessons.

Neither had formal music teaching qualifications but Anne was a competent pianist, and they adopted common sense methods of teaching singing. Above all, they had far more experience of singing professionally at the highest level than anyone else in South Africa who boasted teaching diplomas.

Anne always said that singing was merely an advanced form of speech. They concentrated on good breathing habits and on using correct vowel sounds. The basis of “straight” singing was that one sang through the vowels and tacked consonants to the beginning and end of the vowels to create good diction. There were five vowels: ah, eh, ee, oo and oh and from these vowels all words could be sung. Diphthongs in words such as “I”, were created by a combination of two basic vowels – in this case – ah and ee.

They were very particular about dropping the jaw as notes went higher in pitch. One of their exercises to master this technique was based on the sounds “rah, fah, lah, fah”. It was also essential to keep the tongue flat in the floor of the mouth just behind the teeth, and an exercise on a repeated “cah” sound was good for training the tongue to remain flat and not rise in the mouth to bottle up the vocal sound. The “mee” sound was produced as one would sing “moo”, so that the vowel was covered and focussed. The jaw had to be dropped on all the vowels in the upper register, including the “ee” and “oo” vowels, which one is inclined to sing with a closed mouth. They also emphasized that words like “near” and “dear” should be sung on a pure “ee” vowel, rather than rounding off the word so that it sounded like “nee-ahr” or “dee-ahr”.

The voice had to be placed in a forward position, “in the mask” as Anne always said, so that it resonated in the sinus cavities. They did not dwell on the different vocal registers unless they detected a distinctive “change of gear” from one register to the other.

Webster continued his oratorio singing in South Africa. Drummond Bell, who had conducted the JODS’ production of A Night in Venice the year before, was the organist and choirmaster at St George’s Presbyterian Church in Noord Street. Anne and Webster sang in Messiah at various Presbyterian Churches for Drummond Bell in November 1956 and 1957. It was at the 1957 performance of Messiah at St James Presbyterian Church, then in Mars Street, Malvern, when I, as a thirteen-year-old, heard them sing for the first time. Webster had sung in The Crucifixion at Easter 1957 for Drummond Bell. He also sang in The Dream of Gerontius in Cape Town later that year. The conductor was the young organist Keith Jewell (then aged 27). It was the first time that the work was performed in South Africa. Webster always held Keith Jewell in very high regard, and he was to appear as guest artiste in Anne and Webster’s “farewell” concert in Somerset West in 1975.  

Webster adjudicated at the Scottish eisteddfod in November 1957. Astutely, he awarded the young Anne Hamblin 95 percent for her singing. She was to do well in her singing career in Johannesburg and is still remembered for her part in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris in the nineteen-seventies. Webster sang regularly in various oratorios at the annual Port Elizabeth Oratorio Festival, conducted by Robert Selley, and did Elijah at Pietermaritzburg for Barry Smith, director of music at Michaelhouse School in 1963 and The Creation for Ronald Charles, who took the position of  director of music for Michaelhouse in 1964.

Anne and Webster appeared frequently in various advertisements on screen and in the newspapers. Early in Anne’s career she had modelled for an advertisement for Craven A cigarettes. She had learnt a valuable lesson at this assignment when the photographer told her that the photograph would mean nothing unless she smiled at the camera with complete sincerity, despite her never having smoked a cigarette in her life. They had also endorsed Ronson cigarette lighters in the late nineteen-forties.

In late 1957 they were in an advert for Lloyd’s Adrenaline cream. According to the advertisement, this cream had given Webster relief to excruciating sciatic pain he had suffered on their fleeting visit to Calgary to appear in Merrie England. Apparently, Anne used the cream whenever she had an attack of fibrositis. Anne also endorsed Stork margarine, a hair preparation for middle-aged women and a floor polish. Webster appeared on film as a French boulevard roué in an ad for a product I have now forgotten, and they were featured in advertisements listening avidly to Lourenco Marques radio, and celebrating a special occasion with a glass of Skol beer. For this last ad Webster was obliged to grow a beard!

