BOOKS ABOUT WEBSTER BOOTH AND ANNE ZIEGLER by JEAN COLLEN

Since 2006 I have written and published books about my former singing teachers and life-long friends, the famous British duettists, soprano, Anne Ziegler (1910-2003) and tenor, Webster Booth (1902-1984). The books are available as paperbacks and ebooks. The latest book is a digitised version of their joint autobiography, Duet which was originally published by Stanley Paul in 1951. I am most grateful to John Marwood for proofreading it meticulously. Currently, I am revising and enlarging my first – and most popular book – Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth. 

All my nonfiction books, written by Jean Collen are available at: https://www.lulu.com/duettists

All my fiction books written under the pen name of Fiona Compton are available at: https://www.lulu.com/spotlight/fiona_compton.

I began my singing studies with famous British duettists Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, when I was seventeen. Two years later they asked me to act as studio accompanist for Webster. I completed the ATCL and LTCL singing diplomas and remained friends with them until their deaths.

Since 2006 I have written and published books about my former singing teachers and life-long friends, the famous British duettists, soprano, Anne Ziegler (1910-2003) and tenor, Webster Booth (1902-1984). The books are available as paperbacks and ebooks. The latest book is a digitised version of their joint autobiography, Duet which was originally published by Stanley Paul in 1951. I am most grateful to John Marwood for proofreading it meticulously. Currently, I am revising and enlarging my first – and most popular book – Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth.

List Price:$16.00Price:$14.40You Save: $1.60 ( 10% )Prints in 3-5 business days


The book summarises Anne and Webster’s rapid rise to fame, which is already well documented in their own autobiography entitled Duet. (1951). The book’s main focus is on their lives and careers from 1956 in South Africa, their friendship with me, and their “third” career after they returned home to the UK in 1978.

Do You Remember Anne Ziegler & Webster Booth? (in collaboration with Pamela Davies of Pershore) (2006)

List Price:$16.57Price:$14.91You Save: $1.66 ( 10% )Prints in 3-5 business days. This book tells Pamela Davies’ story of her keen admiration of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth in the forties and early fifties. Shortly after Anne and Webster returned to the UK from South Africa in 1978, Pamela began corresponding with Anne and became good friends with her. The book includes THE BODY OF WORK OF ANNE ZIEGLER AND WEBSTER BOOTH, compiled and edited by Jean Collen. Jean has listed many of their engagements on stage, screen, radio and television from 1924 to 1994.

A SCATTERED GARLAND: GLEANINGS FROM THE LIVES AND CAREERS OF WEBSTER BOOTH AND ANNE ZIEGLER (2008) in 4 volumes. The books are available as paperbacks and epubs.

Price:$10.45 Prints in 3-5 business days. A Scattered Garland: Gleanings from the Lives of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler was originally published in one volume but because of the additional material I have discovered the work now extends to four volumes: Volume 1: Early days (1920s – 1939)

Volume 2: Years at the top in the UK (1940 – 1956)

Volume 3 South Africa (1956 – 1977)

Volume 4: Back in the UK (1978 – 2003) and additional information.

The work includes articles, criticisms, cuttings, and extracts from the online archives of The Times, The Scotsman and The Stage, and other newspapers. In Volume 2, I have included material from New Zealand and Australian newspapers and in Volume 3 there is material from South African newspapers. Occasionally I have supplemented this material with my own notes. All my own writing is italicised. Book 1 contains information about the early days of their careers.

Price:$10.92 Prints in 3-5 business days. This is the second volume of A Scattered Garland: Gleanings from the Lives of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler, and includes articles, criticisms, cuttings, and extracts from the online archives of The Times, The Scotsman and The Stage. In this edition, I have included extracts from New Zealand and Australian newspapers from the Booths’ extensive tour there in 1948. Occasionally I have supplemented these articles with my own observations. All my own writing is italicised.

Price:$10.92 Prints in 3-5 business days. When I was 17 years old I began my singing studies with Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth in their studio on the eighth floor of Polliack’s Building in Pritchard Street, central Johannesburg, where they taught Singing and Stagecraft. A few years later I became Webster’s studio accompanist when Anne (who was accompanist as well as teacher) had other commitments. I studied with them for five years and did my Associate and Licentiate singing diplomas under their guidance. Despite several years when Anne and I were estranged, we remained friends until Webster’s death in 1984 and Anne’s in 2003. I published the story of my relationship with Anne and Webster on Lulu (http://www.lulu.com/duettists) in April 2006 in a book entitled Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth. Because Volume 3 concerns my direct relationship with the Booths I have mentioned events briefly if I consider them to be relevant to the story.

Price:$10.00 Prints in 3-5 business days. Volume 4 covers the last period of the lives of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler. They returned to the UK in 1978 and were welcomed by fans who remembered them from the forties and fifties when they had been at the top of the tree. It also covers the sad time when Webster’s health was failing. He died in 1984 and Anne remained in the bungalow in Penrhyn Bay, North Wales for another 19 years until her death in October of 2003.

In this volume, I have written extensively about the life of Paddy Prior, Webster’s second wife. She was a very talented performer in her own right. After her brief marriage to Webster, she divorced him in 1938 because of his adultery with Anne. Sadly, the scandal of the divorce was soon forgotten and he and Anne achieved great success in the 1940s while Paddy’s own career remained static. I was glad to hear that she married again in Tasmania some years later.

I have updated the book about British radio and television broadcasts by Webster and Anne, dating from 1927 to 1994. The last broadcast was “The Webster Booth Story” presented by Robin Gregory in 1994, 10 years after Webster’s death. This book is available as a PDF only and may be seen at https://www.lulu.com/duettists.

Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler: Excerpts from ‘Gramophone’ & Discography” (2009) List Price:$7.04 Price:$6.34 You Save: $0.70 (10%) Prints in 3-5 business days It is made up of articles and reviews about the recordings made by Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler (1929 to the present). The discography section has been completely revised and updated and includes an almost complete discography of their solo and duet recordings and some of their surviving radio broadcasts.

Price:$12.50 Prints in 3-5 business days. Duet, the autobiography of famous British duettists, Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler, was originally published by Stanley Paul in 1951. Sixty-five years later I have digitised the book and made it available as a paperback, epub and pdf book.

My sincere thanks to John Marwood who proofread the book most painstakingly for me. Webster and Anne tell the exciting story of their rise to fame, and their sensational romance. After Webster’s divorce from Paddy Prior, his second wife, he and Anne married and became the most popular duettists of their day, earning them the deserved title of “Sweethearts of Song”.

