MISSING RECORDS FROM WEBSTER BOOTH/ANNE ZIEGLER DISCOGRAPHY.

If anyone has any of the recordings listed below, I would be very glad to have an MP3 of any one of them so that I can add it to the list of recordings in this group.

Missing Recordings

I read a post in The Golden Age of British Dance Bands by Javier Soria Laso about a data bass on the internet: (http://www.kellydatabase.org/Entry.aspx). I discovered a number of recordings by Webster Booth which I had not seen before – some of them had never been released. He featured in recordings by the HMV Light Opera Company and the Light Opera Male Chorus, sometimes in the chorus and sometimes as a soloist. I have included these recordings in my original list of missing recordings.

I wonder whether the unreleased recordings are still in circulation or whether they were discarded by HMV. I have a recording of Beauty’s Eyes (Tosti) which is marked as unreleased, also Anne Ziegler’s test recording of the Waltz Song from Merrie England. Possibly they were obtained from the Booths’ private record collection.

If anyone has any of the recordings listed below, I would be very glad to have an MP3 of any one of them so that I can add it to the list of recordings in this group.

WEBSTER BOOTH: Test recordings Serenata, Macushla Webster Booth, Reginald Paul, C Studio, Small Queens Hall, London, 20 November 1929.

Here Comes the Bride Selection (Schwartz) Light Opera Company with Alice Moxon, Stuart Robertson, Webster Booth, George Baker/Ray Noble/Studio C, Small Queens Hall, London/Cc18897-4, 25 March 1930.

C1890 Three Musketeers: Vocal Gems (Friml, Grey & Woodhouse),  Queen of my heart, Your eyes, March of the Musketeersparts 1 and 2, C Studio, Small Queen’s Hall, London, 7 April 1930. LIGHT OPERA COMPANY, ORCHESTRA: RAY NOBLE,  ALICE MOXON soprano, BESSIE JONES soprano, NELLIE WALKER contralto, ESSIE ACKLAND contralto, WALTER GLYNNE tenor, WEBSTER BOOTH tenor, GEORGE BAKER baritone, STUART ROBERTSON bass-baritone.

C1920 C B Cochrane’s 1930 Revue: Vocal Gems, parts 1 and 2 : Piccadilly, With a song in my heart,  Heaven, All the things you do,  Part 2: Bakerloo, Just as we used to do, The wind in the willows, What became of Mary? C Studio, Small Queen’s Hall London,  16 May 1930.  LIGHT OPERA COMPANY, ORCHESTRA: RAY NOBLE,  BESSIE JONES soprano, Alice MOXON soprano, NELLIE WALKER contralto, ESSIE ACKLAND contralto, WEBSTER BOOTH tenor, WALTER GLYNNE tenor, GEORGE BAKER baritone, STUART ROBERTSON bass-baritone.

Decca K630 HMS Pinafore Vocal Gems/Gilbert and Sullivan, Anne Welch, Victor Conway, Doris Owens, Webster Booth (1931)

I’m alone because I love you (Joe Young)/ When it’s sunset on the Nile (Ray Ellison & Ted RenardKensington Cinema, London, 6 March 1931. WEBSTER BOOTH tenor, W. BRUCE-JAMES organ Not released by HMV.

C2229 White Horse Inn: Vocal gems (Benatzky-Stolz), parts 1:   White Horse Inn, My song of love, Your eyes; Part 2 Ho-Dri-Ho, Goodbye, Sigesmund, It would be wonderful, Small Queen’s Hall London,  8 May 1931/14 May 1931, LIGHT OPERA COMPANY, Orchestra: RAY NOBLE,  BESSIE JONES soprano, NELLIE WALKER soprano, ESSIE ACKLAND contalto, GEORGE BAKER baritone,  STUART ROBERTSON bass-baritone,JOHN TURNER tenor,WEBSTER BOOTH tenor.