1961 Advertising Skol beer
Listening to LM Radio

1957 and 1958 were very busy years for the Booths in South Africa. In 1958, for example, they went from one production to another in as many months: Waltz Time in Springs; Merrie England in East London; Vagabond King in Durban; and Merrie England again in Johannesburg. Anne was also principal boy in pantomime in East London at the end of that year.

But 1959 was not quite as busy. They were asked to appear in East London again, this time in Waltz Time, and Anne was the Fairy Godmother in The Glass Slipper for Children’s Theatre towards the end of the year.

From then on they built up their teaching practice and began directing musicals for amateur societies in various parts of the country. In 1959 they did an interesting Sunday afternoon programme on Springbok Radio entitled Do You Remember? in which they told the story of their lives, based on their autobiography, Duet.

By the nineteen-sixties, they were no longer appearing regularly in musicals although Anne took the part of Mrs Squeezum in Lock Up Your Daughters, a restoration musical by Lionel Bart at the end of 1960. Her big song in the show was entitled When Does the Ravishing Begin? A very far cry from We’ll Gather Lilacs. In 1963, aged 61, Webster took over the role of Colonel Fairfax – the juvenile lead – in The Yeomen of the Guard for the Johannesburg Operatic Society at short notice. He had not been JODS’ original choice, but was asked to take over the part when the society decided that the singer in the role could not cope with it. In 1964 Webster and Anne appeared in a Cape Performing Art’s Board (CAPAB) production of Noel Coward’s Family Album, a one-act play in Tonight at 8.30. It could hardly be called a musical although there was some singing in it.

They appeared in a number of straight plays in the nineteen-sixties. Webster was the Prawn in The Amorous Prawn and took the small part of the Doctor in a very long and serious play called The Andersonville Trial in 1962. They played Mr and Mrs Fordyce in the comedy, Goodnight Mrs Puffin at the beginning of 1963 and, just before they left Johannesburg for Knysna, Webster was the Circus Barker in the Performing Art’s Company of the Transvaal’s (PACT’s) production of The Bartered Bride, while Anne played the wife of a circus performer in The Love Potion for the same company at the same time.

They remained in Johannesburg until the middle of 1967. Anne was suffering from hay fever, which grew acuter the longer she remained in Johannesburg. There were times, especially at night, when she could hardly breathe. Anne had a number of allergy tests done, but these did not pinpoint the exact cause of her hay fever. They decided to move to the coast in the hope that Anne’s hay fever would ease, and in the hope of a more peaceful life as they grew older.

At the beginning of 1967, they went on a coastal holiday. They thought Port St Johns in the (then) Transkei was very attractive but slightly too remote for them. The village of Knysna on the Garden Route was more to their taste. They bought a house in Paradise, Knysna and returned to Johannesburg to put their affairs in order and plan their move to the coast.

3 Knysna and Somerset West

It must have given them a sense of déjá vu to receive such a great welcome in Knysna. Anne’s hay fever vanished within a few weeks and she concluded that the dust from the mine dumps in Johannesburg had been the cause of it.

They were soon as busy as ever, with concerts, ranging from oratorio with the Knysna and District Choral Society, to variety concerts with local artistes, and pantomimes, in which Anne not only played the principal boy once again but wrote the scripts into the bargain. They started teaching in Knysna and trained several talented singers, in particular the soprano, Ena van der Vyver, who sang in many performances with them.

Anne was asked to produce several shows for the Port Elizabeth Musical and Dramatic Society, and Webster produced The Mikado in East London in 1973. 

Mikado rehearsal East London 1973 Photo Pearl Harris

Anne’s life-long friend Babs Wilson-Hill (Marie Thompson) visited them in Knysna from the UK, and Anne went to Portugal and the UK to spend a holiday with her and to appear in a British TV show at the same time. Anne and Webster were getting older and Anne, in particular, longed to return home to the UK.

In 1975 they moved to Somerset West, believing that the cost of living there was lower than in upmarket Knysna. They bought a cottage in Picardy Avenue with a beautiful view of the mountain, but despite being nearer to Cape Town they were not offered much radio work and did not find many singing students. Webster ran the Somerset West and District Choral Society and presented several oratorios, but he was not even paid for his work with this society.

