Webster Booth and oratorioAlthough Webster Booth is remembered today as a romantic duettist in partnership with his third wife, Anne Ziegler, he told me that oratorio had given him the greatest satisfaction in his singing career. He was certainly a renowned oratorio singer in his day but this has been forgotten by most people who know more about him singing We’ll Gather Lilacs than tenor solos in various oratorios.
Although Webster Booth is remembered today as a romantic duettist in partnership with his third wife, Anne Ziegler, he told me that oratorio had given him the greatest satisfaction in his singing career. He was certainly a renowned oratorio singer in his day but this has been forgotten by most people who know more about him singing We’ll Gather Lilacs than tenor solos in various oratorios.
Two of my most cherished possessions are Webster’s Messiah and Elijah scores. The Messiah score had belonged to his father, Edwin Booth, whose name is written in the score, followed by Webster’s own name.
In the two front pages, he listed some of his Messiah dates from 1928 when he sang at the Birmingham Town Hall on 3 November 1928 with the Choral and Orchestral Union, to performances of various oratorios in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa with Robert Selley at the Oratorio Festivals there in 1961. The list includes a performance at the Royal Lodge Chapel on 15 February 1948 with Anne Ziegler in the presence of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, performances with the Huddersfield Choral Society, the Royal Choral Society and the Hallé Concert Society. Several Good Friday Messiahs at the Albert Hall are listed, where the entire work is performed without any cuts.
His first Good Friday Messiah was on the 10 April 1936 when he was 34 years of age. The Royal Choral Society concerts were usually with his champion, Malcolm Sargent as conductor, but he also sang with Sir Thomas Beecham at the Queens Hall on 17 December 1938.
He sang in many performances of Elijah, The Creation, Joshua, Judas Maccabeus, The Creation and Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. It was after an afternoon performance of this last work at the Queen’s Hall on 10 May 1941 that this beautiful hall, Webster’s favourite concert hall, was destroyed by an incendiary bomb that night. Webster preferred Handel to Bach, but I see that he did sing in a performance of the latter’s Christmas Oratorio in South Africa in 1960.
Another Good Friday Messiah in April 1943
I think it is sad that he did not make a recording of the Dream of Gerontius as he was renowned for his performance in this work. Neither did he take part in complete recordings of Messiah or Elijah. When I was studying with him and Anne Ziegler I learnt the part of the Angel in The Dream of Gerontius and he sang the tenor part with me – how I wish I had a recording of it now! He sang in the first performance in South Africa of the work with the young Keith Jewell, Cape Town’s city organist (then aged 27) in 1957, the year after the Booths arrived in South Africa.
People in South Africa were inclined to think that the Booths had been out of favour in the UK and that was the reason why they moved to South Africa in 1956. This was far from the case. Admittedly their recording contract with HMV had been cancelled in 1951 and I have never been able to work out why the contract was cancelled as they were both in excellent voice at the time. But they had plenty of theatre, television, radio and concert engagements in the 1950s. Webster sang his last Messiahs with the Huddersfield Choral Society in December 1955 and January 1956. They moved to South Africa because of increasing problems with the Inland Revenue rather than because they were not as popular as before.
Anne Ziegler sang in exactly one first class performance of Messiah in Blackpool in January of 1944. Doctor Malcolm Sargent (as he was at that time) conducted the performance with the Huddersfield Choral Society.
As a thirteen-year-old girl, I heard Webster and Anne sing in a performance of Messiah at St James’ Presbyterian Church which was then situated in Mars Street Malvern. The advertisement below (from 1956) shows the same soloists and choir at St George’s Presbyterian Church (the main Presbyterian Church in Johannesburg) which appeared a year later at St James. Even at that young age, I was aware that it must have been a come-down for Webster to be singing this work in a suburban church in South Africa after he had been singing at the Albert Hall not very long before. While Anne sang in the performance at St James under the musical director of the main Presbyterian Church in Johannesburg, Drummond Bell, she was not asked to sing in more important oratorio performances, such as the one at the Johannesburg City Hall a month later, or with Robert Selley at the Port Elizabeth Oratorio Festival.
In 1957 the first South African performance of The Dream of Gerontius (Elgar) was presented at the City Hall in Cape Town with Webster in the main role, conducted by Keith Jewell (aged 27).
The Dream of Gerontius was also presented in Port Elizabeth at the Oratorio Festival conducted by Robert Selley, where Webster was a soloist from 1957 to 1962.
27 November 1961 – SABC bulletin.
In 1963 Webster was invited to sing in a performance of Elijah with the combined choirs of Michaelhouse and St Anne’s in Natal, conducted by the young Barry Smith who was musical director at Michaelhouse at the time.
The following year he sang in a performance of Creation with the same singers. This time Ronald Charles was the musical director at Michaelhouse.
By that time Webster was 64 years of age. When he moved to Knysna he presented excerpts of various oratorios with the Knysna Choral Society and (in his late sixties) sang several bass solos in Elijah in 1968, something he had always wanted to do as he had a very wide range and a resonant lower register.
Webster’s oratorio recordings include the arias from Handel’s Messiah, Judas Maccabeus, Samson, and Acis and Galatea, Mendelssohn’s Elijah and St Paul, and Haydn’s Creation.
In 1926 Doctor Malcolm Sargent (as he was then) took over as conductor for the London season at the Prince’s Theatre and Leslie considered that period to be one of his happiest and most fulfilling times with the company. It was then when he asked Sargent to listen to his voice and tell him whether he thought he could make it as an opera singer. Sargent told him that if he did not have a private income he should forget about singing in opera as the pay was very poor.
As a young man, Webster Booth was serving articles as an accountant in Birmingham and taking singing lessons in his spare time at the Midland Institute with Dr Richard Wassell, the organist, and choirmaster at St Martin’s Church in the Bull Ring, Birmingham. He was a tenor soloist in the church and fulfilling engagements as tenor soloist in regional oratorio performances as far apart as Wales and Scotland.
Midland Institute where Webster had lessons with Dr Richard Wassell.
Interior of St Martin’s Church, the Bullring, Birmingham
In 1923 the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company came to Birmingham and he managed to obtain an audition with New Zealander, Harry Norris, the D’Oyly Carte conductor. Harry Norris was impressed with Webster’s voice and on his recommendation, he was summoned to see Rupert D’Oyly Carte in London. He was meant to audit a firm’s books in South Wales. Instead, he decided to throw caution to the wind and went to London for the audition instead. He sang five or six songs to an unreceptive D’Oyly Carte and his general manager, Richard Collett.
‘I became increasingly anxious. It was like singing to two mummies… ”I think he’ll do,” Mr D’Oyly Carte said in a rather pained voice, thinking, no doubt, that here was yet another name one the pay-list. “I should think so, sir,” was the reply. ‘Thus unenthusiastically was I welcomed into the Profession of the Stage.’ (Duet, p. 34)
Although he had been doing well in accountancy, he abandoned his job with little regret to become a professional singer, making his debut with the company as one of the Yeomen in The Yeomen of the Guard at the Theatre Royal, Brighton on 9 September 1923.