I have this recording. Webster must feature in the chorus for his solo voice cannot be heard.

C2501 Musical Comedy Marches, No 2 Studio, Abbey Road London,  7 November 1932,
LIGHT OPERA COMPANY Orchestra: RAY NOBLE, JOHN TURNER tenor, WEBSTER BOOTH tenor, WALTER GLYNNE tenor, LEONARD GOWINGS tenor,  GEORGE BAKER baritone, STUART ROBERTSON bass-baritone, EDWARD HALLAND bass.

C2511 Robert Burns Medley, parts 1 and 2: My love is like a red red rose,Green grow the rashes-O, Afton Water, No 2 Studio, Abbey Road London, 5 December 1932, 
LIGHT OPERA COMPANY (orchestra: LAWRENCE COLLINGWOOD)  ALICE MOXON soprano, BESSIE JONES soprano, NELLIE WALKER soprano, ESSIE ACKLAND contralto, WEBSTER BOOTH tenor, WALTER GLYNNE tenor, GEORGE BAKER baritone, DENNIS ARUNDEL baritone.

C2716 Ballad Memories, Light Opera Company, including Peter Dawson, Webster Booth, Walter Glynne, George Baker, Gladys Peel, Essie Ackland. Date unknown.

Columbia DB 1658 ORCHESTRE RAYMONDE, with Webster Booth, tenor and Angela Parselles, soprano, Cond. George Walter (real name Walter Goehr) Date unknown.

B8078 A dream of paradise (Claude Littleton & Hamilton Gray)/The old rustic bridge by the mill (Joseph P Skelly) Kingsway Hall, London, 23 October 1933, WALTER GLYNNE tenor, CHORUS, organ HERBERT DAWSON (orchestra Lawrance COLLINGWOOD)  WEBSTER BOOTH tenor, JOHN TURNER tenor, EDWARD HALLAND baritone, PETER DAWSON bass-baritone, GEORGE BAKER baritone.

B8071 Sweet Genevieve (Tucker), solo STUART ROBERTSON;  At Trinity Church (Fred Gilbert), solo GEORGE BAKER; The honeysuckle and the bee (Fitz & Penn), solo STUART ROBERTSON; b) If you want to know the time (E W Rogers), solo GEORGE BAKER  Studio No 1, Abbey Road London England,  7 November 1933 LIGHT OPERA MALE CHORUS (orchestra: CLIFFORD GREENWOOD) WEBSTER BOOTH tenor, JOHN TURNER tenor, EDWARD HALLAND bass, LEONARD HUBBARD baritone.

This recording may be heard on Clypit: https://clyp.it/fjwbx5vs Thanks to Robert Godridge.

B8081 The saucy Arethusa (trad.), solo STUART ROBERTSON; The Bay of Biscay (Davy) Studio No 1, Abbey Road, London,  7 November 1933,
 LIGHT OPERA MALE CHORUS (orchestra CLIFFORD GREENWOOD)  WEBSTER BOOTH tenor, JOHN TURNER tenor, EDWARD HALLAND bass, LEONARD HUBBARD baritone

B8105 The glory of the Motherland (McCall); England (Besly); No 2 Studio, Abbey Road, London ,11 January 1934  PETER DAWSON bass-baritone (orchestra: CLIFFORD GREENWOOD), MALE QUARTET  JOHN TURNER, tenor, WEBSTER BOOTH tenor, GEORGE BAKER baritone, STUART ROBERTSON, bass.

C2814Neapolitan Nights, Selection sung in English: O sole mio; Torna; Funiculì Funiculà  Studio 1, London, 20 December 1935, LIGHT OPERA COMPANY, Orchestra: WALTER GOEHR,  INA SOUEZ (sop), WEBSTER BOOTH (ten) Chorus 8 men

C2827 Tosti Medley Part 1: Parted; Marechiare; Vorrei morire; Part 2: L’ultima canzone; Ideale; Mattinata; Goodbye, Studio 1. London 11 February 1936, LIGHT OPERA COMPANY Orchestra: WALTER GOEHR,  INA SOUEZ (sop), WEBSTER BOOTH (ten) Chorus 8 men (as La Scala Singers) Released1938?  

