EXTRACTS FROM MY TEENAGE DIARIES – JANUARY 1962

3 January – Work. I have a cold drink with Yvonne and Lezya after work. I go to music and talk to Gill V who is going on holiday soon. Music goes well. I am improving and have a lot of things to work on. I go to table tennis at night. Peter says nothing about singing lessons so I don’t say anything either.

4 January – Work and have lunch with Mum in Ansteys. I go up to the studio and Webster answers the door. Nellie, as usual, is singing. Webster comes into the kitchen and makes tea. He is sweating and complains bitterly about the heat. He makes tea very efficiently and gives me a cup and then returns to Nellie who continues singing oblivious of rather ghastly mistakes!

When she goes, Anne in a pretty flowery dress and with hair definitely grey, tells me to go in. She too complains about the heat and orders Webster to bring her another cup of tea.

She asks about the SABC choir and I say that we are still on holiday until the 22nd of the month. She says she expects we’ll sing in the last symphony concert. She tells me that Anton Hartman has a wife called Jossie Boshoff who is a third rate coloratura and has been included in the season as the only vocal soloist. Webster says he can’t fathom the audacity of Hartman if she could sing, but when she can’t – well! He says that she’ll sing the bass arias herself if need be!

We do scales, starting from high note and coming down in order to settle the registers, I gather, although Anne feels that vocal registers are rude words. Anne says, “I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t think it true or if I didn’t mean it. You honestly have the makings of a magnificent voice if you work hard at it. It’s really beautiful!” I look cynical. She says, “Truly. If someone hasn’t a voice, I’ll teach them but I won’t tell them they have a voice if they haven’t. Your voice could really be exceptional when you’re a bit older.” I try to look modest but I feel gratified. We work very hard and long at the exercises.

Bill Perry arrives and we do My Mother Bids Me. Webster glowers at me the whole time so that I can’t smile. They moan about it and I say that I feel stupid when I smile. Anne gives her usual talk about it. “Singing is like selling stockings in John Orrs. You have to give it everything you’ve got. That’s what got Webster and me to where we are today. We would go on to the stage and even though we had squabbled off-stage we would make the audience believe we were madly in love. I would give him a lovey-dovey look and we would use our eyes and smile at one another. Isn’t that so, darling?”

Webster agrees. “Yes. Very true!”

I respond with a watery smile and agree to try.

7 January – Sunday school and Church.

Listen to Webster’s first programme of G and S. He introduces it with his recording of A Wand’ring Minstrel. He does Trial By Jury. I think he should talk more during the programme.

11 January – Have lunch with Mum in Anstey’s.

Go to studio. I listen to Nellie singing. Webster comes in and says, “God, let’s make a cup of tea! Is this weather hot enough for you, Jean?” He goos over Lemon and tells him, “Say hello to Jean.”

I hear Nellie say that she never goes to the theatre as her husband doesn’t approve of it.

Anne has her hair pinned up at the back – dead straight. It looks lovely. She tells me they went to see Beryl Reid’s show at the Playhouse and they thoroughly enjoyed it. They were very friendly with her in England and Anne thinks she’s got fatter and older-looking since they saw her last. When they were at a rehearsal at the BBC she was there wearing a hat with a cluster of feathers in it. She had complained in her broad B’ham accent, “I don’t know if it’s all this excitement but I ‘ave an awful headache.” A few weeks later she told them that it wasn’t the excitement giving her the headache, “It was that ‘at!”

We start on scales and Webster tells me that they sound much better. We have tea and Anne tells me that I have a most beautiful English complexion, “Hasn’t she, Boo?” I blush.

We continue with vocalisation studies which go particularly well. She corrects a few things and we go over them again to correct the mistakes but can see – as can they – a marked improvement.

Webster presents me with his record of Songs of England so that I can listen to Sweet Polly Oliver – A collection of English songs sung by Jennifer Vyvyan with Edward Lush at the piano. We listen to the record – Jennifer Vyvyan has a good voice and is extremely musical . Accept it with thanks. His signature is scrawled on the cover – L. Webster Booth. Anne says my Scots accent must not come out in my singing. I say I can’t hear this accent – even on tape. She says, “Oh, yes! It’s there!” Poor me.

