MY TEENAGE DIARIES

I have removed the posts about my teenage diaries from this website as I have published a PDF file entitled Extracts from my Teenage Diaries, available at http://www.lulu.com/shop/jean-collen/extracts-from-my-teenage-diaries/ebook/product-24359810.html

I have removed the posts about my teenage diaries from this website as I have published a PDF file entitled Extracts from my Teenage Diaries, available at http://www.lulu.com/shop/jean-collen/extracts-from-my-teenage-diaries/ebook/product-24359810.html

Extracts from my Teenage Diaries (1960 – August 1963) by Jean Collen.

Jean Collen 15 December 2019

Protected: DIARIES CONTINUED – 21 – 31 OCTOBER 1963 (PRIVATE)

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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.

MY FIRST MEMORIES OF WEBSTER BOOTH AND ANNE ZIEGLER (1957 – 1960)

We arrived in Johannesburg in October of 1957. My father had been offered a job in Rogers-Jenkins where a former Scottish colleague from ISCOR (now Arcelor Mittal) in Vanderbijl Park, was working and we were living in the Valmeidere boarding house in Roberts Avenue, Kensington until we found a suitable flat. We witnessed the lights of Sputnik flying over our heads at night and wondered whether this was a sign that we had made the right move to the big city.

We arrived in Johannesburg in October of 1957. My father had been offered a job in Rogers-Jenkins where a former Scottish colleague from ISCOR (now Arcelor Mittal) in Vanderbijl Park, was working and we were living in the Valmeidere boarding house in Roberts Avenue, Kensington until we found a suitable flat. We witnessed the lights of Sputnik flying over our heads at night and wondered whether this was a sign that we had made the right move to the big city.

 

            My parents and me in Vanderbijlpark (1950) 

The school year in South Africa runs from January to December, so I, aged thirteen, went to yet another new school just in time to prepare to write the end of year exams in subjects with seemingly different syllabuses to the ones I had been studying at the Vaal High School in Vanderbijlpark. I staggered into the middle of the busy road each morning, praying that I would not be knocked down by a speeding car, in order to catch a rattling tram on its way down the hill to Jeppe Girls’ High School, clad in my new green dress and black blazer with white stripes. The most important part of the uniform seemed to be the white panama hat adorned with ribbon of school colours and a badge in the front. There was a strict rule that thishat had to be worn at all times when outside of school. Heaven help anyone who removed it, or worse still, forgot to wear it.

The boarding house proprietors were fellow Scots, Mr and Mrs Jimmy Murdoch. They were friendly with a couple called Mr and Mrs MacDonald-Rouse. Mrs MacDonald-Rouse ran a flourishing amateur concert party and was the accompanist to all the singers in the group. Her daughter Heather, a theatrical costumier, had recently married and sometimes dined with her parents and her new husband at the Valmeidere. In due course, we were introduced to the MacDonald-Rouses, Heather and her husband.

Through her work, Heather had met Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, shortly after their arrival in Johannesburg the year before and had become extremely friendly with them. Through the grapevine we heard that Webster had sung the aria from Mendelssohn’s oratorio, St Paul at Heather’s wedding entitled Be Thou Faithful unto Death. Later I learnt that this aria was one he sang when requested to sing a solo at a wedding. Another lighter wedding favourite of his was the ballad, My Prayer.

Click on the link to hear Webster singing: BE THOU FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH

It was not long before we were introduced to Mr and Mrs MacDonald-Rouse, their daughter, Heather and her new husband when they dined at the hotel one evening. We were invited to a performance of the concert party and enjoyed the singing of Janet Goldsborough (later Swart), an energetic bone player, and a comedian, who was related to the famous Scottish comedian, Harry Gordon.

My father’s colleague at Rogers-Jenkins, John Corrigan, was an elder at St James’ Presbyterian Church, then situated in Mars Street, Malvern. He invited us to a performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Church, with Anne and Webster as soprano and tenor soloists. I can’t remember very much about the performance. I thought Webster looked rather stern, and I still have a distinct vision of Anne, her hair styled in a feathery Italian Boy, having tea at the interval, and being utterly charming to the tea ladies.

Anne2

Looking back on this occasion I realise that it could not have been very easy for Webster who had been a top oratorio performer in the UK, often singing at the Royal Albert Hall and other great concert halls, to be singing the same work in a little suburban Church hall.

They had sung the Messiah in various Presbyterian churches the year before also.

12 December 1956, Messiah, St George's Presbyterian, Johannesburg

In mid-1958, my parents, doubtful of what the future in South Africa held, made a bid to return to the UK. We lived in Southampton – yet another new school another different syllabus, new subjects and girls with Hampshire accents. My mode of transport in Southampton was a crowded bus from the suburb of Bitterne to St Anne’s Convent Grammar School. It was winter, so the bus journey began in the dark and ended in the dark by the time I reached home in the late afternoon.

One of my parents’ friends had a grand piano on which I was allowed to practise and receive music lessons. The gentleman had a collection of 78 records which had belonged to his late wife. While his son and his friends chatted about various forms of jazz in the sitting room, I looked through the record collection in the dining room and was delighted to find a number of Anne and Webster’s recordings. After listening to their fill of Chris Barber records, the young men departed and I was able to play the duet records on the ancient record player. I enjoyed listening to the records and thinking that I had heard Anne and Webster singing in Johannesburg the previous year and knew something about them.

While I was in England Anne and Webster starred in and directed Merrie England for the Johannesburg Operatic and Dramatic Society (JODS) in 1958. Although they had been in South Africa for less than two years, Anne was complaining that she never had a full chorus at rehearsals. The show received good notices, but the committee of JODS was not impressed that the production only made a profit of ₤300.

They were very popular in East London in the Border region of the Eastern Cape, where they had given a concert in the City Hall on their initial tour in November 1955. They appeared in a number of shows there in the late nineteen fifties. In 1958 they starred in Merrie England, and followed this with Waltz Time in 1959. Anne also played principal boy in an East London pantomime, Puss in Boots. She sang I’ll follow my secret heart after she had “fought the dragon and won the lady”. They also sang at the East London Hobbies Fair in 1957.

 By the end of 1958 my parents decided that we would return to South Africa so we were on our way back on board the Pretoria Castle, the same ship on which Anne and Webster had travelled to South Africa in July 1956.