C2834 Spanish Medley, part 1 – Perjura; Lolita; La paloma; part 2 – La partida, El relicario; Ay ay ay, Studio 1, London, 10 February 1936 (as Sevillian Serenaders)
 LIGHT OPERA COMPANY (orchestra: WALTER GOEHR) INA SOUEZ (sop), WEBSTER BOOTH (ten) Chorus 8 men.

Waltz song (German)/Indian love call (Friml) Studio 3, London ,10 March 1936,
 ANNE ZIEGLER (sop)(p) Test recordings.

B8476I’m all alone/May; I’ll wait for you/ May, Webster Booth, Conductor: George Scott-Wood, Studio 2, London, 21 July 1936, released December 1936, deleted July 1939.

September 1936Gramophone. Webster Booth is a little off colour this month in two songs by May and Feiner, I’m All Alone and I’ll Wait for You, both with orchestra on HMV B8476 (2S. 6d.), but this does not detract from the fact that Mr Booth is probably the finest light tenor before the public to-day. 

CARELESS RAPTURE Selection (Ivor Novello) Side 1.   Why Is There Ever Goodbye?/Music In May,   Side 2.   The Manchuko/Finale – Music In May. 23 October 1936.

Released in December 1936 and deleted in April 1941.

C2878 Memories of Lehár, part 1: You are my heart’s delight, Love’s melody, Smokeland, Gipsy love; part 2: Foreign Legion, Count of Luxembourg, Love’s melody  Studio 2, London, 23 October 1936, LIGHT OPERA COMPANY, soloists ERIKA STORM, WEBSTER BOOTH (ten), BBC Male Voice Quartet (orchestra: WALTER GOEHR)

Gems from Glamorous Night (Novello) Webster Booth, Muriel Barron (number and date unknown)

My star/Little Son (Bassett Silver),  Studio 1 London  10 February 1937 
 WEBSTER BOOTH (ten) (orchestra: CLIFFORD GREENWOOD) Unissued.

I was sent these recordings by Bassett Silver’s son.

You’re mine (Sievier, de Rance) Studio 1, London, 10 February 1937
 WEBSTER BOOTH (ten)(orchestra WALTER GOEHR) Unissued.

Lakmé: O fair vision (Delibes, trans Claude Aveling) London,3 March 1939 
WEBSTER BOOTH (ten), LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA (WARWICK BRAITHWAITE) Unissued.

Soft and pure fraught with love (Flotow, trans Claude Aveling) London,  3 March 1939, 
WEBSTER BOOTH (ten), LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA:WARWICK BRAITHWAITE. Unissued.

Ave Maria/Schubert, Webster Booth (tenor) Ernest Lush (piano) 11 August 1939 Unpublished

DB 1877 MELODY OF THE WALTZ – Part 1: Waltzes by Gung’l; MELODY OF THE WALTZ; Part 2 : Waltzes by Gung’l, THE BOHEMIANS: light orchestra with Al Bollington at the Abbey Road studio Compton organ and Webster Booth, tenor. Released in October 1939 and deleted in February 1944.

B9030 Rosita (Kennedy/Carr)/When you wish upon a star (Harline & Washington)(Pinocchio)  Studio 1, London, 28 February 1940, WEBSTER BOOTH (ten) (orchestra CHARLES PRENTICE) Released April 1940. Deleted February 1944.

Rose of England: Crest of the Wave (Novello)/Beauty’s Eyes (F Paolo Tosti; F J Weatherley) Studio 3, London,27 March, 1941.
WEBSTER BOOTH (ten)(piano GERALD MOORE) Unissued.