In 1976 there was civil unrest in South Africa, particularly in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Babs realised that Anne and Webster were keen to return to the UK, but could not afford to buy or rent accommodation there. She kindly offered to buy a property for them where they could live rent-free for the rest of their lives. The offer was too good to refuse. At the beginning of 1978 they returned to the UK and, to their surprise, soon embarked on their “third” career.

Jean Collen 9 July 2018.

MOVING TO SOUTH AFRICA

1 Early days in Johannesburg

Anne and Webster had toured the Cape towards the end of 1955 with the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra and returned to the UK so that Webster could fulfil oratorio engagements over Christmas.8 November 1955 - Rand Daily Mail.8 November 1955 8 November 19552

12 Dec 1955
The Booths arrive back in the UK from their South African tour on 12 December 1955.

Towards the end of January 1956, they were back in South Africa to appear in major cities in the Transvaal, Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban, and Pietermaritzburg, before doing a tour of the country districts of the Transvaal. In this second tour, they were accompanied by Arthur Tatler on the piano. There was even a notice in The Rand Daily Mail advising people of the time of their plane’s arrival at 5.50 pm on Saturday afternoon 28 January. 10 January 1956 2

They were entertained by the Mayor, Leslie Hurd, in the mayoral parlour. The Mayor spoke to the assembled gathering of local celebrities about the fact that he shared a Christian name with Webster.

The critics were rather severe in their judgement of their recital, viewing them as ballad singers rather than operatic singers, although both Dora Sowden from The Rand Daily Mail and Oliver Walker from The Star agreed that Anne and Webster knew how to charm their audiences. The writers of the “women’s’ pages” were much more enthusiastic about them. Amelia from the Women’s Journal in The Star gave a fulsome report of one of their concerts on 20 February 1956:

“When the two appeared in the City Hall on Thursday night the crowd was screaming to stamping stage with enthusiasm even though the artists had been most generous in their encores.
Miss Ziegler wore one of the lovely crinolines which she always chooses for stage appearances. This one had a black velvet bodice and a skirt of gold and black tissue brocade. With her diamond jewellery she was a scintillating figure under the lights.”

They had made up their minds to settle in the country and returned to the UK merely to sort out their affairs and make arrangements to have their belongings shipped to South Africa.  They travelled onboard the Pretoria Castle to Cape Town in July 1956. Before they went to Johannesburg they appeared in Spring Quartet in Cape Town under the direction of Leonard Schach.

Dawson's Hotel 1972
Dawson’s Hotel 1972. Thanks to Frans Erasmus for allowing me to use this photo

A great fuss was made of them when they came to settle in Johannesburg. They stayed for several months at Dawson’s Hotel in Johannesburg while they looked for a suitable place to live. They eventually found a pleasant flat at Waverley, just off Louis Botha Avenue in Highlands North, where they lived until they bought their first house in Craighall Park several years later. They were lucky to obtain the services of Hilda, who hailed from the island of St Helena, to be their housekeeper. Hilda remained with them during their eleven years in Johannesburg.

Waverley, Highlands North
Anne and Webster in the Hillman Convertible outside their flat in Waverley, Highlands North (1956).

They had an engagement to star in A Night in Venice with the Johannesburg Operatic Society in November, and Webster was asked to sing the tenor solo in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at a Symphony concert. The work was presented as part of the Johannesburg Festival to celebrate Johannesburg’s seventieth birthday. Sir Malcolm Sargent, who had conducted Webster at several concerts in London the previous year, conducted the concert, while the other soloists were Webster’s old friend, Betsy de la Porte (contralto), whom he remembered from his early days singing at Masonic dinners, Frederick Dalberg (bass) and the young coloratura soprano, Mimi Coertse, who was beginning to make a name for herself  in Vienna.

1956 Night in Venice3
Anne and Webster in “A Night in Venice” for the Johannesburg Operatic Society”.

Rather incongruously Webster took the Tommy Handley part in a series of ITMA scripts acquired by Springbok Radio, the commercial station of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (the SABC). This thirteen-week series was entitled Light up and Laugh, sponsored by Gold Flake Cigarettes, and produced by the Herrick-Merrill production house.