📷 📷 📷 📷 📷By Fiona Compton May 31, 2016 I read this book many years ago and am delighted that it has been digitised and once again available to those who are interested in reading about the illustrious careers of tenor Webster Booth and soprano Anne Ziegler. Although the book was written in part by a ghost-writer, the tone of the alternate chapters written in turn by Anne and Webster captures the personalities of both writers – Webster’s writing is more measured and thoughtful than Anne’s enthusiastic, spontaneous writing.

Webster Booth had one of the finest British tenor voices of the twentieth century and had a distinguished career in oratorio and recording in his own right. Anne Ziegler had a pleasant light soprano voice and a charming personality, but she was never in the same vocal class as her husband. This book is entitled Duet, so the emphasis of the book is on the work the couple did together as romantic duettists in musicals and films and on the radio, TV, concert and variety stage.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book but I would have liked to have heard more about Webster’s distinguished solo singing career. No doubt this book was responsible for giving people the idea that Webster was merely a romantic duettist in partnership with his wife, doing nothing more than singing light songs together with her. Despite this reservation, the book moves at a lightning pace and is most enjoyable. I recommend it highly.

I have decided to continue with the diaries and will occasionally add chapters on this page. All my fiction books, written under the pen name of Fiona Compton, are available at: https://www.lulu.com/spotlight/fiona_compton

I will list the Fiona Compton fiction books separately. Jean Collen.

Charles Forwood, accompanist to Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth.

Charles Forwood was the Booths’ accompanist for over ten years and is mentioned in several places in Anne and Webster’s autobiography Duet, published in 1951.

Charles Forwood was the Booths’ accompanist for over ten years and is mentioned in several places in Anne and Webster’s autobiography Duet, published in 1951.

Charles Forwood was the Booths’ accompanist for over ten years and is mentioned in several places in Anne and Webster’s autobiography Duet, published in 1951. He was a number of years older than them and had been playing the piano from the early years of the twentieth century.

In the early 1950s Anne and Webster were earning £250 a concert and paying their accompanist £30 a week, as it was stipulated in their contracts that they should pay the accompanist out of their own pocket.

Pamela Davies, who wrote the book, Do You Remember Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth? mentions the part Charles Forwood played at the Harold Williams’ concerts, particularly one she attended in March of 1947:

Anne and Webster on stage at the Garrick Theatre, Southport with Charles Forwood playing the piano.

P 129 Anne, talking about her mother: “During my song Mother had crept on and on to the stage until she could look through the window at me signing , and there she stood, quite visible from the auditorium, a small figure with a black feather in her black hat, and resting on a long black umbrella! She saw Charlie Forwood, our accompanist, look up at her from the piano with horror in his face, so to comfort him she nodded her head and waved to him, the audience by this time being very much more interested in her than in me!”

P 133 Webster: “Much depended on our accompanist, and it was at this point in our career that Charles Forwood joined us. Hayward Clarke was unable to come to Blackpool owing to a previous contract at Newquay. We asked Charles if he would take us on, not dreaming that he would, for he was a well-known accompanist and concert arranger in the city and West End, and we always felt honoured if a booking came through him – it always meant a first-class show. However, the war had robbed him of many of his engagements, and he felt that a summer at the seaside would be pleasanter than wartime London. He has now been our accompanist, friend, adviser and a stern coach for eleven years, having given up all his old connections to remain with us. In that time we have never had a word in writing in the form of a contract, nor ever needed one. How delightful in these days of forms and mistrust to be able to do business like that.”

P163 Anne: “During those difficult days of the war, and indeed ever since, everything has been made much easier for us both by Charlie Forwood, our accompanist. When I first knew Webster a booking from Charlie always gave real delight to us – accompanied by some trepidation, for though he was the perfect accompanist he demanded the very best a singer could do. Whether the audience was enthusiastic or not did not matter; only if we sang well enough to please Charlie’s own most critical taste would he put his hands on our shoulders and say, “Well done!” But if we did not breathe in the right place, or, as Charlie would say, “Paint the picture”, then he would make no comment, give us our music back, pay us – and we were down in the deeps of depressions for days!

Webster has told how Charlie joined us as our own accompanist at Blackpool in 1940. He is still with us. Now, as always, it doesn’t matter to him how the audience applaud. If we have sung well, he will still say, “Well done!” If he puts the music back in the case and says nothing, we still creep away like a couple of rebuked children.

He says his father, who was a printer, enjoyed the nickname of M.O.B. (which Webster says means Miserable Old Bounder), and Charlie loves to think that the same words apply to him. They don’t really; he just tries to make people think so. A perfect accompanist, as a coach he has probably forgotten more than most coaches today have learned. He used to play the violin in a string quartet on the White Star luxury cruises. If he took a studio and taught singing he would make a fortune. But he won’t. He won’t have a telephone at his old-world Surrey cottage – wise man! – and when we want to get in touch with him urgently we have to telephone the local grocer, who sends a message by the next passer-by. To us, he is our Rock of Gibraltar.”

When the Booths went on their tour to New Zealand and Australia, Charles Forwood did not think his health would stand the rigorous tour so an Australian accompanist from Adelaide, Clarence Black was their accompanist for the New Zealand and Australian trip.

WEBSTER BOOTH AND GILBERT AND SULLIVAN.

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.

Webster Booth and Gilbert and Sullivan.

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.

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Interior of St Martin’s Church, the Bullring, Birmingham

St Martin's

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 

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SS Megantic (White Star) return to Liverpool from Canada, May 1927.

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”!

LWB -01

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.

1962 WB radio

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.

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14 June 1963 (from my 5-year diary)

14 jUNE 1963

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.

Jean Collen 23 August 2018.

 

Mikado, Guild Theatre, East London 1973

DUET by WEBSTER BOOTH and ANNE ZIEGLER

https://clyp.it/rbifk0dz/widget

Click on the above link to hear a recording of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler singing one of their most popular duets, Will You Remember? (Sigmund Romberg)
I have digitised Duet, the autobiography of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler, published by Stanley Paul in 1951. It is available as a paperback and an epub book at: My Lulu bookstore

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The introduction to the book reads as follows:

England’s most popular duettists, who have sung in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and America, and are loved by millions of radio fans, have written their love-story together.