In 1924 he married Winifred Keey, the daughter of Edgar Keey, his former headmaster at Aston Commercial School. Winifred borrowed £100 from a relative, with no intention of repaying it, and used the money to follow Leslie to London against her parents’ wishes, or possibly, even without their knowledge. They might have approved of the match had Leslie remained a respectable accountant like his elder brother, Norman, but they were against her taking up with a chorus boy in the D’Oyly Carte. Her family had no more to do with her, partly because of her defiance of their wishes and partly because she had borrowed such a large sum of money under false pretences from a member of the family. Because they disowned her they never knew that she and Leslie had married or that she gave birth to a son, and, thinking the worst of her, imagined that she and Leslie were living together in sin.
Winifred and Leslie’s son, Keith was born the year after their marriage on 12 June 1925, and his birth was registered in Birmingham North.
6 August 1925 – Borough, Stratford. Interest remains unabated in the D’Oyly Carte company, now in the second of their two weeks’ engagement at this theatre. On Tuesday The Yeomen of the Guard was staged, and met with the usual enthusiastic reception from an audience who obviously enjoyed every number. Encores were frequent. The entrance of Mr Henry A Lytton as Jack Point was naturally the signal for an outburst of applause, which was fully justified by his consistently fine work in this well-written role. His apt mingling of humour and pathos is amongst the best things he has ever done. As the other strolling singer Miss Winifred Lawson made a distinct success, singing and acting with real talent. Happily cast also were Mr Leo Sheffield as the grim gaoler and Miss Aileen Davies as Phoebe. Miss Bertha Lewis made a capital Dame Carruthers, whose chief song was rendered artistically; and Miss Irene Hill scored as Kate. Mr Sydney Pointer’s agreeable voice helped him to make Colonel Fairfax a prominent figure, and Mr Darrell Fancourt was a strong Sergeant Meryll. Others who shared in the success were Mr Joseph Griffin as Sir Richard, Mr Herbert Aitken as Leonard, and Mr Leslie W. Booth as the First Yeoman. The stage director is still Mr J.M. Gordon and Mr Harry Norris is the touring musical director. In 1926 Doctor Malcolm Sargent (as he was then) took over as conductor for the London season at the Prince’s Theatre and Leslie considered that period to be one of his happiest and most fulfilling times with the company. It was then when he asked Sargent to listen to his voice and tell him whether he thought he could make it as an opera singer. Sargent told him that if he did not have a private income he should forget about singing in opera as the pay was very poor.
18 November 1926 – D’Oyly Carte Canadian Visit. It has been arranged for the D’Oyly Carte principal company to visit Canada at the end of the season at the Princes on December 19. The company will embark for Canada in the steamship Metagama on the 24th. The tour will open in Montreal on January 4. Mr Richard Collett, the general manager of the company, will be in charge of the tour.
After a stay of two weeks in Montreal, the company will proceed to Toronto and thence to Winnipeg, staying in each of these cities for a fortnight. There will also be visits to Lethbridge, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, and Victoria, the capital of Vancouver Island. The tour will end at Montreal in the middle of May. The Mikado, The Gondoliers, The Yeomen of the Guard, and HMS Pinafore will form the repertory. The leading principals, with the exception of Miss Elsie Griffin, will take part in the tour. Miss Griffin’s place will be filled by Miss Irene Hill. Misses Bertha Lewis, Winifred Lawson, Aileen Davies, Messrs Henry A Lytton, Darrell Fancourt, Leo Sheffield, and Charles Goulding are included in the company. Webster Booth sang Your Tiny Hand is Frozen at the ship’s concert, so impressing principal soprano Winifred Lawson that she was not at all surprised when he soon rose to fame after he left the company. He was particularly impressed when the chorus sang Hail Poetry in the open air when the company visited Chief Big Crow and Chief Starlight in the Sarcee Reserve, Calgary.
Passenger list on return to Liverpool
He stayed with the company for four and a half years but made no great advancement from singing in the chorus, small parts and understudying the tenor principal roles. In Duet, his joint autobiography, with Anne Ziegler, he complained that the only way he would advance in the company was to wait patiently to fill “dead men’s shoes”. Despite this observation, he was one of the few singers allowed to record individual songs from the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire without prior approval of the D’Oyly Carte family. His recordings of Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes and A Wand’ring Minstrel under the baton of gifted conductor, a fellow native of Birmingham, Leslie Heward, who died tragically young, remain unsurpassed and are now available on CD.
Leslie was away on tour for fifty weeks of the year and Winifred, left alone with her small son, was estranged from her parents although living in the suburb of Moseley in the same city. Leslie had suspicions that all was not well at home when he arrived home from a tour with D’Oyly Carte to find Keith sitting by himself on the doorstep. Winifred had left her small son to his own devices while she went dancing. Several years later, she suddenly deserted Leslie and his son.
Leslie searched for Winifred in every town where he happened to be singing, but despite desperate attempts to trace her, he never found her, and eventually divorced her in 1931, citing Trevor Davey as co-respondent. Leslie was granted custody of Keith, who decided on his sixth birthday that he never wanted to see his mother again.
After the stability of a regular – if small – salary from D’Oyly Carte, he was now a freelance performer with a small son to support and no regular money to his name. In the D’Oyly Carte Company he was known as Leslie W. Booth, but now he adopted his middle name and became known as Webster Booth on stage, although his family and close friends continued to call him Leslie for the rest of his life. One of his boyhood nicknames was Jammy, and he once signed a photograph “Yours sincerely, Kingy”!
26 May 1939 – Gilbert and Sullivan The scheme of the London Music Festival is designed to embrace all the chief musical activities of the metropolis and it was proper that the popular concerts given by Mr Ernest Makower at the London Museum should have their place in it. The concert given on Wednesday evening was an unusual one, though Mr Makower never keeps to any beaten path in his selection of music for performance. It was felt that no English festival would be really complete if Gilbert and Sullivan was not represented in it. So, with the permission of Mr D’Oyly Carte, Dr Sargent arranged a programme of selections from the famous comic operas. In a preliminary talk, Dr Sargent apologised for going against Sullivan’s expressed wish that his operatic music should not be performed in concert form.
But no excuse was necessary to justify the admirable singing of the extracts by Miss Irene Eisinger, Mr Webster Booth, and Mr George Baker. We do not often hear Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes so well sung in a theatre. Miss Eisinger’s songs reminded us that Sullivan’s heroines descended at no great distance from Mozart’s soubrettes, whom we are accustomed to hearing her sing so delightfully. It was good too to hear the music played by the Boyd Neel orchestra, whose contributions included the delightful patchwork overture, Un Ballo and the Iolanthe overture. There was, as usual, a large and enthusiastic audience.
1953 – The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan (film). Robert Morley, Ian Wallace, Owen Brannigan, Harold Williams and voices of Webster Booth, Elsie Morrison, John Cameron. Webster was annoyed at the billing he was given in this film. He did not appear in it but his voice was dubbed for Colonel Fairfax in the scene from The Yeomen of the Guard and in the final section singing an echoing version of A Wand’ring Minstrel. The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan
January 1962 When the copyright on Gilbert’s words was lifted at the end of 1961 Webster was asked to present a Gilbert and Sullivan series of programmes on the English Service of the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
1963 Only a few weeks before The Johannesburg Operatic Society was due to open with The Yeomen of the Guard the committee decided that they needed a stronger Colonel Fairfax than the person originally cast in the role. Webster (aged 61) was asked to take over what is essentially the juvenile lead. He was a great success in the role.
