“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.
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 a dancer under her birth name of Rita Nugent. 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.
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.
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:
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”.
She returned to Australia in 1940 with her husband, Mr Hall.
I am not sure how long she continued her theatrical career in Australia, but by the 1970s she was living in Melbourne and running a 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.
Despite her theatrical and vocal success in earlier decades 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
Webster Booth pointed out in his joint autobiography with Anne Ziegler, Duet, that the Winter Garden had been in the hub of theatre land in the 1920s, but by the time Tom Arnold’s revival of The Vagabond King opened there in 1943, theatre land had moved west and not many people (including taxi drivers) knew where the theatre was any more.
The Tom Arnold production went on an extensive tour of the United Kingdom before it opened at the Winter Garden on 22 April 1943. The production was devised and supervised by Robert Nesbitt, the dialogue was directed by Maxwell Wray, and the and the conductor of the orchestra was Bob Wolly.
The name part of the Vagabond King, Francois Villon was a strenuous one. There was a lot of robust singing and a a sword fight. Unfortunately, on the first night of the tour in Blackpool, Webster was struck on the throat during the sword fight on stage with John Oliver. He lost his voice and his part was taken temporarily by Derek Oldham, who had played Villon in the original production in 1927 with his wife Winnie Melville playing Lady Katherine.
Anne Ziegler played the part of Lady Katherine de Veucelles in this production and she had three excellent duets with Francois Villon in the show: Love Me Tonight,Tomorrow, and Only a Rose. The last duet became the Booths’ signature tune in their variety act:
The part of Huguette was taken by Tessa Dean, while Lady Mary was played by Sara Gregory. Henry Baynton, an elderly Shakespearean actor took the role of Louis XI.
Webster and Tessa Dean (Huguette)
Cartoon of Anne and Webster in the show (June 1943)
On the cover of Theatre World (July 1943)
The King makes Villon Grand Marshall of France.
The show received excellent notices, but Webster complained about the theatre being very uncomfortable. Anne was so concerned with the sanitation that she called in a sanitary inspector! Despite the success of the show it closed in July. Webster was sure that the show closed prematurely because the Winter Garden Theatre was no longer in theatre land. He realised that the role was too heavy for his light tenor voice and thought the early closure was a blessing in disguise as he might have ruined his voice had he continued singing it for a longer time.
Judging by the photos of the 1943 Tom Arnold production of elaborate sets, large chorus and the sword-fight scene, The Vagabond King would be extremely expensive to mount today.
Although Webster considered the role of Francois Villon his favourite part, it took a toll on him, not so much because of the singing which he could manage perfectly well, but because the part itself is a strenuous one. He was on stage most of the time rallying the masses to turn against the Duke of Burgundy and lead the mob into battle. The sword fight must have been quite challenging too – he probably thought he had lost his voice forever when his opponent John Oliver “was so realistic that I received the full force of his arm with his sixteen stones behind it right across my throat…. By the end of that first night’s show… I could hardly speak. A specialist was sent for, and he diagnosed a badly bruised larynx.”
Victor Standing took over the part for a few nights and Derek Oldham (who had played Villon in the original London production) took over from him until Webster’s larynx had recovered from the blow. After the first night of the London opening he was due to sing in the Good Friday performance of Messiah at the Albert Hall, which he considered “the very height of the oratorio profession”.
When he was 71 he told me that oratorio singing had meant far more to him than anything else he had done in his varied singing career, so he must have felt torn between everything he did in the nineteen-forties – musicals, films, and part of a double act with Anne on the variety stage. I dare say if he had stuck to singing oratorio he would be remembered today as one of the great British tenors of the twentieth century instead of one half of “Sweethearts of Song” duettists’ act on the variety stage.
The sword fight. Villon fights with Captain of the Archers (John Oliver).
I published A Scattered Garland: Gleanings from the Lives of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler in one volume in 2006. Because I found out so much more additional information I have updated the book which now extends to four volumes. These books are available as paperbacks and ebooks.
I published A Scattered Garland: Gleanings from the Lives of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler in one volume in 2006. Because I found out so much more additional information I have updated the book which now extends to four volumes. These books are available as paperbacks and ebooks:
Volume 1: Early days (1920s – 1939)
Volume 2: Years at the top in the UK (1940 – 1956)
Volume 3 South Africa (1956 – 1977)
Volume 4: Back in the UK (1978 – 2003) and additional information
These volumes include articles, criticisms, cuttings, and extracts from the online archives of The Times, The Scotsman and The Stage, and other newspapers. In Volume 3 I have included material from New Zealand and Australian newspapers and in Volume 4 there is material from South African newspapers. Occasionally I have supplemented this material with my own notes. All my own writing is italicised.
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 Ballwith 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.
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.