Although Anne had driven a car in her youth she had allowed her British driving licence to lapse after she married Webster. The Booths had two cars at their disposal in Johannesburg: a sea-green Zephyr and a pale blue Hillman convertible. Anne had to do a South African driving test and was taught by an Afrikaans ex-traffic policeman. On her first lesson he made her drive along Louis Botha Avenue, the main road from Pretoria through the suburbs into Johannesburg. There was a bus boycott on at the time. Thousands of people were walking along Louis Botha Avenue from the townships of Alexandra and Sophiatown to their work places in the city centre. Anne was very nervous, fearing that she might knock somebody down. Despite the adverse circumstances of her first driving lessons she soon passed her test and proved to be an excellent driver. She went on driving until shortly before her death in 2003.

In the first year or two after their arrival in South Africa they were fêted by everyone, invited to all the society parties and offered all kinds of engagements. Anne took her first non-singing part in Angels in Love, the story of Little Lord Fauntleroy and his mother, Dearest, played by Anne. They replayed their parts in A Night in Venice to Durban audiences. They even went to East London to sing at the city’s Hobby Exhibition, and were heard often on the radio. Not only did they do frequent broadcasts but their records were played constantly by other presenters, who marvelled that such a famous couple had chosen to settle in South Africa.

In 1957 they opened their school of Singing and Stagecraft at their studio on the eighth floor of Polliack’s Corner. They held a party to celebrate the opening of the studio and invited musical and society glitterati, who eagerly crammed into the studio for the occasion and were suitably impressed by the array of pictures of Anne and Webster, taken with internationally famous friends and colleagues, adorning one of the studio walls.

Polliack's Corner
Polliack’s Corner, Pritchard Street – the building to the right with balconies. The studio was on the eighth floor.

The original plan was that Webster would teach singing, while Anne would teach stagecraft, but in the end they both taught singing, and Anne acted as accompanist to the students. At first there were not many students as their fees per month were much higher than those of local singing teachers. Eventually they reduced the fees in order to attract more students. I began having singing lessons with them at the end of 1960 after I had finished school. The fee was £4-4-0 a month.

Anne Ziegler studio fees

In 1963 Anne told me that all the local Johannesburg celebrities and socialites who had tried to cultivate them when they first arrived in South Africa, soon left them alone once they realised that they were not as wealthy as they imagined, and actually had to work for a living, and were not free to attend the races and other such “society” activities.

Jean Collen 7 July 2018

WILLIAM PARSONS – BARITONE

Several years ago I heard from Maria Ray, the niece of the eminent baritone, William Parsons. I was interested to find out that he had appeared with Webster in various oratorios.

Photo of William Parsons, courtesy of Maria Ray.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

References to William Parsons in my book, A Scattered Garland: Gleanings from lives of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler, compiled by Jean Collen

17 January 1935 – Queen’s Hall, London. Royal Philharmonic Concert: Choral Symphony (Beethoven) Janet Hamilton-Smith, Margaret  McArthur, Webster Booth, William Parsons and the BBC Chorus, conducted by Felix Weingartner. Felix Weingartner by Hilda Wienerb

The Ninth Symphony (Beethoven) – The second part of the season will declare itself open on Thursday when symphony concerts are resumed at the Queen’s Hall. The Royal Philharmonic Society will give a performance of the Ninth Symphony, conducted by Dr Weingartner. The soloists at the Philharmonic concert are Miss Janet Hamilton-Smith, Miss Margaret McArthur, Mr Webster Booth, and Mr William Parsons; Dr Weingartner will conduct the BBC chorus and will preface the Ninth Symphony with Beethoven’s first.