14 June 1963 (from my 5-year diary)
4 to 14 April 1973 – The Mikado, Guild Theatre, East London, The East London Light Operatic Society, Pamela Emslie, Colin Carney, Bernie Lee, Leigh Evans, Irene McCarthy, Jim Hagerty and Jimmy Nicholas, produced by Webster Booth. The musical director was Jean Fowler.
I had moved to East London at the beginning of 1973 and joined the show at the last minute. I had a very happy reunion with Webster after seven years apart.
Webster Booth had always hoped to sing in Grand Opera despite Malcolm Sargent’s advice that unless he had a private income it would be best to leave opera alone. In 1938 he was asked by Sir Thomas Beecham to go to Covent Garden and sing for him. By that time he was already an established singer on the radio, on record, in oratorio and lighter forms of entertainment and was rather affronted that he should have to audition at all. Sir Thomas and Lady Emerald Cunard were seated in the middle of the empty auditorium and chatted to one another while he sang Your Tiny Hand is Frozen from La Bohème and The Flower Song from Carmen. To add insult to injury Sir Thomas offered him two very small parts – one in The Magic Flute, the other as the tenor singer in Rosenkavalier at the princely sum of £10 per performance and nothing for rehearsals.
Unlike Sir Thomas’s disdainful attitude towards Webster, Erich Kleiber, who was conducting Der Rosenkavalier was most impressed with his voice and congratulated him on his performance of the aria before the whole company. It was during the first performance of Rosenkavalier that the famous soprano, Lotte Lehmann, who was playing the role of the Marschallein, stopped singing in the middle of the performance and walked off the stage. She had been informed before the performance that her husband had been arrested by the Nazis.
Early in 1939, Webster appeared in Rosenkavalier at Sadler’s Wells and accepted no fee. Miss Lilian Baylis could only afford to pay him £4 per performance. Webster wrote in his autobiography, Duet: “I laughed and replied, “Don’t bother with the £4. I’ll sing four performances for you anyway!”
Although Webster was offered the part of Lohengrin and other roles at Covent Garden in 1951 during the Festival of Britain, he turned it down. People often question why he “wasted so much time” singing duets in Variety, but one of the reasons he did this was because Variety paid a great deal more than Opera and required far less hard work.
September 1 2012 is the
centenary of the death of the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who died
at the early age of 37 on September 1 1912. Despite his early death he
left a legacy of fine music behind him. I have many of his piano solos
in my possession and get much pleasure in playing them.
Webster Booth was associated with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor because of his many appearances in Hiawatha,
Coleridge-Taylor’s best known and most popular work. He made his first appearance in this work at the Royal Albert Hall in May 1936 with Harold Williams and others and made another appearance in Hiawatha in June 1937, shortly before he sailed for New York the following month.
Before the war, the work was presented in full native-American costume and
here is Webster in his costume below. Dr Malcolm Sargent (as he was
then) conducted the work and continued to present it with the Royal
Choral Society and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra many times.
Webster appeared in many other performances of Hiawatha, including one presented at Kenilworth Castle in 1952. I have included a few of the advertisements below:
Webster Booth appeared in the Jubilee concert of Hiawatha to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the concert which was first presented in March 1900.
May 1951. Croydon, Davis Theatre.
As part of the Festival of Britain celebrations a concert mainly devoted to the works of local composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was held in the Davis Theatre on 31 May 1951, part of a series of concerts sponsored by Croydon Corporation for the Festival. Parts One and Two of Hiawatha were presented by the Croydon Philharmonic Society, conducted by Alan J. Kirby. Gwen Catley, Webster Booth and Dennis Noble were the soloists.
the planned presentation of Hiawatha in 1954 was called off at the last
minute because of poor ticket sales, Sir Malcolm Sargent asked that
Webster should be the soloist in the work at his sixtieth birthday
concert on 29 April 1955 at the Royal Festival Hall, where his fellow
soloists were Jennifer Vyvian and Australian baritone John Cameron.
Perhaps because the performance was associated with Sir Malcolm’s
birthday, tickets were in great demand.
Here is a photograph from the defunct magazine, Music and Musicians where Webster and Anne are speaking to John Cameron after the performance.
His last performance in the work was at the Promenade Concert in August 1955, where he also sang the song cycle To Julia by Roger Quilter.
In July 1956 he and Anne Ziegler moved to Johannesburg South Africa. He never sang in another performance of this work.
Webster Booth recorded several songs by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor below:
A memorial service was held at St Paul’s Covent Garden for Webster Booth
in October 1984. Before the service his ashes were buried in the grounds
and a memorial plaque erected in commemoration to him. In 1991 Pamela
Davies, who collaborated with me in writing one of the books on Anne
Ziegler and Webster Booth, visited the churchyard in the early 1990s and
found Webster’s memorial plaque under a hawthorn tree. The plaque was
made of brass and in the seven years since it had been erected it was
tarnished and blackened, although she could still read the plain
St Paul’s, Covent Garden – All photographs by Charles S. P. Jenkins (November 2010)
South side of St Paul’s churchyard
Pamela returned to the churchyard in 2005 only to find that the hawthorn tree
had been cut down and Webster’s plaque could no longer be seen. She
wrote to make enquiries as to what had happened to the plaque. I quote
from our book, Do You Remember Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth?
The administrator, in the rector’s absence, kindly instituted another
search, equally fruitless. He suggested it could be hidden under a large
plant or simply have disintegrated in the adverse weather, as had
happened to the plaque to the actor Michael Williams, which had been in
place only four years.
In my letter I had enquired also about the possibility of a plaque to
Webster Booth’s wife, the singer Anne Ziegler, but I was informed that
no more plaques are being accepted. The only answer would be an
inscribed garden bench, or obtaining permission for a name in a memorial
book in the church….
Evelyn Laye had read the lesson at Webster’s memorial service. Her life is
commemorated by an inscription on a garden bench in the churchyard:
It seems a shame that this plaque, which marked the burial place of
Webster’s ashes, and was erected in memory of a great British tenor
who was also dearly beloved by his family, friends and fans, should have
vanished without trace. As one can see from the above photographs, the
churchyard is very overgrown, so many other plaques are probably
obscured or hidden in the undergrowth.
Apparently no record is kept of those whose memorial services are held at the church.
If the plaques commemorating theatrical musical and theatrical
personalities have disintegrated or disappeared in the thick undergrowth
within such a short time, valuable pieces of theatrical history are
lost forever to future generations.
UPDATE – 19 FEBRUARY 2011
I received an e-mail from St Paul’s Covent Garden yesterday and I will
outline what was said, below, and also part of my reply. I fear that the
matter now rests there as far as I am concerned.