The provincial choirboy and the little Liverpool pianist have come a long way. Webster Booth ran away from an accountant’s stool to tour England at £4 a week and sing on the piers. Anne Ziegler’s father was ruined on the cotton market, so she sang in restaurant cabaret. They met playing the lovers in “Faust” – and fell in love. But he was married already.

Concert-party struggles, pantomime rivalries, fun and peril in early films, adventures at Savoy Hill and parts in stage “flops” were followed by great successes. She was hailed as “Radio’s Nightingale”, and as a leading lady in New York and London, a film star and BBC favourite. He sang at the Albert Hall and Covent Garden, starred in the West End and on films and radio. They went half round the world together, singing.

There are two-fisted criticisms and fascinating glimpses behind the scenes in film-land, stage-land and the mad and magic world of music. The authors laugh at themselves, each other and the world as they take you with them – this boy and girl who made good in one of real life’s most moving romances.

The links are as follows:

Paperback:

DUET by Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler

E-book (Epub)

DUET by Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler.

John Marwood, a member of The Golden Age of Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler and Friends group on Facebook wrote the following interesting review of the book:

I’ve just read Duet, Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth’s autobiography, published by Stanley Paul & Co. in 1951.

My plan was to read it over several days, but once I’d started, I could not put it down.

In the opening chapter Webster says that ‘Someone must begin even a duet. The die is cast and I am the victim – though, no doubt, the ladies will have the last word!’

The first chapter and all subsequent odd numbers are simply headed ’Webster’; and all the even ones are headed ‘Anne’.

The last chapter of the 25 is headed ‘Webster and Anne’; and so the autobiography ends neatly with a joint effort – a duet.

The remark by Webster about ladies sets the tone. It is light, witty and amusing. There is no chapter without entertaining anecdotes.

Apparently the book was ghost-written by the late Frank S. Stuart [Frank Stanley Stuart]. Frank was adept at presenting amusing tales that were based on factual events. Mention is made of precise events in diaries, so I imagine both characters lent their diaries to the writer and spent many hours relating tales, adventures and anecdotes about the past. The two personae sound entirely plausible.

I was surprised by the strong anti-war remarks in the book; and it seems the ghost-writer was a pacifist. Apparently Webster and Anne were not happy with these remarks, and it seems surprising that the publisher allowed them to remain. Only 6 years after the end of the terrible world conflagration many readers must have felt uncomfortable about some of these remarks.

The book was published 5 years before the couple left for South Africa. It is pity we never get to hear them speaking about their years there, but perhaps 1951 was when they were at the peak of their fame. We read of the couple’s delight to be told that Queen Mary had herself picked out their act as a favourite one which she wished to hear at a Gala Variety to mark her eightieth birthday. We read of other encounters with the royal family.

It is a tale of fun and glamour, tails and crinolines, a most entertaining story – a must-read for everyone who remembers the couple, or for anyone who has just discovered them recently.

John Marwood

I might add that John Marwood proofread the digitised copy most meticulously. I am very grateful to him for his help.

Here is a short review of the book, published in The Age, an Australian newspaper, on 16 February 1952.

16 February 1952 - The New Age
Review of “Duet” (1952)

Review by Fiona Compton: 

By Fiona Compton
May 31, 2016
I read this book many years ago and am delighted that it has been digitised and once again available to those who are interested in reading about the illustrious careers of tenor Webster Booth and soprano Anne Ziegler. Although the book was written by a ghost-writer, the tone of the alternate chapters written in turn by Anne and Webster captures the personalities of both writers – Webster’s writing is more measured and thoughtful than Anne’s enthusiastic, spontaneous writing. Webster Booth had one of the finest British tenor voices of the twentieth century and had a distinguished career in oratorio and recording in his own right. Anne Ziegler had a pleasant light soprano voice and a charming personality, but she was never in the same vocal class as her husband. This book is entitled “Duet”, so the emphasis of the book is on the work the couple did together as duettists on the concert and variety stage. I thoroughly enjoyed the book but I would have liked to have heard more about Webster’s distinguished solo singing career. No doubt this book was responsible for giving people the idea that Webster was merely a romantic duettist in partnership with his wife, doing nothing more than singing light songs together with her. Despite this reservation, the book moves at lightning pace and is most enjoyable. I recommend it highly.

Jean Collen

5 May 2016.

DuetDuet by Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler were my singing teachers in Johannesburg. While I was studying with them I acted as Webster’s studio accompanist when Anne (who usually played the piano for students) had other engagements. We became good friends, a friendship which lasted until they died – Webster in 1984, and Anne in 2003.

I first read “Duet” when Webster brought it into the studio and gave it to me to read. I was fascinated by the lively story of their rise to fame, their romance which was fraught with difficulties because Webster was married to Paddy Prior already, and their popularity as duettists during the forties and early fifties.

This book was written when they were at the height of their fame, some years before they had income tax difficulties and eventually moved to South Africa in 1956. Perhaps it was as well that the book ended before they experienced any hardship.

I have always tried to keep Anne and Webster’s singing and illustrious careers before the public. I am sure that anyone who reads their autobiography will get a good idea of their charming personalities from reading this fascinating book. Several people who have read it recently, have described it as “unputdownable”. I hope whoever reads this review and is tempted to read the book will share that opinion of it!

View all my reviews

A MEMORY OF DAWSON’S HOTEL, JOHANNESBURG (1963)

Webster and me. Photo taken in the early 1960s.
Webster and me. Photo taken in the early 1960s.

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

Dawson’s Hotel in Johannesburg was once an establishment of importance in the life of the city and remains one filled with wonderful memories for me. In its heyday, it was one of the city’s best hotels, with perhaps only the Carlton and Langham Hotels being grander. In 1956 the British singing duo, Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, moved to South Africa. They spent their first three months in Johannesburg living at Dawson’s Hotel while they looked around for suitable permanent accommodation.

It was in April 1963 that I first acted as Webster’s accompanist in their singing studio on the eighth floor of Polliack’s Building at the corner of Eloff and Pritchard Streets.

Polliack's is the building on the right with the balconies.
Polliack’s is the building on the right with the balconies.

At the time, Anne was away on a trip with broadcaster Leslie Green and I had been delighted and honoured when they asked me to take her place as studio accompanist. During some free time in the studio, Webster asked me if I would like to have lunch with him at Dawson’s. In turn, he accepted my invitation for him to have dinner with me and my parents at our home after we finished our work in the evening.

Blue plaque at entrance to Dawson's Hotel.
Blue plaque at entrance to Dawson’s Hotel.

