In 1997 Webster’s son Keith died at the age of 72, and in March of 1998 Anne’s dear little Yorkie Bonnie had to be put to sleep, aged 15. Anne was very lonely without her and although she vowed that she could never have another dog because she was too old, eventually she did take on Toby, another Yorkie.
Extract from my book Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth:
I phoned Anne on 3 August 2003. By this time her carer was coming in three times a day. Anne could still joke, “Once in the morning to see I am still alive, next at lunchtime, and then at 6pm to see I’m having supper and set for the night.”
We spoke of the days in Johannesburg when I was young – and she much younger – when everything had been happy and carefree. She could not believe that I was nearly sixty as she always thought of me as a young woman. It was forty years since I had first started playing for Webster when she went away on the trip with Leslie Green.
She had not seen Babs for over a year and did not know if she was alive or dead. We decided that it was a pity that things had worked out so badly with Babs, as it could have been a very happy arrangement.
She remarked, “That’s life – or should I say – death?” I told her that she still sounded wonderful, not like an old person at all, with her beautiful speaking voice and her alert mind. I said that I would phone again in a few months. We said, “God bless you,” to one another, and her last words to me were, “Take care, darling.”
Five days after that phone call Anne had another dreadful fall. She was taken to the Llewellyn Ward at Llandudno Hospital, where Dudley Holmes found her in September. She was pleased to see Dudley, but he was deeply shocked at the change in her physical appearance. Dudley spoke to Sally Rayner, who told him that Anne could never return to the bungalow and that they were looking round to find a suitable frail care home for her. Although she would probably never be able to write to us again, we vowed that we would write to her regularly as long as she lived.
On 27 September I wrote a letter to Anne and enclosed a cutting about Kathleen Ferrier on the fiftieth anniversary of her death, and sent it care of Sally Rayner. On the morning of 13 October, there was a telephone message from Sally to tell me that Anne was unlikely to last for more than a day or two.
I phoned Sally immediately and she told me that she was going in to sit with her that morning. Later that day Sally phoned again to let me know that Anne had died peacefully. She had sat with her, and later in the morning had been joined by Anne’s great-nephew, Michael, Jinnie’s son, from Liverpool. They remained with her, holding her hand until she passed away peacefully at 1.30 pm.
Sally had taken my letter in that morning to read out bits of interest to her – about Kathleen Ferrier, the records my actor friend Bill Curry had given me, and Love’s Philosophy, the song she had sung at her Wigmore Hall recital all those years ago. Sally said that some parts of the letter made her smile, although she had not opened her eyes for a long time.
TIMES OBITUARY FOR ANNE ZIEGLER – 17 OCTOBER 2003
During the 1930s and 1940s Anne Ziegler and her husband, Webster Booth were among the most popular acts on the British stage. A handsome, beautifully dressed couple (he in immaculate tails and she in crinolines designed by Norman Hartnell), they were often billed as the British equivalent to the Hollywood stars, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. With their signature tune Only a Rose and their wide repertoire of popular operetta and musical comedy, they were rarely out of work, and during their heyday topped the bill not only in concerts but also in variety shows. Each had had a successful singing career before they teamed up as an act.
Anne was born Irené Frances Eastwood in Liverpool and from an early age had trained to be a classical pianist. She gave her first recital in her native city in 1928. (As a singer, not as a pianist!)
She moved to London in 1934 and joined the chorus of the operetta By Appointment at the Adelphi Theatre. In 1936 (1934!), after being chosen from 250 applicants to play the leading soprano role of Marguerita (Marguerite!) in an early film production of Faust, she met the tenor Webster Booth.
Booth, a romantic figure with a profile not unlike Ivor Novello’s (!!), had performed in numerous Gilbert and Sullivan operas with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company as well as recording classical oratorios for HMV records. He married Anne Ziegler in 1938 and two years later they decided to form a double act.
Billed as Sweethearts in Song, their act was pure romance and was hugely popular with wartime audiences. The couple made numerous broadcasts with the BBC in which they sang a variety of rousing songs and bitter-sweet ballads including We’ll Gather Lilacs, If You Were the Only Girl in the World, Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life and The Bells of St Mary’s.
Radio inevitably led them to top the bills in variety and they often appeared in company with leading artists of the day including Douglas Byng, Tommy Trinder, Max Wall, and others. They appeared in summer shows in Blackpool, the revue Gangway at the London Palladium and in a revival of Rudolph Friml’s operetta, The Vagabond King at the Winter Garden Theatre, London.