I have Webster’s recording of Beauty’s Eyes by Tosti.

Merrie England: Come to Arcadie (German) Studio 3, London, 19 October 1941,

ANNE ZIEGLER (sop), WEBSTER BOOTH (ten) (orchestra: DEBROY SOMERS) Unissued.

July 1945 – War records Webster Booth, Sydney Burchall and Clarence Wright, sang in Songs Our Boys Sang and Marching Times.

These records were not for sale to the general public, but sets were available at most of the 5300 National Savings Centres throughout the Country. Further information was available from the National Savings Committee, Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, SW1.

Oft in the stilly night (trad; Tom Moore)/There is no death (O’Hara; Johnstone) St Mark’s Church, Hamilton Terrace, London , 11 January,1946 , WEBSTER BOOTH (ten) (organ HERBERT DAWSON) Unissued. Webster also made a recording of There is no Death for HMV which was issued.

B9502All Soul’s Day/ Richard Strauss; Memory Island/ Harrison/ Gerald Moore, 27 February 1946. Released October 1946. Deleted March 1952. OEA10882/3

October 1946 Gramophone Webster Booth (tenor), Gerald Moore (piano): All Soul’s Day, opus No 8 (Bernhoff/Richard Strauss); Memory Island (Askew/Harrison) HMV B9502 (10”)

Richard Strauss’s setting of All Soul’s Day calls for singing of considerable emotional stress, and when Webster Booth gets impassioned his voice loses the easy charm that is its chief characteristic. His words are a model of distinctness and the accompaniment of Gerald Moore is perfect, but the song is not a very happy choice.

The singer is more at home in Memory Island, in which a sailor home from the sea for good, casts his memory back, Masefield-wise, to the blue lagoons, coral islands and what not of the rover. It is a nice song with, for its type, an unusually good accompaniment.

Without a song (V Youmans; W Rose and E Eluscu)/ My song goes round the world (E Neubach; English version K J Kennedy, ?Hans May) London,8 January 1948, 
WEBSTER BOOTH (ten) Orchestra: ERIC ROBINSON Unissued.

If my songs were only winged (Reynaldo Hahn) London, 11 July 1950,  WEBSTER BOOTH (ten) Orchestra: MARK LUBBOCK Unissued.

Countess Maritza: Komm Zigeuner (Kalman; McConnell)  London,20 December 1950,
WEBSTER BOOTH (ten) Orchestra: MARK LUBBOCK Unissued.

Decca F9921 Sanctuary of the Heart (Ketelby)He Bought My Heart At Calvary (Hamblen) with choir of St Stephen’s Church Dulwich, Fela Sowande (organ) June 1952

Jean Collen Updated: 10 September, 2019

THE ANNE ZIEGLER AND WEBSTER BOOTH STORY – PART ONE.

They fell in love, although at the time he was married to his second wife, Paddy Prior and had a son, Keith, by his first marriage. Four years later, after his divorce from Paddy in times when divorce was not as common or acceptable as it is today, Anne and Webster were married on Bonfire Night in 1938.

Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth first met during the filming of The Faust Fantasy in 1934/35

Anne Ziegler, the widow and singing partner of Webster Booth, died in Llandudno, North Wales, on 13 October 2003, at the age of 93. Her death brought an end to an era in British entertainment before and after the Second World War. Her death brings an end to an era for me also.

I was seventeen when I first met them at the end of 1960. They were already middle-aged, in the same age group as my parents, their top-flight stage career in Britain behind them. I was too young to have seen them at the height of their fame, but even then I thought them a shining couple, as I still do over fifty-nine years later.

Although I was too young to have seen them on stage in the days of their great success in the forties and early fifties, I believe their success was due to the wonderful blend of the voices, creating a special, instantly recognisable sound, and their contrasting good looks, she beautifully gowned, he in full evening dress. Above all, they were instantly likeable with charming personalities, and possessed an elusive ability to make people adore them.