Tuesday was the red-letter day when Webster took me to lunch at Dawson’s Hotel. After the final morning student’s lesson was over, Webster announced for the world to hear that “Jean and I are going to blow the family savings today. I’m taking her to Dawson’s.” The poor student looked envious and said, “Oh, I wish I was coming with you.  I have to go back to the office on an apple!”

As Dawson’s Hotel, at the corner of Von Brandis and President Streets, was just around the corner from the studio, we walked there. On our walk to the hotel, Webster seemed oblivious of the curious glances of the lunchtime throng doing double-takes as they recognised his famous face. We were ushered into the sumptuous Edwardian dining room, called the Gold Room Restaurant, on the first floor as though we were royalty. We were greeted by the head waiter who hovered around Webster and then directed us to the best table at the window.

Naturally Webster was at home in this setting. After all, he had frequented the grandest hotels of Europe, the Antipodes, and Britain and was used to being fussed over where ever he went. I, on the other hand, a teenager in a bottle green velvet dress, felt gauche and young, as indeed I was at that time. After studying the menu, Webster ordered grilled trout and I ordered a fish dish also. He had a gin before lunch and was quite disappointed when I refused anything alcoholic. At that stage of my life, the only time I had drunk an aperitif was when my father poured me a thimbleful of sherry on very special occasions.

Dawson's Hotel entrance with Blue Plaque.
Dawson’s Hotel entrance with Blue Plaque.

During our meal Webster told me how he and Anne had lived at Dawson’s until they found their flat at Waverley, Highland’s North. Sadly, he also told about several members of the hotel management, who had theatrical connections, who for unknown reasons had seemingly turned against them.

Anne Ziegler & Webster Booth (1956)
Anne Ziegler & Webster Booth (1956) outside their flat at Waverley, Highlands North.

I enjoyed my fish dish very much and felt very much the grand lady having lunch with a world famous singer in that wonderful dining room. Later, over coffee, we had petits fours. Webster insisted I should eat as many as I wanted. I found out later that they were soaked in brandy, so I did not go entirely without alcohol that day.

I remember coming out of that wonderful hotel into the afternoon sunshine and sauntering back to the studio. Fortunately, there was only one pupil due that afternoon. As we waited, Webster soon fell asleep on the couch while I sat in a chair a fair distance away reading Duet, their autobiography, which he had brought in for me to read the week before.

“Duet” by Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, published 1951.

When Webster woke up, he put on one of the reel-to-reel tapes containing his sacred and oratorio recordings. I remember listening to How Lovely Art Thy Dwellings, The Lost Chord, Abide With Me, and Sound an Alarm. I was entranced and sometimes near to tears by the beauty of his singing.

Recently I heard from Nick Thompson-Wood, who was the manager of Dawson’s Hotel from 1964 – 1969. He is now living in Canada. He sent me a photograph of the staff of Dawson’s taken in the Gold Room Restaurant in 1966. Nick, as general manager, is seated in the middle of the front row.

Staff of Dawson's Hotel (1966) Thanks for this photo to Nick Thompson-Wood, General Manager (1964 -1969)
Staff of Dawson’s Hotel (1966) Thanks for this photo to Nick Thompson-Wood, General Manager (1964 -1969)

Over the years, whenever I went back to Dawson’s Hotel with others, I could not help but recall my first visit with Webster and remember our lunch. Unfortunately, because of the high crime rate in central Johannesburg today, I have avoided going into the city for the past ten years or more. Imagine my sadness when I found Dawson’s hotel on a Google Street map recently and learned that it is no longer occupied. The building is now but a shadow of its former self. It was abandoned and in a state of abject decay. I suspect that it has now become home to squatters and serves merely as a place of shelter from the elements. What a sad end to an elegant hotel, which I will always remember for the happy time I spent there with Webster as a teenager.

Label for Dawson's Hotel.
Label for Dawson’s Hotel.

Dawson's as it is today - no longer a hotel and pretty dilapidated.
Dawson’s as it is today – no longer a hotel and pretty dilapidated. The Edwardian Restaurant was on the first floor.

Jean Collen

Updated 17 May 2017.

TOM HOWELL’S OPIEROS

Tom Howell was then running a concert party called the Opieros – because they sang excerpts from operas on piers, as well as giving a fine selection of the usual song-and-dance turns. I decided to follow Henry’s advice. Then, during our four weeks’ leave from the D’Oyly Carte Company, Tom Howell’s tenor went down with shingles and, knowing I was ready to move, Tom wired me from Glasgow, where his Company were playing the park pavilions. I took the first train North, got an engagement, and wired D’Oyly Carte asking for my release. This was granted, and I signed on with Tom at the substantially increased salary of £6.10s a week.

tom-howell-back-wearing-boater-and-family-membersAn early photo of Tom Howell (wearing a boater) and family members.

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Tom (left) in back row, his wife Hilda with baby daughter Myfanwy and other family members

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Tom Howell and his wife Hilda September 1911.

In the nineteen-twenties there were Pierrot shows and concert parties at nearly every British seaside resort during the summer season from May to September. These shows had started in the late nineteenth century when a small troupe of male minstrels took up a pitch on the beach front, and the only payment they received after entertaining the gathered crowd was the money collected by a bottler, who went round the crowd to make a collection. These early minstrels were usually “blacked up” men in the style of the famous George Eliot, but by the turn of the century entertainers abandoned the practice of blacking up, were clad in Pierrot costumes and there were women included in some of the troupes of Pierrots.

By the twenties, the Pierrots had given way to the seaside concert party, and some of these performers even wore evening dress rather than traditional Pierrot costume. Some entertained the holiday crowds on a pitch on the beach, while others frequented pier pavilions and theatres. Bigger seaside resorts, like Blackpool, offered a variety of entertainment with top performers from the Music Hall circuit and by the thirties, this line-up included popular radio and screen personalities. At smaller resorts entertainment was more modest.

A concert party, usually run by a performing manager, would consist of a pianist, a comedian, a dancer, a soubrette and several straight singers. These performers were competent professionals who spent the colder months of the year at company, livery and Masonic dinners, in cabaret at large restaurants to the accompaniment of clattering plates and loud conversation, and, as Christmas approached, in provincial pantomimes. Most of them were unknown to the wider UK public, but became firm local favourites with holiday-makers who spent their week or fortnight’s annual holiday at the same resort, year after year. Straight singers would sing popular ballads and songs of the day and sometimes take part in skits with the comedian and other members of their party.