 
 
Despite my disrupted education I was back at Jeppe Girls’ High,admitted to Form IV for my final two years at school, which would culminate in writing the matriculation exams at the end of 1960. My father had returned to his old job with Mr Corrigan, and my parents bought a house in Juno Street, Kensington, having decided that life in South Africa, despite its uncertain political future was easier than life back in the UK where the weather was hard, the cost of living high, and Southampton was still full of bomb sites thirteen years after the war. 
21 Juno Street, Kensington – as it is now.

 

We had returned to Jo’burg at the beginning of 1959 and I next saw Anne at the end of that year. My friend Gillian McDade was a year ahead of me at school and had been head girl at Jeppe Girls’ High that year. She was as keen on the theatre as I was and we had appeared in a Scottish school play together in early 1958, entitled Lace on Her Petticoat. Her mother was involved with the Children’s Theatre Organisation, and Gillian asked if I would like to usher for a matinee performance with her at the Reps Theatre (later the Alexander Theatre) in Braamfontein, where Anne was playing the Fairy Godmother in Children’s Theatre’s production of The Glass Slipper.

December 1959 Glass Slipper3

 The house was full so there were no spare seats for the teenage voluntary ushers, but I was delighted to watch the enchanting show seated on the carpeted stairs of the darkened auditorium. Anne Ziegler was playing the Fairy Godmother and pointed Cinderella on her way in a glass coach drawn by a donkey. She looked every inch an ethereal Fairy Godmother in her gossamer crinoline gown.

In 1960 Anne and Webster came to the Methodist Church in Roberts Avenue, Kensington to sing in a Variety show that had been arranged to raise money for Church funds. It was the first time I had seen their variety act. Once again they looked wonderful, with Anne in a tangerine evening dress and Webster immaculate in evening suit. I loved their charming act, once again done on the small stage of a suburban Church hall rather than in one of the great Variety Halls in the UK where they had been performing only a few years before. The banter between the duets appeared to be entirely off the cuff, but Anne told me later that their words and movements were always meticulously planned.

At the interval I waited rather nervously for them to ask for their autographs. Webster, ever the gentleman, held the door open for me to precede him into the Vestry, where they graciously signed my book for me. Strangely enough I was the only autograph hunter that evening. They were both charming to me.

Do you remember? on Springbok Radio saw them reminiscing on their illustrious lives in Britain, based on their autobiography, Duet, published by Stanley Paul in 1951. We all listened avidly to this programme every Sunday afternoon.

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East London cast of Merrie England (1958). Mabel Fenney (later Perkin) was Jill-All-Alone on the left of the photograph
 

When I was in my final year at Jeppe Girls’ High School in 1960, the permanent music mistress, Miss Diane Heller, went on long leave, and Mrs Mabel Fenney took her place for a term. She had sung the part of Jill-All-Alone in the 1958 East London production of Merrie England, where she had first met Anne and Webster in their roles of Bessie Throckmorton and Sir Walter Raleigh. She came up to Johannesburg to have lessons with them as she prepared for several advanced diploma singing examinations. By the time she arrived at Jeppe she had already won the University of South Africa overseas teaching bursary and was due to leave for Berlin to study at the Hochschule for two years. Her husband, Eric Fenney remained in South Africa and had agreed to pay for her keep in Berlin.

We all looked on Mabel as a very glamorous figure in comparison with some of our more staid academic teachers. She was lively and enthusiastic and took us on various outings to the opera. Most teachers wrote off one of the naughtiest classes in the school as impossible to teach, but Mabel developed a good relationship with the girls in that class. She taught them to sing Brother James Air, which they performed creditably at the final assembly of the term, giving staff and pupils a pleasant surprise.

Towards the end of her term at Jeppe, Mabel gave a memorable recital in the school hall one afternoon. The event had not been widely publicised, so there were not many people present, but I was there with my musical school friend, Margaret Masterton. We were impressed by her performance. The Booths had decided that she was a mezzo soprano rather than soprano, so she had sung a mezzo repertoire for her diploma exams. I will always remember her singing of the Habanera and Seguidilla from Carmen. At the end of one of the arias she threw a rose coquettishly to her schoolgirl audience. We were completely captivated. Mabel left for Berlin and I hoped that I might have a good enough voice to study singing with Anne and Webster when I left school at the end of the year.

 
Jean Collen (revised 6 November 2019)
 
Join: The Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler Appreciation Group on Facebook.
 
 

ACCOMPANYING FOR WEBSTER AGAIN.

Later that week we went to see The Yeomen at the old Reps Theatre in Braamfontein, now named the Alexander Theatre after Muriel Alexander. We were very impressed by Webster’s performance as the somewhat elderly Colonel Fairfax, who wins Elsie Maynard and breaks poor Jack Point’s heart in the process. Anne told me that Webster would be very hurt if I didn’t go backstage to see him afterwards, so I did. He was fighting off the ‘flu and did not look well, although from the auditorium nobody would have realised that he was ill.

This article is mainly from my book, available at: Lulu.com

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I had played for Webster for two weeks while Anne was away in April and assumed that I would no longer be needed now that she had returned. Anne and Webster insisted that I keep the spare keys to the studio so that I could work there when they were not teaching. I was preparing for the ATCL singing examination in October and Grade 8 piano the following year, so I found the studio, high above the hustle and bustle of downtown Johannesburg, the ideal place to work and practise. In return, I answered queries, took messages on the phone, and answered the door to visitors.

Towards the end of May the Johannesburg Operatic Society (JODS) asked Webster to take over the role of Colonel Fairfax in their production of The Yeomen of the Guard at short notice. This was an incongruously youthful role for someone aged sixty-one, but he acquitted himself as well as he always did and lifted the production with his dynamic stage presence and undiminished vocal gifts. The show opened to mixed reviews, but all the critics had great praise for Webster. Dora Sowden headed her review in one of the Sunday papers:”Webster towers”. He had certainly taken on a remarkable feat as the juvenile lead at sixty-one.

6 June 1963 The Yeomen of the Guard, JODs Alexander Theatre RDM (2)

Later that week we went to see The Yeomen at the old Reps Theatre in Braamfontein, now named the Alexander Theatre after Muriel Alexander. We were very impressed by Webster’s performance as the somewhat elderly Colonel Fairfax, who wins Elsie Maynard and breaks poor Jack Point’s heart in the process. Anne told me that Webster would be very hurt if I didn’t go backstage to see him afterwards, so I did. He was fighting off the ‘flu and did not look well, although from the auditorium nobody would have realised that he was ill.