She asks, “Have you seen your friend Peter since his lesson?”

I say, “Oh, yes. He enjoyed it. He’s decided he has a lot to learn.”
She has a good laugh. I manage to smile today but before I start singing Webster says to me, “I don’t want to be nasty, Jean, but remember to smile!”

I feel quite elated when I say goodbye.

14 January – Sunday school. Go to Betty’s afterwards and listen to Jennifer V. Her Bobby Shaftoe is fabulous. I love her “bookles”!

In the afternoon the Stablers from the flats on the corner, Robert’s Heights, visit. She is a doctor of psychology – a charming old lady. I listen to Leslie Green. Gary Allighan in the Sunday Times gives Webster a rave notice for his new programme.

Church at night. Listen to Webster’s G and S programme and his change in presentation makes the programme quite fabulous. He plays his own recording of The Lost Chord which is glorious – Herbert Dawson at the organ. He tells us that only two people were allowed to make G and S recordings without the personal supervision of D’Oyly Carte – Malcolm Sargent and himself!

He tells the story of HMS Pinafore and introduces the characters by imitating them. It is a really fabulous presentation and I enjoy every minute of it. I can congratulate him on Thursday now without any qualms about being insincere. Good old Webster – he’s done it again!

15 January – Go to work and faint when I’m there – am slapped and have water thrown over me and am then sent home! Mummy restores me to life! Rest for remainder of day and manage to practise at night. Strangely enough, all goes well!

16 January – Work. Lezya – who doesn’t look even vaguely ill – departs in the afternoon and I am left on my own to pass a million entries. Steadily decline but manage to get through it all.

Practise at night and we are invited to the Scotts on Saturday night. The choir starts on Monday. Have received no intimation about it so may phone Ruth Ormond.

17 January – Go to Mrs S in the afternoon and see Stan, her brother-in-law. Receive intimation from Johan v d M concerning choir on Monday night.

18 January – Work. Have a gorgeous lunch with Mum upstairs in Ansteys.

Toddle up to Webster’s at night. He is most affable and tells me to help myself to a cup of tea. I do this and make much noise with cups. Nellie (whose diction and voice are not at their best this evening) holds forth. Anne is silent but Webster is more eloquent. Nellie asks for a drink of water and he comes to get one for her and tells me, “It’s too hot to think, far less sing.” Nellie goes and tells Anne that she hopes she’ll be better next week. I wonder what is wrong and go in at Webster’s bidding. When I go in I get the fright of my life – Anne is pale with a huge swelling at one ankle and is hobbling. I voice my horror and she tells me that she has an allergy to mosquito bites and the swelling is the result of one. When she was in the south of France she was always hobbling around or had her arm in a sling because of mosquito bites. She hobbles over to the piano and tells Webster that she’d like a cup of tea and a biscuit because she feels hungry.

We start on scales which go reasonably well. She says I must retain my mezzo quality up and keep the soprano quality for the very top.

I thank Webster for his record and tell him I enjoyed his programme tremendously on Sunday night. He says, “Did you really? I couldn’t hear it very well because we were out in the country in the car. Do you think it’s the right formula?”

I say how I loved his characterisation of the parts – he seems pleased.

Anne says that I might (if I want to) audition for a part in the chorus of the two operas taking place soon with Mimi Coertse in them. Speak to JvdM. She says the SABC choir will probably be asked to sing in them anyway.

We do Sweet Polly Oliver and work like hell on it. Anne says that my consonants are lazy so we go through the thing again. I am accused of Scottish accent. She feels my breathing although she can hardly get up.

We do My Mother. Webster sings one part to me as it should be sung. It is as though I have never heard or seen him sing in my life – as I expect he sings on stage – quite a different man with a smile and a light in his eyes as though he’s singing for the joy and love of it. Losing his voice? Not Webster!