ANITA EDWARDS WITH THE OPIEROS

Professor Kenneth Morgan of Swansea contacted me recently to let me know that he had photographs of the Opieros Concert Party and individual photographs of Anita Edwards, the daughter of his great-grandmother’s sister, who had been a member of the Opieros in the nineteen-twenties. I was delighted to receive copies of these photographs, unfortunately, taken before Webster Booth joined the party in 1927, but Anita is featured in each one. It seems that she joined the Opieros in 1925 and remained with them until 1927.

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Anita Edwards

Opieros with Anita Edwards. May, June 1925.

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Tom Howell’s Opieros was different from the majority of concert parties for although he employed light entertainers, he combined his strong baritone voice with a good tenor, contralto and soprano to present scenes from the opera, hence the name of his group – Opieros – a hitherto unlikely combination of opera and pier. The group also appeared in municipal parks providing entertainment for those who had not ventured to the coast.

Like the leader of the Opieros, Tom Howell from Swansea, and tenor Lucas Bassett from Pontypridd, Anita Edwards was also Welsh, born in Llanelli on 14 November 1900. Anita Edwards was a soprano, who trained at the Royal Academy of Music with Dr Charles Phillips. While she was a student she won many prizes, including the Rutson Memorial Prize and the Westmoreland Prize. While at the Academy she sang the principal roles of Manon in Massenet’s Manon opposite Welsh tenor, Manuel Jones and Nedda in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.

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Opieros – Tom is in the centre, Anita Edwards(top right).

 In 1924 she sang at a concert on Mumbles Pier, which also featured Frank Mullings, one of the foremost tenors of the day, and Idris Daniels of Pencader,  a popular baritone. Critics praised Anita particularly for her fine singing of One Fine Day from Madame Butterfly by Puccini. On Christmas night 1925, while on holiday from her tour with the Opieros, she sang in a concert at the Llewellyn Hall, Swansea. This concert comprised selections from various oratorios and featured Frank Mullings and the distinguished Australian baritone, Harold Williams, who was considered to be one of the greatest exponents of Elijah in Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah.

During her time with the Opieros Concert Party, she sang soprano solos and featured in the various operatic ensembles presented by the Opieros.  So far we have not found out what Anita Edwards did after she left the Opieros. She married Lionel Beaumont in Wandsworth, Surrey in 1949, and died in Carmarthen in mid-1986.

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Webster Booth

Webster Booth had worked with Tom Howell’s brother, Henry (stage name, Henry Blain) in the D’Oyly Carte company from 1923 – 1927. When Henry heard that Webster was planning to leave D’Oyly Carte, fearing that he might remain in the chorus forever, waiting vainly to fill “dead men’s shoes”, he suggested that Webster should contact Tom, whose tenor had been taken ill. Tom employed Webster as a replacement and he remained with the Opieros until 1930, and also appeared in two Brixton pantomimes with Tom in 1927 and 1928.

Webster’s first appearance with the Opieros was in the Glasgow park pavilions where his salary in 1927 was £6.10s a week. Judging by notices in The Stage the party was very popular and the performers and their excellent accompanist, H Baynton-Power always received good notices. Peggy Rhodes, a promising contralto, was a member of the party for some time, as well as Walter Badham the humorist and Doris Godfrey, a child mimic.

Tom Howell died in the early nineteen-fifties. If anyone can tell me more about any members of the Opieros, please contact me.

Recently I heard from Tom Howell’s great-niece, Sarah Tongue, who was kind enough to send me family photos of the Howell family and give me some information about the family. Their surname was originally Howells, but the “s” was dropped later on. The siblings of Tom Howell were Henry Howell, born in 1895. He was a bass-baritone and sang with the D’Oyly Carte Company under the name of Henry Blain, David,  who died from wounds at the end of World War One, Arthur who served in the navy in World War One, Emlyn, the youngest brother emigrated to Australia, Jack, and their only sister Maud, and William Howell who was her grandfather. They had moved from Wales to Bournville in Birmingham where some members of the family worked at the Cadbury factory before World War One.

I am including a selection of the photos sent to me by Sarah, including some “mystery” ones which are, nevertheless, most interesting.

Sarah as a baby with her mother who was the daughter of William Howell, Tom’s youngest brother.

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Among the photos in this collection is one of the Asaf and Powell’s Harlequinaders (below). Felix Powell, a Welshman, was the composer of the World War One hit, Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kitbag. 

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Another photo in the Howells’ collection is this charming one of Ernest Lord’s Excelsior Concert party dating from the early years of the twentieth century Agnes Singleton appeared with this group:

A contralto and elocutionist in Ernest Lord’s Excelsior Concert party in the early years of the twentieth century

Alice Singleton appeared with the Excelsiors as a contralto and an elocutionist in the early years of the twentieth century.

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Tom and sister Maud and others while they were working for Cadbury’s, Bournville.

Tom served in the Navy during the First World War. Unlike David, he survived the war and was able to continue his theatrical career when the war ended.

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An autographed photo of handsome David Howell who died from wounds sustained at the end of World War One.

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Tom Howell in the navy during World War 1

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Arthur Howell served in the Royal Navy during World War 1 and after the war became a painter and decorator. He was married to Maggie and died in the 1970s, some time after Tom, who died in 1952.

17 May 1918 Warlingham For the YMCA Hut Fund

Tom Howell’s sister, Sarah married the singer, Alf Jones. Sadly, she died of Spanish ‘flu at the early age of 34. Sarah was the great aunt of Sarah Tongue who kindly sent me these photographs. She was named after her great aunt Sarah.

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Sarah Howell with brother Tom and unknown man

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Alf Jones, husband of Sarah Howell. He too was a singer and signed this photo in 1917.

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Sarah Jones with her baby, Reg. Sarah must have died in 1918 or 1919 after contracting the Spanish ‘flu.

               Palace Theatre, Reading. 27 October 1918.                                                                                 1919 Fundraising concert for the Middlesex Hospital with George Robey, The Gresham Singers, Edmund Gwenn, Tom Howell, Lily Langtry… 

 Tom was associated with the Redios before he started the Opieros. This party was under the direction of Wilby Lunn who did an interesting double act in the show with Connie Hart. The tenor Leonard Lovesey was in the party and no doubt he and Tom sang duets together, as Tom did later with Webster in the Opieros.  