1963 Yeomen of the Guard 1963-06

In June, while Webster was still involved with The Yeomen, Anne told me that their housekeeper, Hilda, who was from the island of St Helena, was planning a trip home for six and a half weeks. Anne and Webster had decided to do alternate days in the studio while she was away as they would have to do the housework and cooking themselves. Would I care to accompany for Webster again? I did not have to think twice about it before agreeing to do so.

After Hilda left on her trip I settled into accompanying for Webster once again. Anne came in on alternate teaching days so occasionally I had a lesson with her. One Monday afternoon Ruth phoned me at the studio to ask whether I would like to have dinner with her family before going to the SABC choir meeting afterwards. Webster gladly agreed to take me to Parkwood instead of Kensington, as it was on his direct route home. We drove past Zoo Lake and he pointed out his bowling club, saying it was the loveliest setting in the world in which to play bowls. He had played golf in England, but could not afford to do so in South Africa.

I had a pleasant dinner with the Ormonds, and then Mr Ormond transported us to the meeting in his big black Rover which had been bought from the proceeds of the £40,000 Mrs Ormond had won in the Rhodesian Sweep the year before. There was a party after the meeting and Ruth and I chatted to Anton Hartman, the chief orchestral conductor at the SABC. Toward the end of June, we sang in the Light Music Festival where we did a number of unaccompanied American, German and Afrikaans folk songs. The Dutch conductor Jos Cleber conducted the orchestra, with Gert Potgieter and Bob Borowsky as soloists. Ruth was working for matric exams, and I for my singing diploma so we decided to take leave of absence from the choir, with the idea of returning when our respective examinations were behind us.

One evening, after we finished work at the studio, Webster took me with him to see one of The Three Petersen Brothers in connection with going into partnership with them in a new film company. Webster introduced me as: “This is Miss Campbell. She plays for me.” The Petersen brother concerned looked mystified. Webster had to explain to him exactly what it was I played! Although they had a long discussion, nothing came of the film company as far as Webster was concerned.

In July Anne had a very bad cold which lingered on for a long time, and Webster had a funny turn one evening. He lost his vision, and his head was spinning even when he was lying down. Anne told me that she wanted him to see the doctor about the state of his general health and his general grumpiness, but he refused to do so. She admitted that he hated teaching everyone apart from his few “pets”. She was very worried about him.

From the way he treated Lucille at her lessons, I gathered that she was one of the “pets”. She was having her twenty-first birthday party and had invited them to her party, but they had another engagement and could not attend. For some reason I felt quite jealous of her and was glad that they weren’t going to her party!

A few days later Webster told me that Anne’s cold was no better. He wanted her to see the doctor about it but instead she had insisted on going to Leslie Green’s draughty house for dinner. She was not pleased when he told her she would be better off staying in bed and trying to get rid of her cold.

One evening I was washing the dishes in the kitchen before we left the studio for the night, when I overheard him telling Gertie, our last pupil of the day, for whom I had just played the accompaniment of Softly Awakes my Heart from Samson and Delilah, what a wonderful musician I was at only nineteen. Praise indeed.

When Hilda returned from her St Helena holiday, the Booths went to sing at a concert in the country with Desmond Wright, who had conducted The Yeomen, as their accompanist. Webster told me that the only reason he had not asked me to play for them at this concert was because he thought that another woman on the stage would draw the audience’s attention away from Anne.

They made a great fuss of my twentieth birthday at the end of August, with Anne singing Happy Birthday to me, and both of them kissing me to wish me a happy day. There was a present of lipstick and matching nail varnish waiting for me on top of the piano when I went in for my lesson. I was very touched that they had remembered my birthday. Ruth had her lesson after mine, so I waited for her, as we were going out for coffee after her lesson.

Webster said, “Don’t drink too much whisky,” as we left. It was another lovely day.

They had acquired a protégé, a talented boy soprano called Robin Lister, whom they were coaching in preparation for his first LP recording. Robin had an exceptional voice, resembling a mature female soprano rather than the typical Ernest Lough boy soprano. He had been having lessons with a teacher in Benoni, but left her to study with Anne and Webster. Before his voice broke he made several recordings supervised by Anne and Webster. He became very well known and sang at a number of concerts. After his voice broke, he continued his lessons with the Booths, changing from singing to piano. The last I heard was that he became an engineer and had immigrated to Australia.

Webster phoned me before he left for Michaelhouse School in Natal to sing Elijah to ask whether I would play at an audition for two of their boy sopranos for Amahl and the Night Visitors the following Saturday. I agreed to do so and wished him well for the Elijah performance. “I know you’ll sing beautifully,” I added, and he replied, “Bless you, dear”.

On Saturday morning the two boys, Denis Andrews and Selwyn Lotzof, together with their parents and I arrived at Gwen Clark’s sumptuous penthouse at the top of Anstey’s Building, where the audition was to be held. The boys acquitted themselves well and we were given a lovely tea afterwards, but neither was chosen to sing the part of Amahl. Instead they decided to import a boy from Britain. Webster said that Ruth could have done the part, if suitably disguised, as her voice was like a boy’s, with absolutely no vibrato.

I went back to the studio after the audition to let Anne know how the boys had fared. She had had a tiring morning teaching all by herself, as Webster was at Michaelhouse to sing in a performance of Elijah, conducted by Barry Smith, the musical director at Michaelhouse at the time. He and Anne had not parted on good terms when he left for Michaelhouse so she had been rather surprised that he phoned her when he arrived there.

Anne insisted on making us coffee before she left. She spoke of Jo’burg “high” society, who had gone out of its way to cultivate them when they first arrived in South Africa as international stars, but soon dropped them when they realised that they were not rolling in money and were obliged to work for a living and were not able to go with them to race meetings or the like.

My diploma was pending and I spent a lot of time practising ear tests at Sylvia Sullivan’s studio with Edith Sanders, who was working for a piano diploma. She had perfect pitch, so I admired her sense of pitch which made ear tests very easy and she admired my competent sight-reading, which had improved remarkably since the early days of accompanying for Webster.

My Associate diploma, once again with Guy McGrath as examiner and Anne as accompanist, went well in all departments. After the exam, I went with Anne in her pale blue Anglia to Macey’s, a store in the city, where she bought a new carpet sweeper. On the way there she told me that she thought I was going to be another Mabel Fenney. By this time Mabel had passed her final exam at the Höchschule in Berlin. She was divorced from her first husband, Eric Fenney, who had financed her stay in Berlin, and had recently married Maurice Perkin in England.