In their day, in the thirties, forties and fifties, Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth were stars of stage, screen, radio, concert halls and variety theatres, and made over a thousand 78 rpms, either as duets or solos. Webster was also in demand as tenor soloist in oratorio: Handel’s Messiah, Jephtha, Samson, Acis and Galatea, Judas Maccabbeus, and  Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, to mention but a few. Before the Second World War, he had sung Coleridge Taylor’s Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast in full Native American costume, and in 1955 on the occasion of Sir Malcolm Sargent’s birthday concert, Sir Malcolm requested particularly that he should be the tenor soloist in the same work.

Webster became a Mason, and was a proud member of the Savage Club, where he often sang at their legendary Saturday night entertainments. These entertainments were arranged by Joe Batten, the eminent sound recordist and producer at Columbia Records. When Webster had something important to do he always wore his distinctive striped Savage Club tie to bring him luck. While still in his early thirties, Webster was made a Life Governor of the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead.

Webster was also in demand as tenor soloist in oratorio: Handel’s Messiah, Jephtha, Samson, Acis and Galatea, Judas Maccabbeus, and  Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, to mention but a few. Before the Second World War, he had sung Coleridge Taylor’s Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast in full Native American costume, and in 1955 on the occasion of Sir Malcolm Sargent’s birthday concert, Sir Malcolm requested particularly that he should be the tenor soloist in the same work.

By the time he met Anne Ziegler during the filming of the colour film Faust in 1934, he was married to his second wife, Paddy Prior. He had divorced his first wife, Winifred Keey in 1931 after she had deserted him and their small son, and married Paddy Prior, a talented dancer, comedienne and soubrette in October 1932. The couple’s marriage was  happy in the beginning and they appeared together in several concert parties, the Piccadilly Revels, Scarboroough in 1933 and Sunshine at Shanklin in 1934.

Shortly after he met Anne Ziegler he took the lead in an ill-fated production of Kurt Weill’s A Kingdom for a Cow at the Savoy Theatre. His leading lady was the well-known French singer Jacqueline Francel. In Anne and Webster’s joint autobiography, Duet, he said that the play was probably ahead of its time in its handling of complex social issues, which made it too heavy for audiences of the day, who expected lighter fare in musicals. Apart from the unusual subject matter, rehearsals were stormy and the direction contradictory, so despite Weill’s pleasing music and a strong cast, the play closed after just three weeks. The London Dramatic Critic from The Scotsman gave the piece a good review, and mentioned that “Mr Webster Booth as the hero also deserves praise for his fine singing”.

Webster and Paddy Prior, his second wife.

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Sadly, his marriage did not last after he met Anne. Paddy divorced him, naming Anne as co-respondent. He and Anne were married on Bonfire Night in 1938. Webster Booth soon formed a duet partnership with his wife in addition to his extensive recording, film, oratorio and concert work.

 

Webster was contracted to HMV for over twenty years and recorded more than a thousand solos, duets, trios and quartets. His lighter recordings include selections from Ivor Novello musicals with Helen Hill, Olive Gilbert and Stuart Robertson; Theatreland at Coronation Time with South African soprano Garda Hall, and Sam Costa; excerpts from Snow White with Nora Savage, conducted by George Scott-Wood, the composer of Shy Serenade. He made many anonymous recordings as a member of the HMV Light Opera Company. He was the “with vocal refrain” on a series of records made with Carlos Santana and his Accordion Band on the Brunswick label, and on a record of Chappell Ballads with Jack Hylton’s band. Carlos Santana was one of the many aliases used by Harry Bidgood. His better known alias was Primo Scala, the leader of another accordion band, but he did many other things like conducting film music and arranging music and while he was still at school he had written the music for his school song.