The Times – Royal Philharmonic Society The Ninth Symphony. To hear the First and the Ninth Symphonies in one programme is an inspiration. If one man’s mind could increase its span in 25 years to the extent shown by a comparison of the two finales, then no one need despair. The resemblance in kind is as striking as the difference in degree, in spite of the fact that Beethoven employed a chorus in the late work and used but a modest Mozartian orchestra in the early. In No. I the violins grope, only much more briefly, for their theme just as the violoncellos do more searchingly in No. 9. And whereas a little scholarly ingenuity might demonstrate that the symphonic movement of No. 1 is directly descended from the ensemble of Italian Opera Buffa, we have it on Wagner’s authority that the choral variations of No. 9 lead back into music-drama. But it is more fitting now to abandon these speculations and to pay tribute to a very great, though not perhaps a flawless, performance of the two symphonies at Queen’s Hall last night under Dr. Weingartner. 

The flaws need not be specified beyond questioning the orchestral balance – the choir was conspicuously good in this respect: thus the drummer, using a hand stick, gave an admirably crisp rhythm, but too prominent a sound, while in the slow movement the horns seemed unduly retiring. Dr. Weingartner’s tempo for the trio of the scherzo did not seem too quick but was actually slightly out of proportion to the rest of the movement. But by a similar discrepancy in the choral movement he ingeniously made it possible for the choir to sing all their notes – and sing them they did – so giving the impression of speed without hurry. Another pleasing subtlety of tempo was to be observed in the Minuet of the first symphony, when at the reprise there was just the slightest increase in tension.

The soloists had the great merit of making a quartet, though Miss Janet Hamilton-Smith must be singled out for a special word of praise because she had the right kind of tone, at once clear and rich, and so used her soprano voice that every note told without effort: Mr. Webster Booth, the tenor, and Miss Margaret McArthur equally proved their ability to brush aside all the difficulties of Beethoven’s vocal writing. Mr. William Parsons only just failed to do so in the opening recitative, which if not technically is dramatically exacting – elsewhere he was admirable. The B.B.C. Chorus, fresh from a performance of the same work at the Promenades last week, were worthy of all praise. It was therefore a singularly homogenous and inspiring performance. And the mighty oak looked all the nobler for having the acorn side by side with it.

19 January 1935 – Western Morning News. Royal Philharmonic Concert – the Ninth Symphony. The orchestral playing left nothing to be desired and the choral singing was first class. The BBC Chorus having sung the work under Sir Henry Wood last week was well primed. The quartet consisted of Miss Janet Hamilton-Smith, Miss Margaret McArthur, Mr Webster Booth, and Mr William Parsons – a young team whose names are not very familiar to us, but whose engagement was well justified. The enthusiasm at the end was tremendous, and Dr Weingartner was presented with a laurel wreath.

February 1935 – Musical Times. Royal Philharmonic Society. The concert that reopened the season on January 17 was almost a great one, but not quite, because Doctor Weingartner and the orchestra were not on ideally intimate terms in Beethoven’s first and ninth symphonies. (Unless memory is at sea this was the first time that the London Philharmonic Orchestra as a whole had played either of these works). What Weingartner did to the symphonies was, however, great interpretation. He rose to consummate mastery in the choral movement, which he made one and inevitable.

The BBC Chorus, either inspiring or inspired by the conductor, or more probably both, sang with surpassing brilliance. In the solo quartet Mr William Parsons was joined by three less-known singers on the principle, no doubt, that the great ones are wasted on such music and so short a duty. Miss Janet Hamilton-Smith, Miss Margaret McArthur, and Mr Webster Booth demonstrated that the less-known are also less likely to reduce Beethoven to farce by an ensemble of wobbles.

23 November 1936 – Leeds – Week of Choral Concerts. The week will be a full one from the point of view of choral concerts. Tomorrow Bach’s Mass in B minor will be sung by Leeds Philharmonic Society with Elsie Suddaby, Astra Desmond, Steuart Wilson and
William Parsons for principals, Sir Edward Bairstow conducting. On Wednesday, Bradford Old Choral Society, conducted by Mr Wilfred Knight, will sing Handel’s Acis
and Galatea, and Elgar’s Banner of St George in a miscellaneous programme shared by Olive Groves, Webster Booth and Bernard Ross…

15 December 1936 – Messiah, Albert Hall, Nottingham.
Nottingham Harmonic Society, Lilian Stiles-Allen (soprano), Mary Jarred (contralto), Webster Booth (tenor), William Parsons (bass) conducted by Leslie Heward.