About a week after the exam Webster phoned me at the studio to ask me to look up something about one of his “great voices” for his radio programme in my musical dictionary. He had seen the heavy tome and always termed it as my Bible.

I met my mother for lunch in Anstey’s that day and was pleased to hear that I had passed the Associate exam with 77%.

When I went to the studio in the afternoon, Webster answered the door. We had our usual shilling bet on passing or failing the exam.


“I owe you a shilling”, I said, handing it to him.


“What’s this for?” he asked as I went into the kitchen-cum-waiting room.


“I’ve passed my exam!” I announced as I sat down.


“Congratulations, darling,” he cried, bending down to kiss me.

We told Anne the good news when I went into the studio for my lesson.
“Did you know about it when I phoned you this morning?” Webster asked.


Anne asked sharply, ‘Why did you phone Jean?”


“I wanted her to look up something in her Bible for me,” he replied mildly.


“Whatever for? We have four Bibles at home!” she retorted, regarding us both with suspicion.


“It’s not a Bible really. It’s a music dictionary,” he explained.

She obviously did not believe a word he told her. I felt embarrassed to suddenly be the object of unfounded suspicions when we had always got on so well together. The episode put a damper on my exam success.

Jean Collen Updated 6 November 2019.

 

ACCOMPANYING FOR WEBSTER BOOTH

When he was about to go home and was standing on our balcony which was enclosed with a purple bougainvillaea creeper, my mother said, “Thank you for looking after Jean,” he replied, “I think it’s Jean who’s looking after me.”

Although I can remember that day as though it were yesterday it saddens me to think that Dawson’s is no longer the plush hotel it was then, while Shandy, my mother, father and dear Webster himself are all long dead and gone.

The bulk of the material is from a chapter in my book:

Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth 

Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth.
A Personal Memoir

ACCOMPANYING FOR WEBSTER

On April 22nd 2013  it will be 56 years since I first started accompanying for Webster Booth in the studio where he and Anne Ziegler taught singing and stagecraft. It sounds like a long time ago but I can remember a great deal of that remarkable period of my life as though it were yesterday. 1963 was certainly one of the happiest years of my life when I had few worries and every day was an exciting carefree adventure. In 1964 my life was touched with sadness and tragedy and was never as perfect as it had been in the shining year that was 1963.

At the beginning of that year, I was just nineteen, with the promise of a happy future ahead of me. I had been learning singing with Anne and Webster for two years and I was planning to do my teaching diplomas in singing, although I was hoping that if I worked hard enough I would not have to depend entirely on teaching to make my living in music.

Webster and Anne at the time I was studying with them.

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 January 1962. Anne and Webster attend a gathering to meet the All Blacks Rugby team

Me at about the time I was accompanying for Webster.

Jean Campbell Collen (1965)
Jean Campbell Collen (1965)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not only did Anne teach singing with Webster, but she also acted as studio accompanist, so it was usually Webster who answered the door to new arrivals and made frequent cups of tea for everyone.

Webster, Leslie, or Boo as Anne called him, was always even-tempered, with his cheerful, “Hello dear. Would you like some tea?” when I arrived for my lesson at their eighth floor studio in Polliack’s Corner at the corner of Pritchard and Eloff Streets in the city of Johannesburg.

Polliack's Corner. Studio was on eighth floor of building with balconies to the right of the photo.
Polliack’s Corner. Studio was on eighth floor of building with balconies to the right of the photo.

Of course he was perfectly aware that he had an outstanding voice, but he was devoid of the conceit one might have expected from a legendary tenor. I still have a vision of him in his shirt sleeves, peering through his horn-rimmed bifocals at one score or another, perspiring in the Johannesburg summer heat to which he was unaccustomed. He sight-read songs better than most of us could ever dream of singing them.

Early in 1963 my father heard a recording I had made of myself singing Father of Heav’n from Judas Maccabeus on my recently-acquired reel-to-reel tape recorder. He had passed several disparaging remarks about the quality of my singing and I was feeling extremely despondent. Anne and Webster were kind and sympathetic when I told them what he had said about my voice.

“My family never praised me for my singing either,” Webster growled. “If it had been up to them I would never have become a singer. Bring the recording along next time and let’s see what it’s like.” 

They listened in silence the following week – perhaps my father had been right and my singing was awful – but afterwards Anne asked rather sharply as to who my accompanist had been. They were very surprised when I admitted to accompanying myself. Nothing more was said at the time. In the fullness of time I recovered from the hurt my father’s criticism had caused me and I plodded on regardless.

A few weeks later Webster phoned my mother to ask whether I’d like to play for him in the studio for a few weeks in April as Anne was going on a tour round the country with Leslie Green, the broadcaster, best known for his programme on Springbok Radio of Tea With Mr Green, who was a great friend of theirs.

Anne at a concert with Leslie Green (1961)

Anne at the first night of The Amorous Prawn with Leslie Green (1961)

I was out when he phoned so I phoned back that evening and spoke to Anne. Naturally, I wanted to do it. What a chance!

“Don’t worry about a thing, Jean,” Anne told me. ’If you can manage into the studio each day, Leslie will give you a lift home in the evenings. He’ll look after you. It will do you good to play for him.”

I was thrilled but apprehensive about the prospect of accompanying for Webster. Playing for the man who had been accompanied by the great Gerald Moore on most of his recordings was rather daunting.

The great accompanist Gerald Moore
The great accompanist Gerald Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

I realise now that they were probably sorry that I had been so hurt by my father’s comments about my singing and wanted to build up my self-confidence again by giving me this chance to help Webster in the studio. I was petrified that I would not live up to their expectations of me. On the other hand, accompanying for Webster for two weeks would be exciting and challenging. When I play Father of Heav’n for one of my young students today, I remember how significant this song was in changing the direction of my life in those heady days so long ago.

-O-

As it was only January and I didn’t have to play until April so I decided to improve my sight-reading as much as possible in the following two months. I was working for Grade 7 piano and Grade 8 singing exams and April seemed a lifetime away.

Webster made a list of the students’ current repertoire and lent me some of his own scores so that I could practise the more difficult songs and arias beforehand. On the front page of each score he had listed all his concert dates for the work in question, usually for this or that oratorio. Apart from his variety act with Anne, he had been one of Britain’s greatest oratorio tenors.