The main problem for those of us administrating this church now is that
burial in all central London graveyards was stopped by Act of Parliament
in the mid 19th century. Therefore burial of ashes with plaque, of
anyone since then, has been illegal. However discreet internment without
ceremony, plaque or shrub can be considered.
A number of plaques are placed in the garden illegally but these can
disintegrate, disappear, or even, get stolen and in foliage can simply
The Parochial Church Council was instructed by the Diocese to stop
putting Memorial Plaques on the church’s interior walls. Since then the
PCC have accepted inscribed benches for use in the burial ground at
£1000 each. A name inscribed in the Actors’ Church Union Book of
Remembrance costs £100. The PCC has recently decided to consider plaques
on the interior wainscotting again, for those artistes honoured by Her
Majesty, at a premium of £3000. The proposal to be made by the nearest
member of the family.
My reply was as follows:
Thank you for responding so promptly to my query and for explaining the
situation to me. As far as I know the ashes of Webster Booth were
interned in the Churchyard prior to the memorial service. I know that
his widow, the late Anne Ziegler, who was living in Llandudno, North
Wales, did not return to the Church after this service, so I’m not sure
at what juncture the plaque was placed in the Churchyard.
I shall pass on the information you have given me to Webster Booth’s next of kin….
I omitted the name of the person who wrote and also the name of Webster’s
next of kin. I would add that there would have been no question of Anne
arranging to have an illegal plaque placed in the Churchyard! If you
look at the photographs again, you will see that there are many plaques
there, erected many years after the mid-nineteenth century. I think that
it is a rather snobbish practice to consider placing plaques in the
central wainscotting only for artistes honoured by Her Majesty.
A few years after Webster Booth’s death, Anne Ziegler was granted a
special pension by the Queen in recognition of Anne and Webster’s
contribution to music in the United Kingdom – a very much more practical
“honour” than an OBE.
The Queen’s Hall had seventeen entrances to the building in Langham Place, Riding House Street and Great Portland Street and originally seated 3000 people, although, after alterations in 1919, housed only 2,400. It was considered to have excellent acoustics. There was also the Queen’s Small Hall, seating 500 people. This hall opened in November 1893.
While Webster Booth always considered this hall to be his favourite as a singer, he was associated with it as early as 1935 when the unusual film written and composed by Friedrich Feher in which he appeared as a troubadour, was first shown in the Queen’s Hall. The film was called The Robber Symphony. Not only was Webster required to pull a piano through the snow in the Alps during the making of this film, but he also sang several songs written by Mr Feher, one in creditable Italian.
Webster Booth in The Robber Symphony with Magda Sonja
Webster sang many oratorio performances in the Queen’s Hall, including a Messiah, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham on 17 December 1938. It was at this performance that Australian, Joan Hammond sang the soprano solos in one of her first engagements in England. At that time Joan Hammond had a beautiful lyrical soprano voice, but after further training Webster was surprised to discover that her voice had become very much heavier when he recorded the duet from Madame Butterfly with her in 1943. In order to balance the duet, Miss Hammond had to stand quite a distance behind Webster during the recording, conducted by the (then) Dr Malcolm
By the time this recording was made, the Queen’s Hall had been destroyed by an incendiary bomb. On the afternoon of 10 May 1941 Webster had sung the part of the Soul in Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius at the Queen’s Hall. The other soloists were contralto, Muriel Brunskill (the Angel) and baritone, Ronald Stear (The Priest and Angel of Agony). The soloists, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Choral Society were conducted by Malcolm Sargent.
Interior of Queen’s Hall
I have always regretted that no recording was ever made of Webster singing Gerontius, as he was notable in this role. When he immigrated to South Africa he sang in the first South African performance of The Dream of Gerontius in 1957, conducted by a very young Keith Jewell, who became the Cape Town City Organist. Keith Jewell accompanied Anne and Webster in (what was meant to be) their farewell concert in Somerset West, Cape Province in 1975..
The day in 1941 had been pleasant and sunny, but only a few hours after this performance of The Dream of Gerontius, the Queen’s Hall was destroyed by a German incendiary bomb. Webster Booth always considered the hall to be the finest concert hall in the
world for a singer. The Promenade Concerts had been held there, but after the destruction of this beautiful hall they transferred to the Royal Albert Hall. Webster Booth said in his joint autobiography with Anne Ziegler, Duet (1951), that many singers were terrified to sing in the Albert Hall after the warm acoustic of the Queen’s Hall, but although he adored the Albert Hall, the Queen’s Hall would always remain his favourite London Concert Hall.
Leslie Webster Booth was born on 21 January 1902 in a three storey home above his father’s ladies hairdressing business at 157 Soho Road, Handsworth, Birmingham. He was the youngest son of Edwin Booth and his wife Sarah (née Webster) in a family of three sons and three daughters. Edwin was a hairdresser, who had served in the Royal Staffordshire Regiment as a Barber Surgeon. Sarah was from Chilvers Coton, Nuneaton, where her parents and later she and her sister, Hannah, had been handloom silk weavers. Her brother, William Thomas Webster was a partner in Foster and Webster, a successful gentlemen’s outfitters with branches throughout the Midlands. Sarah’s brother eventually left the firm, but it continues to this day under the name of Foster Brothers.
Leslie was the youngest of six children and his eldest sister, Doris, (known as Nellie), played as big a part in his upbringing as his mother. All three sisters doted on their young brother, who, from an early age, possessed a singing voice of outstanding quality. The family held musical evenings at home and delighted in their father’s robust rendition of The Veteran’s Song, while his mother and sisters were moved to tears when young Leslie sang the mournful ballad, Valé in his beautiful treble voice.
At nine years of age Leslie’s voice elevated him from St James’ Church choir in Edwardian Handsworth to the choir stalls of Lincoln Cathedral as a chorister under the direction of Dr George Bennett. Dr Bennett was a fine musician, but a stern taskmaster, who insisted that choristers sang with flat tongues: he was not averse to flattening an errant tongue with his ever-ready broken baton. Just as today’s Cathedral choristers are disciplined hard-working musicians of the highest order, so they were in the first decades of the twentieth century also. Christmas holidays for the choristers commenced only after they had completed the Christmas Eve services to Dr Bennett’s satisfaction.
Lincoln was a good training ground for young Leslie Booth. Although he did not make great progress on the piano and thus did not advance to learning the organ, an instrument he longed to play. The Willis organ at Lincoln Cathedral had been opened in 1898, eleven years before Leslie went to Lincoln, and is still considered as one of the finest organs in England. Leslie did, however, learn to sight-read vocal lines with ease. This ability stood him in good stead as a professional singer, especially at recording sessions.
When he went to HMV studios for a recording session he would be given six to eight songs to record at a time. These he would sight-read and record in one or two takes. After the session the songs would soon be forgotten: a different approach to recording from today’s pop singers who seem to spend months recording their new “album”! Years later, people often appeared before him clutching one of his old records, assuring him of their great attachment to the particular song, but he often had no recollection of making it in the first place.