December 1936 Messiah

Memories of Hiawatha at the Royal Albert Hall.

22 December 1941 – Yorkshire Post Eastbrook Hall was again filled to capacity on Saturday, when the Bradford Festival Choral Society, assisted by the Northern Philharmonic Orchestra, gave its  annual performance of Handel’s Messiah. Two changes had been made in the artists since the names were first announced. Perhaps the most important was the change in conductor, Mr Roy Henderson taking the place of Dr Malcolm Sargent, who was conducting the Royal Choral Society in London.

Mr Henderson, who was making his first appearance in Bradford as conductor, created a distinctly favourable impression. Obviously full of energy and enthusiasm himself, he showed that he was able to convey his feelings to the members of the chorus, who responded nobly to his many exacting demands. All the choral numbers were excellently sung, some fine climaxes being achieved. The rehearsals evidently bore fruit, for the singers were replicas of the conductor, singing with intelligence, while the diction throughout was exceptionally good.

Occasionally, Mr Henderson appeared to allow enthusiasm to get the better of him and at such times the speeds tended to be quicker than those to which we are accustomed, but audience as well as singers enjoyed the thrill of it all.

The four solo artists reached a consistently high level. Miss Joan Cross used her flexible voice exceedingly well in Rejoice Greatly, while her legato singing in Come Unto Him was very effective. Miss Muriel Gale’s rich full-toned voice was heard to great advantage especially in O, Thou That Tellest and He Shall Feed His Flock. Mr Walter Widdop, (who took the place of Mr Webster Booth) proved to be a great favourite. His opening solos were somewhat marred because Mr Henderson did not make the accompaniments flexible enough; but the latter items were very enjoyable. Mr William Parsons, who had the assistance of Mr John Paley in The Trumpet Shall Soundshowed his dramatic power, especially in The People that Walked in Darkness.

Mr H.S. Hurst was at the organ, of which instrument much more frequent use might have been made for its tone to act as a contrast to that of the orchestra.

30 December 1939, Plymouth Guildhall 

30 December 1939

18 August 1941 Dartington Hall Acis and Galatea

18 August 1941 Acis and Galatea Parsons Dartington Hall

7 December 1943 – Yorkshire Post – Huddersfield Choral Society.

Huddersfield Choral Society are to perform Handel’s Messiah at Blackpool Opera House on January 2. Dr Malcolm Sargent will conduct the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and the principals will include Mary Jarred, Webster Booth and William Parsons.
Anne Ziegler was the soprano soloist on this occasion.

2 January 1944 – Messiah. 2.30pm New Opera House, Blackpool. Festival performance in aid of the Mayor’s Services Welfare Fund. Anne Ziegler, Mary Jarred, Webster Booth, William Parsons, with Huddersfield Choral Society, Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (Ena Baga at the organ) conducted by Dr Malcolm Sargent

4 January 1944 – Yorkshire Post Huddersfield Choir at Blackpool Two hundred and forty members of the Huddersfield Choral Society visited Blackpool on Sunday to give what proved to be a memorable performance of Handel’s Messiah. An audience of more than 3,000 which packed the New Opera House in the Winter Gardens showed great enthusiasm at the close and gave the choir, the Liverpool  Philharmonic Orchestra, the principals, Anne Ziegler, Mary Jarred, Webster Booth and William Parsons and the conductor, Dr Malcolm Sargent, an ovation. The choir were in best voice and under Dr Sargent’s inspiring leadership provided a most artistic performance.

After the performance, the Mayor of Blackpool (Councillor J. Parkinson) and Dr Sargent warmly supported a suggestion voiced by Mr Frank Netherwood, the president of the Society that the success of the society’s first appearance in Blackpool should lead to further visits.

29 October 1947 Albert Herring (Britten)

29 October 1947 Albert Herring WP

 

Here are William Parsons and Thea Phillips singing “Waltzes from Vienna”.

Dinner with Webster and my parents at Juno Street, Kensington (1963)

21 Juno Street, Kensington as it is today.

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.