In his score of Haydn’s Creation was the following list:

Lawson Memorial Hall, Selkirk 31/3/1937

Drill Hall, Derby Choral Union 6/11/1937

Broadcast, Town Hall, B’ham 9/11/1938

BBC Home 3/12/1952

BBC Third 4/12/52

Albert Hall, Royal Choral 29/4/1953 (Sir Malcolm’s birthday)

When he gave me his oratorio scores for Acis and Galatea and Jephtha, Anne asked, “Won’t you be needing them soon, darling?”

“I’ll never sing them again in this life,” he replied dryly. “Maybe in the next!”

One Friday afternoon in February my mother and I went shopping in Anstey’s, one of the big department stores in the city. We had afternoon tea in the pleasant tearoom where we sat at a table covered with a starched white tablecloth and chose fancy fattening cream cakes from the tiered plate in front of us.

Anstey’s Building. A department store with apartments and a penthouse above the store.

Anstey's Building, Johannesburg.
Anstey’s Building, Johannesburg.

Shortly after arriving home from that agreeable outing, the phone rang. It was Webster.

“Hello, Jeannie. Anne isn’t feeling too well today,” he said. “Would you like to come into the studio tomorrow morning and play for me?”

I felt elated and terrified at the same time.

“You’ll be fine,” he assured me, but I continued to tremble, as though I were about to make my debut at the Festival Hall.

I arrived at the studio in time for the first pupil, Graham. After he had sung some scales to warm his voice, Webster turned his attention to Sylvia by Oley Speaks. Although I was still feeling exceedingly nervous I managed to sight-read the accompaniment without mishap. I even began to enjoy accompanying Graham and listening to what Webster had to say to him about his singing.

But when the lesson was over and Graham had gone, Webster said quite gently, “You were quite petrified, weren’t you?”

I nodded dumbly, blushing at the same time. I wondered whether he was going to tell me I was no good to him and should go home straight away.

“You were fine,” he said reassuringly, making me feel more confident as we started on the next lesson.

Ruth Ormond, my great friend, had her lesson after me that day and was very surprised to see me at the piano instead of Anne. We had fun during her lesson, although I don’t think we did much work.

The last pupil for the morning was a blonde Afrikaans girl called Lucille Ackerman. She was a year older than me and had an exceptional soprano voice. I felt absolutely jealous when he sang proper duets like Only A Rose with her and put his arm round her waist.

Apart from this dull thud, the morning had passed well. Far from writing me off as hopeless, Webster asked me to play for him again on Monday. I hoped that Lucille would not have another lesson that morning!

That afternoon I went with friends to see My Fair Lady at the Empire Theatre in town with the delightful Diane Todd as the eponymous heroine and a largely Australian cast.

I played for Webster again on Monday and enjoyed it, not feeling as uncertain as I had done the first time. Mary Harrison, a glamorous Australian redhead, who was appearing in My Fair Lady was amusing and made the aria from Samson and Delilah sound like a tongue-in-the-cheek comedy act. She told Webster solemnly that she was doing her best to make her voice sound like a ‘cello, as he had suggested to her the week before. She stayed on in South Africa after the run of My Fair Lady ended and had success as an actress here, eventually settling in Durban and marrying. Sadly, she died of cancer some years ago.

A large arrogant tenor, who shall remain nameless, bellowed forth uncompromisingly, taking no advice from Webster. I wondered why he was bothering to have lessons if he was so full of himself that he did not think it necessary to take any direction.

After we finished for the day, Webster assured me that I had no need to worry. The standard of my sight-reading would easily carry me through when I began playing for him officially on 22 April 1963. In hindsight, perhaps this had been a test to see whether I could really fulfil the role as his accompanist. I don’t know what I would have done if I had failed that test and they made an excuse for withdrawing their offer. It was actually quite a let down to go into the studio the following week as a mere pupil once again. Anne told me that my singing had greatly improved since last she had seen me.

“Perhaps I had better leave you alone with Webster more often,” she added jokingly.

-O-

I was impatient for April to arrive, and continued working through all Webster’s scores. I also spent much time in a ferment of last minute practice for my forthcoming singing and piano exams: Prepare Thyself Zion from the Christmas Oratorio (Bach), Father of Heav’n from Judas Maccabeus (Handel), Ein Schwan (Grieg) sung by Kirsten Flagstad. and other songs, studies and exercises for my singing exam, and countless scales and pieces for my piano exam. The week of our exam duly arrived and Ruth, Lucille and I sat in the waiting room of the studios of my piano teacher, Sylvia Sullivan, where the Trinity College exams were held at the time.

 My dear friend and fellow student Ruth Ormond. The photograph was taken at the end of 1963 before she left for the University of Cape Town. Sadly she died in Cape Town on 1 May 1964 of a cerebral haemorrhage. She had just celebrated her nineteenth birthday during the previous month.

Ruth Ormond.
Ruth Ormond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucille looked about sixteen, although she was older than me. Anne was wearing a camel -coloured fly-away cape coat and was doing her best to calm us down. Only years later when I was accompanying my own students in exams did I learn that the accompanist has the most harrowing job of the lot, having to play for several nervous pupils at a time.

I was introduced to the examiner, Mr Guy McGrath, who looked too old and benign to have the fate of all the poor candidates in his hands. However, after a nervous start, all went fairly well and the ordeal was finally over, apart from having to worry whether or not I had passed. I had not done well in sight-singing in my first singing exam, but I had worked particularly hard to master the skill: at least I knew I had managed that properly. I thought Ruth sang well, and I’m sure Lucille did also – she always sounded great. The four of us walked up Von Brandis Street with Anne, feeling better and more relaxed now that our ordeal was over.

Ruth and I left Anne outside the studio in Pritchard Street and went off to enjoy a slap-up meal in Anstey’s and have a lengthy post mortem about the exam. We both had frightful complexes about our singing, so much so that others must have wondered why we took lessons in the first place.

“I’d like to put you and Ruth in a bag together,” Webster remarked exasperatedly one day when we were bemoaning our vocal shortcomings.

On Friday, the day before Anne left on her trip with Leslie Green, I went apprehensively up to the studio, wondering whether the results might have arrived. Webster answered the door and said heartily:

“I believe you sang very well on Tuesday, my gel!”

I looked at him intensely and said, “No, it was absolutely awful.”

“How do you think you did?”

“I’ve failed,” I replied with conviction.