The Redios (1924)

In 1922, the Opieros presented Tom Howell with a beautiful silver cigarette case with the names of the company engraved around the side of the case. I’m afraid only the names on the left side are visible: Chas Bailey, Billy Hunn? A.A. Cash…cigarette-case-from-cast-to-tom-img211

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Tom Howell in Pierrot costume
Tom Howell, leader of the Opieros in Pierrot costume.

Leas Pavilion – 19th and 26th October 1925.

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Tom Howell's Opieros

8 May 1924 – The Opieros. A capital entertainment is given this week at the Penarth Pier Pavilion by The Opieros; the vocal talent being remarkably good. A leading item of a fine programme is the Prison Scene from Faust, which is given with considerable ability by Agnes Hirst as Marguerite, Lucas Bassett as Faust and Tom Howell as Mephistopheles… Peggy Rhodes and Hylda Romney add to the evening’s enjoyment.

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Alice Singleton (second from left) and Anita Edwards (right). I do not know the names of the other two women. The one in costume on the left performed with Tom in the Opieros. Alice Singleton was a contralto and elocutionist and was a member of Ernest Lord’s concert party, the Excelsiors.

Webster Booth joined D’Oyly Carte Company in 1923, aged 21. He and Henry Blain are listed in this programme for the London season at the Princes Theatre in 1924.

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myffanwyTom and Hilda’s daughter, Myfanwy.

Below: Hilda, Tom’s wife.hilda2

Extract from Duet by Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler (1951)

Webster Booth wrote as follows:

One of my friends in the D’Oyly Carte Company was a baritone, Henry Blain, a Welshman, whose real name was Henry Howell. When I was looking round for a new opening in the spring of 1927, after returning from Canada, Henry said: “Why don’t you go and see my brother Tom? He wants a new tenor, I think.”

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Henry Blain (Howell) Henry Blain was born in 1895 in Wales as Henry Howell.Henry was a bass-baritone chorister with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company from May 1920 until June 1931. He went on the first D’Oyly Carte tour to the United States in 1929.

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.henry-howell-blain

 During this time he played the smaller roles of Second Yeoman in The Yeomen of the Guard, Guron in Princess Ida, Samuel in The Pirates of Penzance, and Luiz in The Gondoliers. He was married to Clarice, the D’Oyly Carte wardrobe mistress.henry-and-clarice-wedding-img177

Henry and Clarice’s wedding photo

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Henry and his wife, Clarice

 He died in November 1955 at the early age of 60 and was buried in the Family Grave at Yardley Cemetery, Birmingham.

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Grand Smoking concert, 21 October 1926, the year before Webster joined the Opieros.

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Cannon Street Hotel. The Communist party was founded there in 1920. It was destroyed during the London blitz in World War Two.

Webster continued:

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Tom Howell.

Tom Howell was then running a concert party called the Opieros – because they sang excerpts from operas on piers, as well as giving a fine selection of the usual song-and-dance turns. I decided to follow Henry’s advice. Then, during our four weeks’ leave from the D’Oyly Carte Company, Tom Howell’s tenor went down with shingles and, knowing I was ready to move, Tom wired me from Glasgow, where his Company were playing the park pavilions. I took the first train North, got an engagement, and wired D’Oyly Carte asking for my release. This was granted, and I signed on with Tom at the substantially increased salary of £6.10s a week.

It was grand experience, and taught me a very great deal. Singing extracts from operas, and travelling each Sunday to seaside places, I learned how to hang stage curtains, make stages, work out intricate journeys by train, boat and lorry in some cases, how to pack unwielding stage props and curtains, and above all how to check the money in a “house” without counting the tickets! It matters, believe me! I very soon knew by glancing through the curtain peephole whether a “house” was below £20 or above £50. I was swept into the extraordinary camaraderie of the concert party, which is one of the nicest states on earth – but only if the troupe is well managed! I learned how to avoid causing professional jealousies, how to make the most of my turn without giving offence, how to hold a restive audience of casual holidaymakers worrying about the next boarding-house meal or whether little Tommy (left in charge of someone else) has yet met with a fatal accident.

That was a happy summer, a summer of sunshine and laughter, boy-and-girl light heartedness, a lot of swimming and strolling and fun. When it was over we came to London. I had most of my last week’s salary in my pockets, and nothing else in them except my hands! I had never heard then, of such things as Masonic banquets and Sunday League Concerts, and I was suddenly awfully worried about what to do next. Tom knew this, and took me to his home. Each evening he had such a booking he would take me along with him. Often, when he had sung his first group of songs, he would introduce “a new young singer who will sing a duet with me”.After a time, this resulted in my obtaining some winter bookings of my own, and so I was able to pay back what I owed and make my financial way. I don’t know what I should have done without Tom Howell’s kindness and generosity at that time.

1927-1930 – Tom Howell’s Opieros concert party. The concert party presented operatic excerpts at park pavilions and piers. Webster’s first appearance with them was in Glasgow in the summer of 1927.

By this time Webster Booth was living in Tom Howell’s former apartment, at 103A Streatham Hills, SW2, Streatham 7989. Tom Howell’s new address was: 1 Daysbrook Road, SW2. Telephone: Streatham 1380 .

That winter he introduced me to Fred Melville, the famous “pantomime king” of the period, and somehow persuaded him to book the two of us in his pantomime at the Brixton Theatre, St George and the Dragon. I was to be King Arthur and Tom was Sir Mordred de Killingsbury, the villain of the piece. It was my first venture into the strange world of pantomime, and I loved it! The whole secret is that the players make a sort of party of it, in which the children (and their parents!) are guests who join in all the songs and play a great part in everything themselves. The show was a great success. I remember a banquet scene when, after a few very fiery words between us, Tom and I stepped out and sang (for no reason at all) the famous old duet Love and War. This always gained enormous applause, and is still remembered by a lot of Brixtonians.

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30 December 1927 – The Stage. Saint George and the Dragon, The Brixton. On Monday, December 26 1927, Mr Frederick Melville presented here his twentieth annual pantomime, written and produced by him, the music composed and arranged by F. Gilmour Smith.

St George of England: Miss Vera Wright,

St Patrick of Ireland: Miss Eileen O’Brian,

St Andréw of Scotland: Miss Maggie Wallace,

St David of Wales: Mr Lloyd Morgan,

St Denis of France: Miss Marie Fontaine,

St Anthony of Italy: Miss Lily Wood,

St Michael of Russia: Miss Agnes Moon,

King Arthur of England: Mr Webster Booth,

Sir Mordred de Killingsbury: Mr Tom Howell,

Stephen Stuffingley: Mr C Harcourt Brooke,

Tricky Dicky: Mr Willie Atom,

Princess Guinevere: Miss Doris Ashton,

Fairy Starlight: Miss Hilda Goodman,

Mary Fairly: Miss Marjorie Holmes,

Demon Ignorance: Mr Fred Moule,

Dame Agatha Lumpkin: Mr Leslie Paget,

Jerry Lumpkin: Mr Larry Kemble.