Webster and Shandy – My girlfriend

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.

My parents – David and Margaret Campbell.

 

 

 

 

 

Webster and me

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.

Card from Anne.

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.

JANET LIND Née REITA NUGENT (Dancer, singer and actress)

Janet Lind in 1937

I was interested to hear an interview with Janet Lind done in Australia in 1979 on YouTube recently. It may be heard at the following link: https://youtu.be/Wyz3T2Zj6YY 

She started her career in Australia as an acrobatic dancer under her birth name of Reita Nugent. I heard from Stephen Langley who uploaded the youtube video and he gave me a link to a British Pathé video of Reita Nugent doing some amazing dancing in 1928. Indian Rubber Muscles (1928)

Stephen commented as follows:

Thanks for your most informative account of her life – your blog really does her justice and the clippings are most interesting. I believe she was an extraordinary artist, and I agree that her recordings with Webster Booth reveal a great artist and natural talent. It was I who supplied the 1978 interview sourced from a deceased estate and put it on my YouTube site.

I I remember her well as I used to purchase 78s off her in the early 1980s. By then she ran a small second hand shop ( op-shop) and was not in the best of health. Years of chain smoking and I suspect alcohol consumption had aged her considerably although she maintained her poise.

She arrived in England via a long-running show in Berlin in the 1930s. Without any vocal training and unable to read a note of music, almost by chance she began singing, and changed her name to Janet Lind. She did numerous broadcasts on the BBC, not only as a singer with the big band of Louis Levy, but also as an actress in a number of straight plays.

An early broadcast in October of 1935.

The songs featured in the YouTube broadcast are with Louis Levy’s brassy big band and she is remembered today primarily as a regular vocalist with this band.

Louis Levy

 

 

 

 

 

 

1936. A letter in one of the Australian papers.

She also made several recordings with Webster Booth for HMV in 1936 and 1937, and these are very much more pleasing to my ear than the songs she sang with Louis Levy’s band. Despite her lack of musical and vocal training she had an excellent natural voice. Click on the link to listen:

This Year of Theatreland (1936)

Home and Beauty (1937)

She flourished as a performer in England in the last half of the 1930s, often singing songs made popular by Jessie Matthews. She was billed as “the girl with a smile in her voice”.

Music from the Movies with Louis Levy and his Symphony Orchestra, Janet Lind and Robert Ashley.
21 January 1937

 

 

25 July 1939

She returned to Australia in 1940 with her husband, Mr Hall.

10 October 1940
8 April 1941

I am not sure how long she continued her theatrical career in Australia, but by the 1970s she was living in Melbourne and running an op- shop – some people called it an antique shop; others were less complimentary about it. In her 1979 interview she had no trace of an Australian accent. Presumably that is why she took part in a number of straight plays on the BBC in the 1930s.

Stephen added: A friend of mine recalls buying a pile of 78s  from her in the late 70s and she sheepishly said…’I am on some of those’…   He didn’t believe her at the time and only realised later that she had been a star. I also recall sitting in the studio at 3CR ( as an observer)  a few days after she died and there was a big tribute to her from those who knew her better than I . I have this on a cassette somewhere so may try and upload it too.

Despite her theatrical and vocal success in earlier decades, in old age she was casual and deprecating about her achievements. Many other singers who studied singing earnestly would have given a lot to have had such a successful career!

Jean Collen

16 February 2018/updated 28 February 2018.

WEBSTER BOOTH AND ANNE ZIEGLER BROADCASTS: 1927 – 1939

BBC broadcasts by Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler dating from 1927 to 1939. The information (including names of music contained in many broadcasts) comes from online editions of The Radio Times. The Genome project of the BBC has uploaded complete magazines from the 1920s and 1930s on to the internet and I have extracted all the entries featuring Webster and Anne’s broadcasts.When decades of the forties and fifties are eventually online I shall publish a second volume in due course.

Charles Ernesco

What I find particularly interesting is the fact that many of these broadcasts include a list of the music performed. Webster Booth made regular broadcasts with Fred Hartley and his Quintet, and with Charles Ernesco and his Quintet.