His recordings of the late nineteen-thirties and nineteen-forties encompassed oratorio, opera and ballads, as well as duets with Anne. Webster’s more serious recordings were often under the baton of Malcolm Sargent, Lawrance Collingwood, Basil Cameron or rwick Braithwaite with the Hallé, the Liverpool Philharmonic or the Royal Philharmonic Orchestras. His recordings with piano accompaniment were nearly always with the eminent accompanist Gerald Moore.

Webster enjoyed telling the story of a particular recording session with Gerald Moore. They had one more song to record before the session ended. The song was Phil, the Fluter’s Ball, and Gerald Moore suggested that they should see how fast he could play it and how fast Webster could sing it with clear diction. This was no problem for the finest accompanist in the world and for a singer who had spent four years performing Gilbert and Sullivan with the D’Oyly Carte Company. His oratorio recordings are particularly fine. The solos in Samson from the moving recitative O loss of sight and the following aria,Total Eclipse, to the fiery Why does the God of Israel sleep?, with its unrelenting Handelian runs, demonstrate how easily he moved from one mood to another, always singing with flawless technique and clear diction.

He made recordings with other distinguished singers of the day in operatic ensembles, such as the quartet from Rigoletto, with Noel Edie, Arnold Matters and Edith Coates, to the trio from Faust with Joan Cross and Norman Walker. He sang duets with soprano Joan Cross and baritone Dennis Noble from La Bohème and the Miserere from Il Trovatore with Joan Cross. He recorded duets with the baritone Dennis Noble from the Victorian and Edwardian Excelsior and Watchman, what of the night? to the brilliant extended scene in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. He recorded the duet in Madame Butterfly with Australian soprano Joan Hammond.

When Joan Hammond first arrived in England from Australia, she had a sweet lyrical soprano voice. She sang her first Messiah in England with Webster as tenor soloist under the baton of Sir Thomas Beecham. But by the time they recorded the Madame Butterfly duet, several years later, Joan Hammond had become a dramatic soprano and her voice was very much bigger than it had been when she first arrived in England. Joan had to stand much further away from the microphone than Webster in order for the sound engineer to get the balance for the duet right. Webster also sang excerpts from Carmen with the Sadler’s Wells chorus and orchestra, with Dennis Noble, and with Nancy Evans, Anne’s old friend from Liverpool, as Carmen.

At the beginning of the Second World War, he recorded The Lost Chord at the Kingsway Hall in London, accompanied by the organist Herbert Dawson. As they were reaching the end of the song, the All Clear siren sounded, which meant they had to redo the recording to cut out the sound of the siren. There had been no air raids at that early stage of the war so presumably the sirens were being given a trial run. The blitz was yet to come and would destroy Webster’s beloved Queen’s Hall.

ANNE ZIEGLER (1910 – 2003)


Anne was born Irené Frances Eastwood in Liverpool on 22 June 1910. 
From over two hundred other hopefuls she was chosen for the part of Marguerite for the film, the Faust Fantasy: no doubt her blonde good looks and charming personality counted for nearly as much as her attractive lyric soprano voice. It was in the making of this film, which commenced shooting in December 1934, that she met Webster Booth, playing opposite her as Faust.

During the making of the film they fell in love , although at the time he was married to his second wife, Paddy Prior, and had a son, Keith, by his first marriage to Winifred Keey. Four years later, after his divorce from Paddy in times when divorce was not as common or acceptable as it is today, Anne and Webster were married on Bonfire Night in 1938.

During those intervening four years, Anne was an overnight success on radio in The Chocolate Soldier, sang in a concert party in 1935 called  Summer Smiles during the summer season at Ryde, an engagement she did not really enjoy much. There she acquired her first devoted fan, a girl aged 15, who kept in close touch with her for the rest of her life. 

 She played principal boy in her first pantomime, Mother Goose, at the Empire Theatre, Liverpool, which starred George Formby. In this pantomime she met Babs Wilson-Hill, the principal dancer in the show, who was to remain her closest friend for most of her life. During the 1936 pantomime season she and Babs appeared in another highly successful pantomime, Cinderella, in Edinburgh, this time with the Scottish comedian Will Fyffe as the star attraction.