He gave a little chuckle and marched back into the studio, leaving me to wait in the kitchen until Lucille finished her lesson. He called me in and handed me my card – 78 per cent (with merit) for Grade 8. I could hardly believe it. Lucille with her brilliant voice had managed only 72 per cent for Grade 5. Ruth had passed Grade 6 with 72 per cent also.

Anne and Webster seemed delighted with my result. For most of that lesson we drank tea and made firm plans for my forthcoming singing diploma. Anne was wearing a black Derby type hat and looked particularly striking. We all got on so well together that day as she wished me good luck with my accompanying and I wished her a happy holiday with Leslie Green. Webster informed me that he would take me home from the studio every day and my parents worked out a map for him to get to Buckingham Avenue in Craighall Park from Juno Street, Kensington.

I still had to do my piano exam. Mr McGrath was very complimentary and told me I would make an excellent teacher and that I had been silly to doubt for a moment that I wouldn’t pass my singing exam. I played well, due perhaps to an exuberance for life with everything to look forward to. I passed the piano exam with 85 percent (honours).

As usual, Webster had taken shilling wagers with me on the outcome of all my exams, so I had to pay several shillings to honour the pleasing outcome of the bets. I was glad that I had managed to complete these exams creditably. Now I could look forward unhindered to two weeks working with Webster.

-O-

When I arrived on Monday morning, Webster handed me the keys to the studio.

“These are for you, darling. Come in and practise whenever you like. I hang the keys for Chatsworth in the office.”

It took me some time to work out that Chatsworth was his name for the communal toilet on the eighth floor where the studio was situated.

The ancient electric kettle was soon steaming to boil water for tea. But at that time I was not exactly domesticated.

“You must use two tea bags, dear, otherwise the tea is awful,” he scolded. “Good heavens! Don’t you know that you have to wait until the water boils properly before you pour it into the teapot?”

I had played on a Monday before, so it was good to see Mary Harrison again. The unmentionable tenor told me condescendingly that my sight-reading had improved vastly since February. He had not improved however and continued to do his own thing, unwilling to take any criticism or try out any suggestion Webster made.

On the second day, I met Dudley Holmes for the first time, then aged about twenty-one. He was quite taken aback to see me at the piano instead of Anne. He told me later that he was petrified for he had never sung to another living soul apart from Anne and Webster. I enjoyed playing Without a Song, and various songs from the Bass album for him.  Come to the Fair by Easthope Martin sung by Dudley and David Hales. I got to know him quite well over the years, and often spoke to him on the phone in Kimberley, where he lived for many years. He returned to Johannesburg about 10 years ago.

Dudley Holmes (Bass)
Dudley Holmes (Bass)

 

If not in a dream, I certainly was in seventh heaven during those two weeks. I tried to lock the experience in my mind so that I could relive every moment of it at will. I played for a few singers, whom Webster warned I might find amusing, but there were also excellent singers like Doris Bolton, a soprano from the Staffordshire potteries district, whose husband was working in the potteries in Olifantsfontein near Irené, where they lived at the time. She had a beautiful lyrical voice and was singing Richard Strauss’s Serenade in an impossible key. The accompaniment is very fast and florid and my sight-reading of it certainly did not do it or her justice. I remember Mary Harrison and Norma Dennis, Australians in the production of My Fair Lady, Lucille Ackerman of course, Dudley Holmes, Colleen McMenamin, my dear friend Ruth, and many others whom I got to know during my first accompaniment stint.

-O-

There was a fairly long break  at lunchtime. My mother had told me to go out for lunch to give Webster a chance to put his feet up. For the first few days I trailed through the lunchtime crowds to the library, where I passed the time studying music books in the reference library. It was a long walk from the studio and the time between sessions dragged.

“What do you do at lunchtime?” Webster asked curiously on the third day.

He was horrified when I told him.

“You can’t possibly wander around town and sit in the library for all that time. Bring in some sandwiches and stay in the studio with me.”

I mumbled something about not wanting to disturb him.

“Of course you won’t disturb me.”

So after that I remained in the studio and we ate our packed lunches together. His lunch was always a good deal more exotic than my own, with delicacies purchased from Thrupps, the nearby upmarket grocery shop. After lunch he would put his feet up on the table opposite the studio couch and sleep for half an hour or so.

One lunchtime I went on to the studio veranda where the tame pigeons, always in search of breadcrumbs, were congregated. I viewed the buildings down Eloff Street. I could see the crowns on top of His Majesty’s Theatre in Commissioner Street, three blocks down the road, and the elegant old Carlton Hotel. Outside the OK Bazaars, just across from the studio, three youngsters were playing Kwela music with penny whistle, guitar and an improvised bass constructed from a tea chest. There were coins jangling in the tin at their feet. Business people and elegant ladies from the northern suburbs, on their way to lunch with friends in one of the big city department stores, enjoyed the cheerful music. My toes tapped to its catchy rhythms, but I feared it might be competition for the singers at their lessons.

 Looking down Eloff Street from the studio balcony.

Eloff Street, looking south.
Eloff Street, looking south.

I closed the door of the balcony quietly and surveyed the spacious studio with its elegant Chappell grand piano on the far side. On the wall above the couch was a glass panel behind which were dozens of fascinating pictures from the Booths’ days of fame and glory in the UK. My mother had recognised a number of their illustrious friends and colleagues in the photographs when she had taken me to the studio for the first time. I particularly remember one of Anne and Webster in a boat with Douglas Fairbanks Junior when they had starred in Merrie England at Luton Hoo in Coronation year, 1953.

-O-

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.Merrie England (June 1953) at Luton Hoo with Douglas Fairbanks Junior.

Before the next session started, I would make tea. I had learnt how to make it properly by this time!

I invited Webster to dinner during those two weeks. As we sat in the car in front of my house after he had driven me home one evening, I asked him, rather diffidently, whether he would like to come to dinner one night the following week. To my great surprise, he was delighted at the idea and readily agreed to dine with us the following Tuesday as we finished fairly early at the studio.

The time fairly flew and it seemed as though I had always been playing for him, walking with him to the garage each night, and following him up the narrow steps to where the car was parked.

When he drove me home on Saturday morning he said, “Perhaps we could go out to lunch some time next week. Would you like that, dear?”

I was quite taken aback at the suggestion, but, as always, I was delighted, and said, “Yes, that would be lovely.”

He said he was thinking of taking me to Dawson’s Hotel, where they had lived when they first arrived in Johannesburg and were flat hunting.