There is a fine patriotic flavour, to say nothing of sundry allusions to the need for keeping old England healthy, both bodily and mentally, by sweeping out the germs of disease and distrust, all worked in the usual deft Melvillean fashion in this year’s Brixton pantomime. Choosing the unusual subject of St George and the Dragon, Mr Melville has written a story at once original and arresting.

Mr Webster Booth adds stateliness and a pleasing tenor voice, heard in England, Mighty England and Tired Hands, and with Sir Mordred, Tenor and Baritone, to the part of the King. Mr Tom Howell’s Sir Mordred is a sound piece of character work, though he finds small scope in the part for his powerful baritone.

Pantomime and Tom Howell’s kindness saw me through that winter, and then came another summer of concerts on the piers. We had a clever humourist in Walter Badham and a fine child mimic in Doris Godfrey. One of the best singers we had, for whom we all expected a great career, was Peggy Rhodes. St Anne’s, Sheerness, Lowestoft, Yarmouth, Paignton, Broadstairs, Whitley Bay – I can shut my eyes today and see the sun on the rippling water, smell the dust in a dozen pier pavilions, hear the shuffle and chatter of the audience die away as the curtain swings up for our opening chorus, and recapture all the excitement, triumph and heartbreak, and taste for just a moment once again the lost elixir of youth.

19 January 1928 – Gallery First Nighters’ Club. Dinner to Mr Miles Malleson. The seating and eating capacity of the Comedy Restaurant was strained to its uttermost on Sunday evening, when that happy band of playgoers, the Gallery First-Nighters’ Club, had Mr Miles Malleson as their guest of honour at dinner… Mr Major, responding, paid a tribute to the artistes for the wonderful concert they had given them.

It was indeed a wonderful concert. The artistes included Miss Betty Chester, Miss Dora Maughan, Mr George Metaxa, Miss Dorrie Dene, Mr Ashmoor Burch, Misses Grace Ivell and Vivian Worth, Messrs Webster Booth and Tom Howell, Miss Winifred Howie, and Mr Algernon Moore, and Miss Elsa May, Miss Nora Drake was at the piano.

24 May 1928 – Cardiff – At Roath Park Pavilion Tom Howell presents his Opieros. The programme ranges from opera to modern burlesque. Webster Booth’s tenor numbers are very well rendered, and Doris Francis (soprano), Olive Turner, Dorothy Denny, Harry Williams, Tom Howell, and H Baynton-Power give enjoyable performances.

7 June 1928 – Tom Howell’s Opieros meet with their usual welcome at the Olympian Gardens, Rock Ferry, where their popularity increases with every visit. Doris Francis is a delightful singer of soprano songs, and Webster Booth’s tenor solos meet with appreciation. Harry Williams is a mirth-maker who never fails to keep his audience in merry mood. Olive Turner and Dorothy Denny are favourites, and their participation in the concerted sketches adds to the enjoyment. Tom Howell directs the programme with his usual skill.

30 August 1928 – The Opieros Tom Howell’s Opieros are at the Adelphi Gardens, Paignton. Good singing plays an unusually prominent part in the entertainment, and it is provided mainly by Tom Howell, a robust baritone, Doris Francis a soprano with a pure voice, and Webster Booth, a rich tenor. They score in excerpts from grand opera. Olive Turner gives some clever imitations and smart soubrette songs. Dorothy Denny wins much favour with her low comedy songs. Admirable phonofiddle playing and humorous contributions make Harry Williams popular. The Opieros owe a deal of their success to the talent of their pianist, H. Baynton-Power.

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William, Hilda and family. 

27 September 1928 – At the Summer Pavilion, Sheerness, Tom Howell is presenting his Opieros. This talented company attract large audiences and the show is well produced. The programmes include an excellent mixture of straight and comedy numbers, ranging from burlesque to grand opera. The high class vocal contributions by Tom Howell, Doris Francis and Webster Booth, all of whom are cultured singers, make a decided appeal to a delighted house. By way of contrast, Olive Turner entertains in several clever impersonations and sings a catchy song. Dorothy Denny is a comedienne of no mean ability, and has a style of her own. Harry Williams is the chief fun-maker of the party, and besides keeping everyone in a good humour with his patter and gags, he pleases the house as an instrumentalist, and coaxes melody from unlikely objects. H. Baynton-Power is a composer-pianist and artistically accompanies the performers and musically brightens the entertainment.

.20 December 1928 – Pantomime forecasts The Brixton. The Babes in the Wood, written by Frederick Melville. Principal boy, Vera Wright; principal girl, Teresa Watson; principal comedians, Tom Gumble and Jimmy Young; Fairy Queen, Gwen Stella, baritone Tom Howell; tenor Webster Booth. Specialities by Euphan Maclaren’s Operatic Dancers, Babette, Grar and Grar. Principal scenes: The Village, The Schoolroom, Ballet, Children’s Bedroom, Sherwood Forest, and Palace. Stage manager, Fred Moule. Produced by Frederick Melville on December 26, at 2pm, for run of about 7 weeks.

Webster continues:

The following Christmas we were booked again for Brixton, this time in Babes in the Wood. I was Will Scarlett and Tom was Little John. My big moment was in the wood scene when I entered in a blackout with a red glowing fire, and sang with heartrending passion Chloe. This always stopped the show, and an encore was demanded.

Broadcast – The Opieros

2ZY Manchester, 6 April 1929 19.50

Synopsis

TOM HOWELL’S CONCERT PARTY Relayed from the Central Pier, Blackpool

WALTER BADHAM (The popular Comedian)

H. BAYNTON-POWER (Pianist and accompanist)

Doris GODFREY (Comedienne)

OLIVE TURNER (Entertainer)

WEBSTER BOOTH (Tenor)

Doris FRANCIS (Soprano)

Tom HOWELL (Bass-Baritone)tom-hilda-miffanwy-and-grandchildren-2

Tom and Hilda with Myfanwy and grandchildren.