One of their most famous stage successes was Sweet Yesterday at the Adelphi Theatre in 1945, a “cape and sword” romance of the Napoleonic era which ran for more than 200 performances.
They were happiest on stage together just as themselves in either concert or variety. Inevitably their film career was a brief one, the most notable being The Laughing Lady (1946) and Demobbed (1946 – 1944!) a light-weight comedy in which they appeared opposite Norman Evans. They did not appear opposite Norman Evans but were guest stars in two brief episodes of the film!
With the advent of rock ‘n roll in the 1950s, the appeal of the duo towards the public began to fade and they decided to emigrate to South Africa, where they lived and worked until 1978. While there they wrote an autobiography Duet, published in 1951. They emigrated to South Africa in 1956 and the autobiography was published in the UK in 1951, 5 years before they emigrated!
On their return to Britain, they were astonished to discover that there was a boom in nostalgia and particularly with music from the 1930s and 1940s. Radio stations began playing their old hits and new albums were released including Sweethearts in Song (1979) and The Golden Age of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth (1980). They made numerous television appearances including on such programmes as Looks Familiar with Dennis Norden.
Although they were no longer in their prime as singers, they continued to appear on stage well into their seventies in old-time music hall and variety shows throughout the country. The venues may not have been as glamorous or the bills as prestigious, but older audiences held an obvious warmth and affection for the couple and they were admired by their peers for their stamina and professionalism.
The impresario Aubrey Phillips, whop presented the couple in concert at the Wimbledon Theatre in 1982, remembered how romantic they appeared. “It was very touching to see them at that age, holding hands together as they left the dressing room for the stage,” he said. “They were still very much in love and audiences could sense that. That was the secret of their enduring success.”
The couple had made their home in Colwyn Bay, North Wales and occasionally appeared in concert in Llandudno, often in company with their friend Jess Yates, the organist. They sang their last duet, I’ll See You Again at a concert in the town, in June 1983. (They sang this at a concert in Bridlington!)
Webster Booth died a year later at the age of 82. Ziegler, who remained supremely elegant to the end, spent her final days in a nursing home in Colwyn Bay.
There were no children.
As there were a number of errors in the obituary, I wrote an email to The Editor of the Times.
Anne’s funeral took place on 21 October at 2.00 pm. The organist played We’ll Gather Lilacs at the beginning and their recording of Now is the Hour was played at the end of the service as the coffin disappeared behind the curtain. One of Sally’s friends, Stanley, a member of the Rhos on Sea Savoyards, sang their signature tune, Only a Rose, during the service.
About forty people, including Webster’s grandson, Nicholas Webster Booth, and the Meals on Wheels ladies, attended the service on a rainy afternoon. Most of the people present had some firm connection with Anne, although there were a few curious “hangers-on”. Forty people did not seem a large number considering who she was and how many friends she had made over the years.
There were obituaries for Anne in papers all over the world, but I was saddened that little notice was paid to her death in South Africa, where she and Webster had lived and worked for twenty-two years. Errol sent an e-mail to the Afrikaans newspaper Die Beeld to inform them of Anne’s death but the paper made no mention of it.
A week or so later I was surprised to hear from Anne’s solicitors in Rhos on Sea that she had left me a legacy in her Will.
An abridged version of my letter was published in The Times in early November.
I contacted the actress and broadcaster, Clare Marshall at Radio Today to let her know that Anne had died. She was the only broadcaster in South Africa to pay a fitting tribute to Anne on the radio. Later I sent her copies of a number of their CDs and she continued to play them frequently on her Sunday morning programme, Morning Star. Sadly, Radio Today has changed direction and Clare’s programme is no longer featured on that station.
Ironically, Anne’s friend Babs, who was two years older than her, had died two weeks before Anne, leaving all her money – nearly £1,000,000 – to various charities.
I had known, admired and loved Anne and Webster, and had been deeply influenced by them for forty-three years, and Anne’s death was the end of an era for me. But I am left with a few sad, but many happy memories of them, some of which I have shared in this personal memoir. If they had never been able to sing a note, I would have loved them for their warm, generous and kind hearts, and as long as I live they will never be forgotten.
All the written material comes from my book: Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth which was published three years later in 2006.
Post updated on 26 July 2019