“Perhaps we won’t have time to have a really good meal there in such a short time, but we’ll see.”

I spent Sunday without seeing him for the first time all week, but still with the following week ahead to look forward to, not to mention the planned lunch at Dawson’s and the dinner at home.

On Monday we spent a lovely lunchtime, chatting about Webster’s life in the theatre in Britain, the tours of Australia, fabulous ski-ing holidays in Switzerland, nights of triumph at the London Palladium. I got to know him better than ever. He epitomised security, good humour, kindness and complete lack of side, and I thought the world of him.

Tuesday was a red-letter day.

After Dudley’s lesson, Webster announced, “Jean and I are going to blow the family savings today. I’m taking her to Dawson’s.”

Dudley said, “I wish I was coming with you. I have to go back to the office on an apple.”

Webster and I walked round the corner to Dawson’s, which was still one of the top hotels in those days, with only the Carlton and the Langham ahead of it. He seemed oblivious of the curious glances from some of the lunchtime throng as they did double takes when they recognised his famous face. We were ushered into the dining room on the first floor as though we were royalty. The head waiter hovered around Webster and we were shown to the best table at the window.

Dawson’s in 1972. The Edwardian restaurant where we had lunch that day was on the first floor.

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Webster was quite at home in this setting after the grand hotels of Europe, the Antipodes and the UK. I, on the other hand, in a bottle-green velvet dress I felt gauche and young in comparison, as indeed I was. He ordered grilled trout and I had a fish dish also. He had a gin beforehand and was disappointed when I refused anything alcoholic. The only time I ever had anything to drink in those days was if my father poured me a thimbleful of sherry for me on special occasions. I was very unsophisticated and innocent in comparison with teenagers today.

During our meal, he told me how he and Anne had lived at Dawson’s for three months on arriving in Johannesburg. Somehow, things had gone wrong and several people in the hotel management, who had theatrical connections, had turned against them. Over coffee, we had petits fours and he insisted I should eat as many as I wanted. I found out later that they were soaked in brandy, so inadvertently I did not go without alcohol that day.

We sauntered back to the studio. There was only one pupil due that afternoon, so Webster fell asleep on the couch, while I sat in a chair a fair distance away reading their autobiography Duet, which he had lent me the week before.

When he woke up, he put on one of the reel-to-reel tapes of his sacred and oratorio recordings: How Lovely are Thy Dwellings (Webster Booth),

Sullivan’s The Lost Chord  (Webster Booth)

Abide With Me (Liddle) (Webster Booth)

Why does the God of Israel Sleep? Sound an Alarm (Webster Booth) and others.

I listened entranced and sometimes near to tears. He told me that when Lost Chord was recorded in the Kingsway Hall during the war, the All Clear sounded just as he was singing the last phrase “The Grand Amen”. They had to record it again so that the sirens could not be heard on the recording.

After Winnie, the only pupil for the afternoon, he drove me home to Juno Street in Kensington and stayed to dinner with my parents.

Our house is Juno Street as it is today.

Our house is Juno Street as it is today.

He took a fancy to our dog, Shandy, whom he christened “my girlfriend” and kept her on his knee for the rest of the evening.

My father offered him a whisky, and Webster informed us that it had never done him any harm so far. He teased me because I had refused a drink at lunchtime in Dawson’s. My father looked alarmed at the thought of his innocent teenage daughter drinking alcohol.

Webster talked to my parents about Britain, and all the artistes they had known during the war, like Max Miller and Tommy Handley. He looked so at home in our sitting room, smoking and drinking whisky, with Shandy on his lap.

Shandy – Webster christened her “my girlfriend”.

Shandy

Shandy

 When he was about to go home and was standing on our balcony which was enclosed with a purple bougainvillaea creeper, my mother said, “Thank you for looking after Jean,” he replied, “I think it’s Jean who’s looking after me.”

Although I can remember that day as though it were yesterday it saddens me to think that Dawson’s is no longer the plush hotel it was then, while Shandy, my mother, father and dear Webster himself are all long dead and gone.

The next few days passed all too quickly and soon Anne was phoning to say she was back from her trip with Leslie Green. She had sent me a card and Webster had pretended to be cross because she had not yet written to him at that juncture.

On the last night, Webster drove me home, and said quite pensively, “I shall miss my Sylvia Pass next week,” referring to the route he took to his home in 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, dear,” he said.

The following day Ruth phoned to tell me that Webster had raved about me at her lesson, and said how much he had enjoyed having dinner at my home. 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 would never be able to afford one now. And so ended the two wonderful weeks. I had enjoyed playing for the pupils, had acquitted myself creditably, and had got to know Webster very well. As time passed I would get to know him even better.

Jean Collen (first published in 2005)

Updated 5 November 2019.

©

Sylvia by Oley Speaks, sung by Webster Booth.

WELCOME TO THE DRAWING ROOM (1962)

Webster came out of the studio after the recording and appeared delighted to see us and kissed us both in greeting. He asked what we were doing there, and then said, “Oh, of course, you’re working aren’t you? It’s a pity you can’t stay for the next recording to hear the wonderful trumpeter.”

 Webster Booth, seated left, Peggy Haddon and Anna Bender (at piano), Gé Korsten and Jean Gluckman (singers), Kathleen Alister (harp) and studio audience.

 

Nearly fifty-seven years ago, in April 1962, Webster Booth presented a short series of drawing room concerts on the English Service of the SABC before an invited studio audience. He and

Anne sang solos and duets in several programmes, and a number of guest
artistes took part. Webster also sang duets with bass, Graham Burns.
Among the guest artistes were Doris Brasch and Rita Roberts (sopranos),
Gert Potgieter and Gé Korsten (tenors), Graham Burns (bass) Jean
Gluckman (contralto), Kathleen Allister (harp), Maisie Flinck and Peggy
Haddon (pianos) and Walter Mony (violin). A trumpeter also appeared in
one of the programmes, but I do not remember his name after all this
time. The accompanist was Anna Bender, the official accompanist at the SABC.

 The idea was to create the atmosphere of a polite middle-class Victorian or Edwardian drawing room concert, where singers and instrumentalists performed their party pieces such as In a Monastery Garden, The Maiden’s Prayer, O Dry Those Tears and the like. Sounds of polite conversation and laughter between the items,with restrained applause for the musical offerings were required, so a studio audience was invited to provide these “noises off”.