After his voice broke at the age of thirteen, he returned to the family home in Birmingham to study accountancy at Aston Commercial School. He was set for the steady job of accountant like Uncle Jim, his father’s brother, but at fifteen, when his voice had settled, he began his vocal studies as a tenor with Dr Richard Wassall, the musical director at the Midland Institute in Birmingham. Leslie was an avid supporter of West Bromwich Albion football team and was goalie in the Aston Commercial School team. He was a promising enough goalie to be offered a place with the Aston Villa Colts, but this idea did not meet with his headmaster’s approval. Despite his accountancy studies, he secretly dreamed of the more glamorous callings of football and singing. Luckily for the world, singing eventually won.
With his great natural vocal gifts, his striking good looks and winning personality, performing came easily to him. He sang duets with Uncle Jim’s daughter, his cousin Lily Booth, a promising mezzo-soprano, and soon he was also singing at concerts and oratorio performances all over the Midlands and Wales. By this time he was a tall, imposing young man, who realised that appearance and stage presence were nearly as important to a professional singer as an exceptional voice. Although he had perfect diction in song, he felt it necessary to take elocution lessons with the Shakespearian actor Sir Robert Atkins, the founder of the Open Air Theatre at Regents Park, to smooth the Brummy intonation from his speech.
His adult voice was a distinctive lyric tenor, with an exceptionally wide range and a baritonal quality on the lower notes. His diction was clear and lacked the idiosyncratic pronunciation and bleating quality of many of his contemporaries, which marked them as refined English singers, not quite able to compete with their more virile Italian and German counterparts. In my opinion, Heddle Nash and David Lloyd were the only two British tenors of Webster Booth’s generation who had comparable voices.
At twenty-one, Leslie auditioned for the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company and was immediately accepted after a London audition. Although he had been doing well in accountancy, he abandoned his job with little regret to become a professional singer, making his debut with the company in The Yeomen of the Guard at the Theatre Royal, Brighton on 9 September 1923. He stayed with the company for four years, but made no great advancement from the chorus and small parts. In Duet, his joint autobiography, with Anne Ziegler, he complained that the only way one could advance in the company was to wait to fill “dead men’s shoes”. Despite this observation, he was one of the few singers allowed to record individual songs from the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire without the prior approval of the D’Oyly Carte family.
His recordings of Take a pair of sparkling eyes and A Wand’ring Minstrel under the baton of the gifted conductor Leslie Heward, who died tragically young, remain unsurpassed and are now available on CD. He went with the D’Oyly Carte Company on a memorable and successful tour of Canada. Winifred Lawson, the principal soprano, heard him singing Your Tiny Hand is Frozen from La Bohème at the ship’s concert and was deeply impressed with the beauty of his voice. She was not surprised when he left the company soon after its return to England, to eventually become a deserved success in his own right.
In 1924 he had married Winifred Keey, the daughter of Edgar Keey, his headmaster at Aston Commercial School. Winifred borrowed £100 from a relative, with no intention of repaying it, and used the money to follow Leslie to London against her parents’ wishes, or possibly without their knowledge. They might have approved of the match had Leslie remained a respectable accountant like his elder brother, Norman, but they were against her taking up with a chorus boy in the D’Oyly Carte. Her family would have no more to do with her, annoyed at her, partly because of her defiance of their wishes and partly because she had borrowed such a large sum of money under false pretences from a member of the family. Because they disowned her they never knew that she and Leslie had married or that she gave birth to a son and imagined that she and Leslie were living together in sin.
Winifred and Leslie’s son, Keith was born the year after their marriage on 12 June 1925, and his birth was registered in Birmingham North. Leslie was on tour for fifty weeks of the year and Winifred, left alone with her small son, was estranged from her parents although living in the suburb of Moseley in the same city. After several years she suddenly deserted Leslie and his son. He had suspicions that all was not well at home when he came home from a tour with D’Oyly Carte to find Keith sitting by himself on the doorstep. Winifred had left her small son to his own devices while she went dancing.
Leslie searched for Winifred in every town where he was singing, but despite his desperate attempts to trace her, he never found her, and eventually divorced her in 1931, citing Trevor Davey as co-respondent. Leslie was granted custody of Keith, who never saw his mother again after his sixth birthday.
After the stability of a regular – if small – salary from D’Oyly Carte, he was now a freelance performer with a small son to support and no regular money to his name. In the D’Oyly Carte Company he was known as Leslie W. Booth, but now he adopted his middle name, and became Webster Booth on stage, although his family and close friends continued to call him Leslie for the rest of his life. One of his boyhood nicknames was Jammy and he once signed a photograph “Yours sincerely, Kingy“!
During this precarious period of his life before he achieved fame and stability in the profession, Webster joined Tom Howell’s Opieros, a concert party with a difference, as some of its members sang operatic excerpts while others were comedians and light entertainers found in the usual concert party. Tom Howell was a baritone from Swansea and he and Webster often sang duets together in the shows. For several years Webster toured all over the country with the Opieros during the summer season, performing on piers and in municipal parks. H Baynton-Power was the Opieros’ excellent accompanist.
In winter Webster sang in cabaret at various large Lyons’ restaurants and cafés, at many Masonic concerts and staff dinners, often with the pianist Gladys Vernon as his accompanist. Gladys Vernon was to marry another well-known tenor, Walter Midgeley.
During the winter seasons of 1927 and 1928, he and Tom Howell appeared in Fred Melville pantomimes at Brixton. The first pantomime in 1927 was St George and the Dragon. St George was played by principal boy, Vera Wright, while Webster played King Arthur. 1928’s pantomime at the Brixton Theatre was a freely adapted version of Babes in the Wood. Once again Vera Wright played principal boy, this time in the role of Robin Hood.
Webster made his West End debut as the Duke of Buckingham in Rudolph Friml’s The Three Musketeers at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1930. The leading role of D’Artagnan was taken by Dennis King, an actor and singer Webster greatly admired for his great energy. Other distinguished cast members were Lilian Davies, Marie Ney, Adrienne Brune and Raymond Newell. Unfortunately, Webster could only appear in this show for three months as he had already signed a contract for a Blackpool summer show for Ernest Butcher. Despite Sir Alfred Butt’s best efforts to get him released from this contract, Ernest Butcher would not budge. Webster’s part was taken over by the well-known Yorkshire tenor, Robert Naylor. When Webster set off sadly and reluctantly to fulfill his engagement on the Central Pier, Blackpool, his one consolation was that he could continue singing Queen of My Heart, one of the hits from The Three Musketeers with which he had scored such a success on the West End.
Webster met his second wife, Dorothy Annie Alice Prior (stage name Paddy Prior) in the early nineteen-thirties. He was singing One Alone at a Concert Artistes Association concert and happened to notice her sitting in the audience. Paddy Prior was born in Fulham in 1905, the daughter of Hubert Prior, an ironmonger, and his wife, Annie Jane (née Henderson). Paddy went on the professional stage while still in her teens. She was a light comedienne, dancer, and a soubrette with a charming mezzo-soprano voice and appeared on television in its early days in The Ridgeway Revue with Philip Ridgeway and Hermione Gingold. By the time she met Webster she was a veteran of many concert parties, musicals and pantomimes, and always received good reviews for her work. Despite her talent she had periods of unemployment and placed occasional advertisements in The Stage, such as this one in April 1926, which read as follows:
In 1931 Webster divorced Winifred, citing her affair with Trevor Davey and on 10 October 1932, he married Paddy at Fulham Registry Office, where he had married Winifred Keey in 1924. Around the same time, Winifred married James L. Haig at the Lambeth Registry Office. Webster and Paddy went to Newquay for their honeymoon.