 27 June 1929 – The Opieros At the Pergola Pavilion, Bexhill, are Tom Howell’s Opieros. Their entertainment is of high quality, and the programmes contain a series of operatic scenes, all well sung. Tom Howell is a melodious baritone, Webster Booth is a tenor of rare ability, and Doris Francis is a delightful soprano, and the work of these vocalists sets the high standard of the company’s serious work. Walter Badham is well known to Bexhill audiences, having formerly played a resident season there, and his Lancashire humour is more welcome than ever. Dorothy Denny is a piquant comedienne, and Doris Godfrey presents some kid numbers well. Jack Upson is at the piano. Will Tissington and Katharine Craig are the directors of the Pergola, and next week they will present their own Poppies for their seventeenth season.

5 September 1929 – The Opieros Tom Howell and his Opieros are fulfilling an engagement at the Adelphi Gardens, Paignton, this week. The company includes several artistes who have appeared with Mr Howell in previous years, and established themselves warm favourites. These are Doris Francis, a fine soprano; Webster Booth, who has a strong tenor of good quality; and Dorothy Denny, an excellent comedienne. Doris Godfrey gives clever child impressions and Walter Badham is a talented humorist. The piano is in charge of Jack Upson, who excels in syncopated music. Features of the programme include excerpts from grand opera, and duets by Webster Booth and Tom Howell, baritone.

19 September 1929 – The Opieros Tom Howell’s concert party, the Opieros, are playing to good houses this week at the Sheerness Pavilion. Webster Booth and Tom Howell combine pleasingly in tenor and baritone duets, and also score individually in vocal items. Doris Francis’ soprano solos are rendered with good effect and Doris Godfrey is a clever impersonator. In Dorothy Denny the party has a bright and popular comedienne. Jack Upson is the skilful accompanist. Walter Badham causes much amusement with his quaint and mirth-provoking numbers. The party also score in excerpts from opera, which make a strong appeal to the audiences.

I spent three summers with the Opieros, and enjoyed them enormously. I learned a good deal about stagecraft, touring and management. I was getting known to some extent in London and the provinces, and by this time I was making a fair amount of money from gramophone records.I had always had a great ambition to make them – somehow, in my early days, they seemed to me to be the mark of Fame with a capital letter.

Tom Howell introduced me to a director of Edison Bell Records, who arranged for me to make a test at their City Road studios. I was to ask for Mr Harry Hudson. Off I went, walking on air, met Mr Hudson and sang The English Rose from Merrie England. Out came Mr Hudson from the inside room. I wonder if he remembers what he told me!“I’m afraid your voice won’t record!” he said.

Now I had been inside a recording studio before, and I knew that through a small glass window was a room where the engineers put small round waxes on a turntable, and when a needle was lowered onto the wax it reproduced what went on in the studio. I felt sure no wax had been put on. I was young in the profession then. I do not know what anyone had against me, or had been told. I only knew that my voice had apparently not been tested.I walked out of the studio into the sordid squalor and noise of City Road, wondering furiously and miserable what it was all about. I had gone in such a short time before with such high and eager hope.

Shortly afterwards, Lawrence Wright (Horatio Nichols) wrote a song called My Inspiration is You. He told Tom that if I would sing it at the coming Sunday League Concert, he would come along and perhaps arrange a test session for me with the Columbia Graphophone Company. Chastened and uneasy this time, I awaited his arrival, and saw him drive up in an enormous white Rolls-Royce to the Empire Theatre, Croydon, where the concert was taking place. He stepped out, noticed me, and patted the car. He was wearing a magnificent fur coat.“All out of one song, me boy!” he said cheerfully.It was true – it had come from his Toy Town Parade. It sold over a million copies!

After three summers I left the Opieros and signed a contract to join Muriel George and Ernest Butcher in their concert party at the Central Pier, Blackpool. It was a change that cost me a pang, for Tom Howell had been very kind to me, and I had made some good friends in his Company. Tom is a Welshman from near Llanelli. He spent his early days in Cadbury’s at Bournville. He excelled in oratorio and Grand Opera, and had he stayed in Grand Opera he must have become a star. But, like me, he had to live by his voice, and Grand Opera needs some sort of independent income at first.

Tom became a Blackpool concert-party idol, and sang concerts in London and the provinces in the winter. He founded his Opieros Company in 1924, and it presented famous scenes from Faust, Bohème, Butterfly and the rest. Tom was a tough personality, and his voice was like steel. He was too generous to spot his enemies, who flocked round him when he had money or drink to dispense. He kept me in his home when I was more or less on my uppers, and he never begrudged a young singer advancement – indeed, he helped with absolute unselfishness in every way he could. I owe him a lot.I signed up with a fresh concert party because I was offered more money and a better place on the bill. Tom wished me the best of luck when I said good-bye. Webster Booth

Tom and unknown singer in the Opieros.tom-and-unknown-performer

tom-and-dalmatian-in-a-show

Tom and a Dalmatian in a rustic show.

In 1936 Tom spent a considerable time in hospital.

6 November 1936 – Tom Howell. Friends of Tom Howell, who was well known in concert and concert party circles, and has recently been appearing in musical plays in the West End, will be sorry to hear of his illness. He is a patient in Guy’s Hospital.

He was still in hospital at Christmas in 1937 when Hilda sent this charming Christmas card with a photograph of her and Tom with their lovely wire-haired fox terrier.

img161-hilda-and-tom

 24 April 1952 – Tribute to Tom Howell. Our Great Yarmouth correspondent writes: The late Tom Howell was well remembered in Great Yarmouth, for it was at the Wellington Pavilion that he first presented his Opieros. They made their debut in June, 1922, playing a resident season, followed by a return in 1923. In the first company were Harold Wilde, Yarmouth-born Evelyn Ray, Lilian Rickard, Eric Howard, Violet Field, Donald Hatton, Charles Hayes and Tom Howell himself. The 1923 company had but two changes in its personnel, Peggy Rhodes and Kathleen Burchell replacing Miss Rickard and Miss Field… In subsequent seasons the Opieros were regular visitors to the Britannia Pavilion, which in those days was a popular venue for the leading touring concert parties.

Compiled by Jean Collen 20 February 2017

Updated 24 August 2019.

With thanks to Professor Kenneth Morgan and Sarah Tongue for sharing their photographs with me. I would love to be able to find a photo of Tom and Webster together.

Extract from Duet by Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler published in 1951, Stanley Paul.

My digitised copy of the book is available as a paperback and E-book at: Duet by Webster Booth and Anne Zieglerduet-cover2