Pianist, Fred Hartley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fred Hartley and his novelty quintet with Webster Booth – 1 July 1935.
Charles Ernesco and his quintet with Webster Booth.

Webster began broadcasting in 1927 but it was not until 1934 when Anne made her first broadcast from Liverpool, known then by her birth name of Irené Frances Eastwood.

Anne (as Irené Frances Eastwood) in The Wandering Scholar in Liverpool .

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Irené Frances Eastwood makes her first broadcast from Liverpool. Nancy Evans also took part in this broadcast. She and Anne were studying with John Tobin at the time. They remained close friends all their lives.

Nancy Evans and second husband, Eric Crozier. Her first husband was Walter Legge who later married Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.
Second wife of Walter Legge.

Once Anne moved to London and met Webster during the filming of The Faust Fantasy in December 1934, he introduced her to the powers-that- be at the BBC. Below is a still from the film in which Webster played Faust and Anne played Marguerite.

Soon she was making many broadcasts, often taking the starring role in musical comedies and operettas. 

Anne and Webster did not do regular broadcasts together until 1938 when Webster’s second wife, Paddy Prior sued him for divorce, citing Anne as the co-respondent. The divorce was finalised in October 1938 and Anne and Webster were married the following month.

The book is available as a PDF file or an EPub at the following link: Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler: Radio Broadcasts Volume 1

Jean Collen, 15 February 2018.

 

 

THE WEBSTER BOOTH-ANNE ZIEGLER APPRECIATION GROUP

 

Collage7Shortly after Anne Ziegler’s death in October 2003, I started work on my first book, Sweethearts of Song: a Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth. I published this book in 2006 and resolved to try to keep their names and voices before the public. I started a Yahoo Group which did not attract many members so after a few years I closed it and started The Golden Age of Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler and Friends on Facebook in October of 2014. Some members from the original Yahoo group joined the present one and the group grew in size as Facebook users joined it. I have since changed the name of the group to The Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler Appreciation Group.

We were very lucky indeed when Mike Taylor joined the group. He has a vast collection of 78rpms and had recently developed an interest in Webster’s voice and began to collect his recordings. Not only did he share these recordings with us but he also restored them to pristine condition. He has found many rare recordings which he was kind enough to share with us over the years the group has been running. Here is an example of one of the recordings:Saturday nigh revue14

For You Alone

He also introduced us to other singers of the same period. My favourite singer from that period is Maurice Elwin (née Norman Blair). Under the pseudonym of Donald O’Keefe he also  wrote some charming ballads – Webster recorded three of them.

Maurice Elwin2

Play to me Gypsy (Maurice Elwin)

At the End of the Day (Webster Booth)

Between  Mike and me we have managed to find all the duet recordings by Webster and Anne and are just short of 20 solo recordings by Webster out of the many hundreds he recorded. Whether these missing recordings, made in the thirties, forties and fifties of the twentieth century, will ever be found remains to be seen but Mike assures me that he is still on the look-out for them.

The late John Henderson often shared recordings and information with us, and a few other members have played an active role in the group even if it is just by liking or commenting on the various posts. It certainly makes a difference to me to have some kind of reaction to what is posted to the group.  I am grateful that John Marwood has become our third administrator and I hope he and Mike will carry on the group if I anything should happen to me.

I have been looking through the Radio Times from the 1920s and1930s. The complete magazines from those decades are available online on the BBC Genome site. Webster started broadcasting in 1927 and after he introduced Anne to the powers-that-be at the BBC at the beginning of 1935 she was in great demand on the radio too. In these early editions of the Radio Times, I have seen names of many artistes I recognise, but there are also many more artistes who must have been equally popular in their day but whose names are completely unknown to me.

Webster and Anne were extremely popular in those far-off days but not many people remember them today. In comparison to other groups on Facebook, our membership is small but I prefer to have a small group of enthusiasts rather than a large group of people who have no idea who Anne and Webster were.

If you would like to join the group, have a look at the following link:

The Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler Appreciation Group

 

Jean Collen –  27 December 2017