Webster sang for several seasons in Papa Pinder’s Sunshine concert party at the Sunshine Theatre, Shanklin on the Isle of Wight.
In 1933 he and Paddy appeared together for the summer season in The Piccadilly Revels Concert Party at Scarborough. The following year, Webster managed to arrange for Paddy to obtain an engagement with him in the Sunshine show. Appearing on the same bill with them was Arthur Askey, and he and Webster became great friends. After hearing Webster sing To Anthea by J L Hatton at one of the shows, the Askeys decided to name their baby daughter Anthea…
On 22 April 1948 she and Bettie Bucknelle sailed for Australia, where they intended to make a new life. Paddy’s brother had settled there some time earlier. It must have been upsetting for Paddy to see Webster and Anne as established stars while, despite her considerable talent, she had not made a big and lasting name for herself.
Webster Booth married his second wife, Dorothy Annie Alice Prior (stage name Paddy Prior) on 10 October 1932 at the Fulham Registry Office. He had married Winifred Keey there eight years earlier but had divorced her in 1931 after she deserted him and their small son, Keith, several years before.
Marriage certificate of Hubert Edward Prior and Annie Jane Henderson on 25 October 1902.
Paddy Prior, was born in December 1904, the daughter of Fulham ironmonger, Hubert and his wife, Annie Henderson. Paddy began her professional stage career while still a teenager. She was a talented soubrette, comedienne and dancer, and possessed a pleasant mezzo soprano voice into the bargain.
Paddy’s parents lived at Disbrowe Road when they were first married.
Paddy’s birthplace in Fulham. Her baptism on 29 January 1905 at St Peter, Fulham.
George William Henderson was a relative of Annie Jane Prior (nee Henderson).
In 1924, at the age of nineteen, Paddy spent nearly a year as a member of the travelling Rogues concert party from April to January 1925. In various reviews Paddy was praised for her comedy talent and her speciality dancing with comedian Fred Roper. They were appearing at Leas Pavilion, Folkestone in January 1925, but by the 5 February Paddy had left the Rogues to join the Gamblers and Their Tipster concert party at the same venue. This party also toured extensively, so before she was twenty-one, Paddy had seen much of the country and gained valuable professional experience into the bargain.
24 December 1924
Whitehall Court, Fulham – Paddy’s home in the 1920s.
In November 1925 Paddy appeared at the Taunton Lyceum in Little Miss Muffet as Dolly Dimple. The pantomime toured various towns until early 1926.
By April Paddy was out of work and obliged to put an advertisement in The Stage as follows:
8 April 1926 PADDY PRIOR, SOUBRETTE AND DANCER, VACANT: First class offers for CP, Revue, and Musical Comedy. PA 37 Arundel Mansions, Fulham SW6
By July Paddy was working again, this time with Leslie Fuller’s Whitby Pedlars, and a review pointed out that, “Paddy Prior is a charming and dainty soubrette, who uses her mezzo voice effectively.”
The pattern of Paddy’s stage career was set: concert party, after-dinner entertainment, pantomime and musical comedy. Towards the end of the twenties she was also on television at Daventry, first in De Courville’s Hour in 1929.
Albert de Courville.
then in the early thirties in Philip Ridgeway’s series entitled The Ridgeway Parade, which included Janet Lind, Dorothy Dampier and Hermione Gingold in the cast. She starred in the Cicely Courtneidge role on a Scottish tour of Lido Lady in 1929.
31 January 1929 – Advertisement in The Stage. PADDY PRIOR – Playing Lead LIDO LADY Co. This week, Theatre Royal, Inverness, next His Majesty’s, Aberdeen
The Ridgeway Parade – Regional Programme London, 7 October 1931 21.15 (New Series. No. I) Sweep Night – A Song and Dance Show Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical Arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN
Devised and Produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY
FRED CURTIS , BERTHA WILLMOTT, IRENE VERE, HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, SINCLAIR COLE, BERT MEREDITH, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON, LOLA GORDON, BEATRICE GALLEWAY, JACK HODGES, JOHN CHARLTON, PADDY PRIOR, ARTHUR JAY, WALLACE NORFORD. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA. PHILIP RIDGEWAY.
THE FIRST OF THE NEW SERIES OF RIDGEWAY PARADES – National Programme Daventry, 9 October 1931 20.00SWEEP NIGHT – A song and dance show, written by Holt Marvell and Philip Ridgeway. Musical arrangements by Dorothy Hogben. Devised and produced by Philip Ridgeway. Fred Curtis, Bertha Wilmott, Irene Vere, Hermione Gingold, Gerald Osborne, Dorothy Dampier, Anna Day, Sinclair Cole, Bert Meredith, Douglas Pemberton, Lola Gordon, Beatrice Galleway, Jack Hodges, John Charlton, Paddy Prior, Arthur Jay, Wallace Norford, Dorothy Hogben and her Orchestra. Philip Ridgeway.
Singing, dancing, burlesque-and Mr. Ridgeway. The producer is the life and soul of his own shows. It is Philip Ridgeway who designed costumes for his Paraders to wear in the Studio, who makes his whole company dance furiously for a minute before the red light goes on in order that they should start their broadcast warmed up, who created and impersonated Joe Ramsbotham of Rawthenstall, of the unsteady Lancashire accent. These Parades, of which the present series is the third, are among the most generally popular light entertainments ever broadcast. They may lack the subtlety and satire of the revues of Gordon McConnel, John Watt, Denis Freeman; their aim is otherwise—broad humour, popular songs, vitality, rather than finesse. Many of the members of former Parade companies are taking part in the present series. Mr. Ridgeway’s musical director, Dorothy Hogben, is again in charge of the orchestra. Philip Ridgeway is well qualified to possess an acquaintance with the popular taste in entertainment. Still in his thirties, he has been connected with the theatre since he was a boy, as actor, author, producer and manager in turn. It is typical of his lively versatility that the two most widely acclaimed achievements of his career have been his introduction of Chekhov to London, at the Barnes Theatre, several years ago, and the invention last autumn of the Ridgeway Parades. Tonight he will be beside the microphone as usual, the inevitable flower in his buttonhole, waving his company on, a cross between Sir Henry Wood, Francois Descamps and Grock. So on with the show. We’re a lot of little songs to chase the blues, Dancing shoes to amuse. We’re the lightest and the brightest of revues, We’re the Ridgeway Parade.