Shortly before this programme started, Webster wrote an article for the SABC Bulletin on 17 March 1962.

A Nostalgic Half-hour of Memories by Webster Booth

“Do you remember those Drawing-room concerts our Grandparents used to hold in the afternoons and evenings way back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s? There were of course, the Society At Homes. These were rather serious affairs, when artistes of repute were engaged. Such artistes as Ben Davis, Madame Patti, Charles Santley and even Madame Melba were paid huge sums of money to entertain the guests.

However, in this new series, to be called Drawing-Room, we want to concentrate on the homely atmosphere, with those lovely old ballads, such as Parted, Little Grey Home in the West, The Rosary, Tosti’s Goodbye, Friend o’ Mine, A Perfect Day, etc., together with those grand pianoforte solos which were all in the Star Folios, and without which no one was considered a pianist. Items like The Maiden’s Prayer, Destiny Waltz, In a Monastery Garden etc. Then the fiddle solos and fiddle obbligatos, vocal duets such as Watchman, What of the Night? Moonlight and Roses and Battle Eve. I so well remember my father, who was Barber-Surgeon to the Royal Staffordshire Regiment, dressing up in his red and gold uniform and singing The Veteran’s Song, and I would be induced to sing in my treble voice, songs like Valé and The Song of Hope, while my mother and sisters had a wonderful evening crying their eyes out. Those were the days when composers wrote songs for the voice, and singers learned to sing ballads. Believe me, those songs needed singing.  They had a story to tell, usually in three verses, all different tempos, portraying passion, joy and tears, and finishing up on a hefty top note.

We intend to invite a small studio audience to help to catch the atmosphere of the drawing-room, and to have well known South African artistes, both vocal and instrumental, to sing and play to us. This  programme will, I am sure, bring to the older listeners a glorious nostalgic half-hour of memories, and will let the younger generations realise there was real music in the home before the advent of the Cinema, Radio and the gramophone. Do tune in to the English programme at 8.30 pm on Wednesday evenings and join us in our Drawing-room. I shall be in charge of the entertainment and Miss Anna Bender will be our Hostess at the pianoforte.”

For the first recording, Webster invited pupils and friends to form part of the Drawing Room in one of the smaller recording studios at Broadcasting House, Commissioner Street. I was very excited when he asked if I would like to attend the recording. My great friend and fellow pupil of Anne and Webster’s, Ruth Ormond, and I were there with our parents and we noticed Lucille Ackerman, another pupil,  accompanied by a large family contingent.

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Anne Ziegler & Webster Booth (1963)

Anne and Webster looked particularly glamorous for the occasion. Anne was wearing a beautiful evening gown, a mink stole – not yet a politically incorrect item of dress  – her fair hair in a chignon, while Webster was in full evening dress, all set to act as compère for the evening and to sing some drawing room ballads into the bargain. The accompanist for the series was Anna Bender, the official accompanist for the SABC. Anne and Webster received their guests graciously. Anne told Ruth and me to save her a seat in the front row, where she sat between us and played her full part in chatting to us between the items on the programme to evoke the atmosphere of a drawing room at the beginning of the twentieth
century.

My dear friend, Ruth Ormond, 1963
Ruth Ormond and me (below).

Photo Album

 I’m afraid that this was not the atmosphere conveyed to those listening in to these broadcasts. The polite studio audience applauded vigorously, suggesting the city hall rather than a drawing room. Fifty-seven years later I still remember Miss Rita Roberts (soprano) singing Christina’s Lament to the tune of Dvorak’s Humoresque, Mr Walter Mony (violin), Miss Anna Bender (accompanist) and finally Webster himself, aged sixty and still in fine voice, singing The Kashmiri Song, The Sweetest flower that Blows, Parted, O Dry Those Tears and finally If You Had But Known with violin obbligato by the excellent Mr Mony, a French Canadian, who became a professor and head of the music department at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Ruth and I were entranced to have spent such a happy evening and to see and hear Webster singing only a few feet away from where we were sitting. As we were leaving I told Anne breathlessly that Webster’s singing was wonderful and she replied, “Yes, we’re both very proud of him, aren’t we, darling?” which made me feel rather naïve and childish although I was all of eighteen at the time.

The Drawing Room series was recorded over a number of weeks and we attended another recording when Anne, in a sleeveless black evening dress, sang If No One Ever Marries Me, The Little Damozel and a Handel aria from the opera Xerses, He’ll Say That For My Love. Anne had sung the last song at her Wigmore Hall recital in 1933. Later in that programme she and Webster sang duets together: Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes and The Second Minuet.

One evening Ruth and I were at a choir practice with the SABC choir and she decided that during our interval, we should go to the Drawing Room studio to say hello to Webster during the break in his recording session. The first programme was not quite finished so we slipped into the studio quietly and listened to Kathleen Alister playing two solos on her harp.

Webster came out of the studio after the recording and appeared delighted to see us and kissed us both in greeting. He asked what we were doing there, and then said, “Oh, of course, you’re working aren’t you? It’s a pity you can’t stay for the next recording to hear the wonderful trumpeter.”

We were both so excited at meeting Webster (not entirely unexpectedly) and being kissed into the bargain, that Ruth walked into the men’s cloakroom instead of the women’s, only to have him politely point her in the right direction. We were both blood red with embarrassment by the time we got back to our seats at our now rather tame choir practice.

I thought Drawing Room was a lovely programme, but the critics had their misgivings about it, saying that the atmosphere created was not quite right, so it was taken off the air after a relatively short time. I once made enquiries at the SABC as to whether any of the programmes existed in their archives, but apparently these had not been kept. I had recorded several programmes via a microphone on my newly-acquired reel-to-reel tape recorder. The sound quality of these recordings is not very good, but when I listen to them all these years later, I am transformed into an excited and optimistic teenager, back in that SABC studio with Ruth and Anne, completely entranced with the music of the Drawing Room.

Sadly, it has occurred to me that most of the people mentioned in this article are now dead and gone, but the memory of that happy time remains vividly in my mind.

Here are links to some of the songs Webster sang on that programme.

Click on the links to hear him.

Friend o’ Mine (Restored by Mike Taylor) https://clyp.it/2hupnyrm

Parted (Tosti) https://clyp.it/qriewsgs

O, Dry Those Tears (del Riego) https://clyp.it/llblyizd

The Sweetest Flower that Blows https://clyp.it/0iftdnlr

Jean Collen –  April 2016

Updated 7 November 2019.

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