When talking about the opera Webster says, “Tell them you won’t sing for any less than £50 a week! Have a good laugh.

When I leave I tell Anne that I hope she will be better very soon indeed. She is so sweet and puts such a good face on it. She even tells me, “I’m glad I come from the North Country – all the people drop their jaws and yap all day there!” (in appropriate accents!)

With her hair back, her face pale and her ankle sore, she looked her age today, but there is still something about her that makes her remarkable. She is an angel at heart and I adore her!

19 January – After work I sing for at least two and a half hours in the evening. Confirmation from father that My Mother Bids Me has vastly improved.

20 January – Work in morning and meet parents in the Century restaurant and have lunch, then see Bachelor Flat with Terry Thomas – a poor film. We get a lift home from Mr Russell.

At night we visit the Scotts. Linda is going to high school shortly. Mr S says, “Tell Webster to play Iolanthe and the Mikado – the real Gilbert and Sullivan.”

21 January – (Webster’s sixtieth birthday). Webster at night is terrific.

22 January – Work. I go to SABC at night. We are doing a Cantata and Passion (Bach) for Good Friday (in Afrikaans). We will be singing in Norma with Mimi Coertse and also Tales of Hoffman, Hansel and Gretel and in the Symphony of Psalms when Stravinsky comes out.

Speak to Ruth O at break. She lives in Parkwood and goes to Parktown Girls’ High (in Form 4 this year) and Webster and Anne are on visiting terms with her parents. She calls them Anne and Webster. She tells me that Anne came to her house this afternoon with music for her exam – she’s doing the same one as me – and Anne showed her all my songs and exercises.

We say that neither of us can smile; we both hate looking in the mirror at the studio for next to Anne we look like hags; we are both nervous and it seems we both think alike generally. She tells me that Webster has a red face because of sunburn! She knows Mrs S for she teaches at her school. She says, “Girls are frighted of her, but I’m not!” We both blush when nervous and we’re nervous when we sing alone. It was a lovely conversation.

25 January – Have lunch with Mum in Ansteys.

Go to studio. Webster answers and he is not looking very well. I help myself to tea and wash and dry cup too. Nellie is singing for all her worth.

Go in and Anne tells me (on enquiry) that she had to stay in bed last Friday and have a cortisone injection but she’s all right now.

She tells me that a girl, Colleen McMenamin has been accepted into the SABC choir and is supposed to be going tonight. She’s a mezzo and comes from Germiston. I say I’ll look out for her on Monday. We’ll have quite a gang soon!

At Webster’s suggestion we start on vocalisation studies. Have to battle like mad over them. He spares me nothing although I’m dead beat. After many contortions by Webster and myself they improve.

We do My Mother and she says that my consonants are positively sluggish. No wonder – so am I! We try it to “ca” at Webster’s provocation. This is a great success and for once, he is pleased. When we do it again my diction has improved.

Webster gets terrible pain around his chest “like a band of hot steel pressing on me.” She looks startled and he says, “It’s probably the cheese sandwich I had at lunchtime.” He takes pills and I depart.

He is rehearsing for a new play, The Andersonville Trial.

26 January – At lunchtime I meet Liz Moir with her mother. She is most affable. I meet Mum in John Orrs and we look at sales. Do large and very profitable singing practice at night.

27 January – Work hard and buy some clothes afterwards. I pass the studio and their car is parked in Pritchard Street. When I come out of John Orrs I see Webster looking very hot in shirt getting into it.

28 January – Sunday school and work. Webster’s programme is lovely.

29 January – Work. Go to SABC at night and have a wonderful time. Gill is back. I talk to Ruth and she asks if I saw picture of Webster and Anne in the Star. She saw the Amorous Prawn twice. I don’t come across Colleen M. I think she is married. I see the photo of Webster and Anne at the home of Aussie Commissioner in Lower Houghton when I get home.

Anne and Webster 1962

30 January – Work hard. At night Peter C arrives unannounced and we sing. He had Anne all to himself on Saturday. Webster was probably rehearsing. His voice has definitely improved.