The Ridgeway Parade – National Programme Daventry, 22 October 1931 20.00 (New Series-No. II) Sweetheart Night – A Song and Dance Show Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical Arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN. Devised and Produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY. DOROTHY DAMPIER, HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, FRED CURTIS, SINCLAIR COLE, BERT MEREDITH, LOLA GORDON, JOHN CHARLTON, PADDY PRIOR, JACK HODGES , DORIS YORKE, ALEXANDER HENDERSON, WALLACE MORFORD, BEATRICE GALLEWAY, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA. PHILIP RIDGEWAY
The Ridgeway Parade – Regional Programme London, 4 November 1931 20.30 (New Series-No. Ill) – Old Soldiers’ Night – A Song and DanceShow Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical Arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN. Devised and Produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY. HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, BERT MEREDITH, SINCLAIR COLE, JOHN CHARLTON, FRED CURTIS, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON, LOLA GORDON, PADDY PRIOR, JACK HODGES, WALLACE MORFORD, DORIS YORKE, ALEXANDER HENDERSON, BEATRICE GALLEWAY.BL_0000381_19321224_010_0001
The Ridgeway Parade— V Regional Programme London, 2 December 1931 20.00 (New Series) Typists’, Brunettes’, and Dukes’ Night – A Song and Dance Show Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP Ridgeway. HERMIONEGINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, BERT MEREDITH, SINCLAIR COLE, JOHN CHARLTON, FRED CURTIS, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON, LOLA GORDON, BEATRlCE GALLEWAY, ALEXANDER HENDERSON, PADDY PRIOR, JACK HODGES, WALLACE MORFORD, DORIS YORKE. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA, PHILIP RIDGEWAY.
The Ridgeway Parade – Regional Programme London, 16 December 1931 20.00 (New Series-No. VI) HAPPY NIGHT. A SONG AND DANCE SHOW Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN. Devised and produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY. HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, BERT MEREDITH, SINCLAIR COLE, JOHN CHARLTON. FRED CURTIS, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, ALEXANDER HENDERSON , DORIS YORKE, WALLACE MORFORD, JACK HODGES, PADDY PRIOR, BEATRICE GALLEWAY, LOLA GORDON, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA. PHILIP RIDGEWAY
MURRAY ASHFORD’S ENTERTAINERS – Regional Programme Midland, 17 June 1932 18.30 From THE PAVILION, JEPHSON GARDENS, LEAMINGTON SPA. WINIFRED SCOTT-BAXTER (Soprano), EDWARD WARD, (Baritone), CLIFFORD WARREN (Entertainer), PADDY PRIOR (Soubrette), MARIE GROS (Comedienne), DOROTHY BRADSHAW (at the Piano), FRANK RYDON (Light Comedian), WILBY LUNN and CONNIE HART (Living Marionettes).
MANY interesting personalities are associated with Murray Ashford’s Entertainers. Paddy Prior is familiar to admirers of the Ridgeway Parade, Marie Gros is the niece of the late Marie Lloyd and sings many of her songs, while Edward Ward has appeared in several Drury Lane successes.
Webster Booth divorced his first wife, Winifred Keey, in 1931.
Between Leslie Webster Booth (Petitioner) and Winifred Dorothy Booth (Respondent) and Trevor Davey (Co-respondent)
TAKE NOTICE that a Petition has been filed in this Division endorsed with Notice to you to appear and answer the charges in the Petition of Leslie Webster Booth of 151 Biggin Hill, Upper Norwood, in the County of London, praying for a dissolution of marriage. In default of your so appearing, you will not be allowed to address the Court, and the Court will proceed and hear the said Petition proved and pronounce sentence. AND TAKE FURTHER NOTICE THAT for the purpose of the aforesaid within one month after the date of this Publication an appearance must be entered at the Divorce Registry, Somerset in respect thereof AND TAKE FURTHER NOTICE THAT House, Strand, London. W INDERWICK, Registrar, Solicitors for the Petitioner:-W H Speed & Co., 18 Sackville Street, London, W1
Like Webster, Paddy was a member of the Concert Artistes’ Association, and it was there that she first heard Webster sing. In an interview with W.S. Meadmore in Gramophone in November 1935, Webster described his meeting with Paddy. He was singing One Alone from The Desert Song when his attention was drawn to her seated in the audience, obviously enjoying his singing. They were introduced after the concert and married on 10 October 1932. They spent their honeymoon in Newquay, Cornwall.
10 October 1932 – Marriage. Webster married Dorothy Annie Alice Prior on 10 October 1932 at Fulham Registry Office, the same registry office where he had married Winifred Keey in 1924.
While married to Dorothy (Paddy) Prior, the couple lived at 5 Crescent Court, Golders Green Crescent, NW11. They were listed separately in the telephone book as Webster Booth, tenor, Speedwell 6608; and Paddy Prior, soubrette-entertainer, Speedwell 6608
Although Webster was living with Anne at her flat in Lauderdale Mansions in 1937, Paddy and Webster remained listed in the telephone book at the same address until their divorce was made final in October 1938.
13 October 1932 – Wedding Bells. Paddy Prior and Webster Booth were married at the Fulham Register Office last Monday. A reception followed before the bride and bridegroom left for a honeymoon at Newquay, and several professional friends were in attendance to toast the happy couple.
Paddy and Webster lived at Crescent Court, Golders Green Crescent, Golders Green during their marriage (pictured above).
May 1933 – Piccadilly Revels. Murray Ashford and Wilby Lunn’s Piccadilly Revels will open a fortnight’s engagement at the Pavilion, Bournemouth, next Monday, with a visit to the Argyle, Birkenhead, to follow. The company will start their long resident season at the Floral Hall, Scarborough, on Whit Saturday. The Western Brothers, Ena Broughton, Webster Booth, Paddy Prior, Violet Stevens, Edgar Sawyer, Andrée Conti, Isolde, Alexis and Carlo, and the Euphan Maclaren Girls form the cast.
Piccadilly Revels, Scarborough 1933
Paddy Prior (middle row left), Webster Booth (seated next to her)
In 1934 they were members of Powis Pinder’s Sunshine concert party at the Sunshine Theatre, Shanklin. Arthur Askey and Bernard Lee were also in this company.
At the end of 1934 Webster was chosen to play Faust in the film, The Faust Fantasy and Anne Ziegler was chosen to play Marguerite. Filming began in December and, according to Anne and Webster’s joint autobiography Duet, they fell in love almost at first sight. Paddy’s marriage to Webster was about to end before it had properly begun.
Filming Faust (1934/1935)
1935 – Fred Hartley’s wedding. Mrs Webster Booth (Paddy) is mentioned as being one of the wedding guests present.
https://clyp.it/ovf2ai2i Roses of Picardy. Click on the link and listen to Webster singing this song with Fred Hartley’s quintet.
In May 1935 Webster and Paddy did an extensive broadcast from Daventry entitled A Musical Comedy Pot-Pourri. Harry Bidgood and Sydney Jerome accompanied them on two pianos and played several piano duets. Paddy and Webster sang several duets together.
As Binnie Hale is the archetypal soubrette, I dare say that Paddy’s mezzo soprano voice was similar to Binnie’s.
In October of the same year, Webster sang in an early broadcast with Anne Ziegler, several years before Paddy divorced him – the programme was called Musical Comedy Moments.
Webster and Paddy continued to work together for several years after his meeting with Anne. Their last professional appearance was on 30 April 1936 when they performed together at the City Musical Union’s 84th Annual Dinner at the Holborn Restaurant. At the end of May they were guests at the wedding of their friends, Violet Stevens and Bryan Courage.
But in July 1937 Anne and Webster sailed for New York together, where Anne had been engaged to play in the musical, Virginia at the Center Theater. She had changed her name to Anne Booth for this production, after being advised that Americans disliked German-sounding names at that time also anticipating her eventual marriage to Webster. Webster returned to Southampton onboard the MV Georgic and gave his address as 74 Lauderdale Mansions, Maida Vale (Anne’s flat), although he was still listed in the telephone directory as living in Crescent Court, Golders Green, where he and Paddy had spent their short married life.
From the beginning of 1938 Anne and Webster began taking engagements together, while Paddy filed for divorce on 29 March 1938 “on the grounds of his adultery in April 1937, with Miss Irene Eastwood, otherwise Miss Anne Zeigler (sic), singer…”
In September 1938 before Webster’s divorce from Paddy had been finalised, Anne was featured on the cover of Radio Pictorial sporting an opulent diamond solitaire engagement ring:
and on 7 October 1938 the absolute decree was granted to Paddy Prior against Webster Booth. Anne was named as the co-respondent in the divorce.
After the divorce Paddy moved to 14 Muswell Hill Road, sharing her new home with a young Welsh singer, Bettie Bucknelle, who had sung on the radio show, Band Waggon, which starred Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch. In January 1939 Bettie was featured in a show with Charlie Kunz and Denny Dennis.
Bettie Bucknelle and Paddy Prior in Newquay shortly before they Bucknelle left for Australia.
Anne and Webster were married on 5 November 1938 and went on to even greater success as romantic duettists on the variety stage during the war. I always felt very sorry for Paddy having to watch Anne and Webster obtaining great fame in the theatre while she never achieved great fame despite being a talented and hard working performer.
Witcock and Rutherford’s WEST-END VANITIES – Regional Programme London, 21 December 1938 16.30 Helen Hill, Paddy Prior, Jean Forbes-Macintyre, Lucas Bassett, Bradley Harris, Derek Moreland, Frank Wilcock, Tubby Harold. Introduced by Harry S. Pepper.
The Folkestone Bouquets. Paddy Prior, middle row (2nd from the right) 1939.
ROUND THE CONCERT PARTIES, No. – Regional Programme London, 28 July 1939 20.30 A composite programme of excerpts from three concert parties –DAZZLE Presented by Eric Ross from Pierrot Land, Bognor Regis – Ida Williams, John Lovering, Barbara Wells, Fred Gibson, Eric Ross, Ted Andrews, The Dazzle Girls, Joan Pendleton, Violet Shute, Beryl Pryer and Phyllis Revell.
SUMMER FOLLIES Presented by Will Catlin, Devised and produced by Harry Bright from the Arcadia Theatre, Llandudno. Phil Strickland, The Carlyle Cousins, Terry and Doris Kendall, Ross Eaves, Marion Francis, Sydney Snape, Vera Kitchen, Leslie Moorhouse, Joan Cowley, The Mayfair Dancers,Wagstaff’s Zelo Orchestra.
1939 FOLKESTONE BOUQUETSPresented by Wilby Lunn from the Marine Gardens Pavilion, Folkestone. Betty Pugh Bruce Clark, Dorothy Bradshaw, Harold Stead, Paddy Prior, Stock Wynn, George Carden, The Mariajanos, Marguerite Lome, Eileen Lome, Hylda Burdon, Ruby Savage, Wilby Lunn and Connie Hart. The programme presented by Harry S. Pepper
A show in 1941.
Paddy continued with her theatrical career and when war broke out she joined ENSA. Here is a photograph of Paddy entertaining the troops during World War 2.
Signatures of Paddy and other members of ENSA after entertaining at
Clare Hall, South Mimms in 1943.
20 November 1945. Only a few weeks after Anne and Webster had sung at the Victory Royal Variety Performance, Paddy was the hostess at the CAA and Bettie Bucknelle was one of the performers at this concert. One could hardly blame Paddy for feeling rather bitter about Anne and Webster’s great success while she was doing much the same thing as always.
Paddy and Bettie Bucknelle entertained British forces in the Middle East and returned to England in 1946. In 1947 she did a summer season with the Oval Entertainers, Margate, where a reviewer described her as “a gay young lady with a sparkling sense of humour as fresh as Margate’s famous sea breezes.”.
On 22 April 1948 she and Bettie Bucknelle sailed for Australia, where they intended to make a new life. Paddy’s brother had settled there some time earlier. It must have been upsetting for Paddy to see Webster and Anne as established stars while, despite her considerable talent, she had not made a big and lasting name for herself.
Bettie Bucknelle and Paddy Prior in Newquay shortly before they Bucknelle left for Australia.
Extract from passenger list to Australia.
A newspaper photo regarding their arrival in Australia in 1948.
Later that year Anne and Webster made an extensive and triumphant concert tour of New Zealand and Australia. They heard that Paddy and Bettie had booked seats in the front row for one of their concerts in Sydney. Webster feared that they might be planning an unpleasant demonstration against them at this concert. He was asked whether he could recommend Paddy as understudy to Cicely Courtneidge in the play, Under the Counter, which meant she would have to leave for New Zealand to rehearse the understudy role. Paddy had played the lead in a Scottish tour of Lido Lady in the late twenties, the same role in which Cicely had starred in London a few years earlier. He had no hesitation in making this recommendation, so Paddy was not able to attend the concert as she had to go to New Zealand right away to begin understudy rehearsals.
There is evidence of Bettie Bucknelle singing in a number of broadcasts, including broadcasts with the famous bandleader Jay Wilbur, but I could not find out anything about Paddy’s Australian theatrical career. In a 1949 electoral register, she is listed as a housewife!
Shortly after Anne and Webster returned to the UK from South Africa in 1978, a letter arrived for Webster from Paddy who was still living in Australia. She said he would be welcome to visit her if he ever decided to go out there. Anne did not show this letter to Webster!
I was pleased to hear from Paddy’s niece, Beverley June McLachlan (née Prior) and her daughter, Paddy’s great-niece, Cheryl Willits recently. Paddy married Harold Bradshaw and the couple lived in Hobart, Tasmania where Paddy continued to entertain at their bowling club, singing and doing comedy skits. Cheryl mentioned that Paddy had sung on the radio with Ross Higgins,
Comments from Cheryl Willits and Beverley McLachlan which appeared in the original post on my Jean Collen website.
Cheryl Willits, in reply to me: Hey there, My mother might be able to help you on this as she is Paddy’s niece. I am her great niece. If you would like any info feel free to email me and I could put you in touch with my mother. Reading the article has been a delight, Regards, Cheryl.
Beverley McLachlan: Paddy Prior did marry Harold Bradshaw. She was my aunt. My Father was Paddy’s brother. Paddy and Brad lived in Tasmania and still entertained at their bowling club, singing and comedy skits in Hobart, Tasmania.
Sadly, I did not hear any more from Beverly or Cheryl.