Anne and Webster were both extremely popular and prolific broadcasters on the BBC, as well as the various European commercial broadcasting stations geared to the British market, such as Radio Lyons, Radio Luxembourg, Radio Normandy and Radio Eireann. Glancing through copies of The Radio Pictorial, commercial radio’s equivalent of The Radio Times, one sees frequent articles about them. Radio stars in the thirties obviously held the equivalent status of pop stars today.

Despite Anne’s success on stage and radio, recording companies had not shown any interest in putting her voice on record. She made a test recording of the Waltz Song from Merrie England in 1935, a recording which Webster managed to obtain from HMV. Eventually she did make a few solo recordings and sang in a Noel Coward medley with Joyce Grenfell and Graham Payn, but the bulk of her recordings were duets with Webster. My favourite solo recording of Anne’s is Raymond Loughborough’s A Song in the Night, which she sang on a Pathé film short in 1936.

Webster went to New York with her, hoping to find some stage work of his own, but, despite his great voice, he did not make any impact on the cut-throat American musical world. He attended various auditions in New York as an unknown, while in England he was already an established performer in oratorio, recording, films, and the West End stage. He returned to England, crestfallen at his lack of success, and resumed his numerous engagements. Anne, in the meantime, was hailed as a Broadway star and offered a film contract in Hollywood, with the idea that she would be the successor to Jeanette McDonald. The offer was tempting, but she turned it down to return to England and marry Webster Booth when his divorce from Paddy Prior was made final.

For most of her life Anne maintained that marriage to Webster meant more to her than any Hollywood contract, although in later years she sometimes reflected on what her life would have been like had she accepted the contract and become a Hollywood star.

Even before Webster’s divorce was made final they formed a duet partnership on stage, in addition to their solo work. From April 1938 they were singing together for Clarkson Rose. This is an advert from September of 1938, the month before Webster’s divorce was finalised.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 7-september-1938-with-twinkle.jpgThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 7-september-1938-azwb-pier-music-pavilion..png

Their first duet recording was made in the year after their marriage in 1939 –  If You were the Only Girl in the World, with A Paradise for Two on the flip side. Before this official recording she had sung with him as an anonymous soprano voice in a radio series in 1937 called The Voice of Romance. In this series he too was anonymous, but by this time, most people would have recognised his distinctive voice.

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In 1940 they accepted an offer from agent Julius Darewski to join the variety circuit. The money was good and they were well received on the variety halls, always doing their act without the aid of a microphone. If Webster Booth’s voice filled the Albert Hall when he sang the tenor part in Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha in Native American dress under the baton of Malcolm Sargent, the same voice, in harmony with his wife’s, filled the variety theatres from the London Palladium to all points of the United Kingdom.

They were the epitomé of glamour and romance. He was tall, dark and handsome. He was always in immaculate evening attire, she in a range of crinoline gowns, some designed by Norman Hartnell. Their act was interspersed with what seemed like off-the-cuff banter, but every word and move was meticulously planned, and the lighting plot carefully worked out for the most telling impact.

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Apart from the usual operatic arias and musical comedy duets, Anne and Webster sang and recorded a number of ballads, arranged as duets, and an interesting and difficult arrangement of Chopin’s famous Nocturne in C sharp minor, arranged by Maurice Besley. As often as not Webster would arrange the duet part himself if none had been written.

 

Jean Collen  COPYRIGHT 2005

Updated April 2019.
 

 
Join: The Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler Appreciation Group on Facebook.
 

Paddy Prior and Webster
Anne and Webster (1957)

EXTRACTS FROM MY TEENAGE DIARIES – AUGUST 1961

2 August – Another interview – at this rate I will never get the job I want – or even the job I don’t want!

3 August – I am thankful to see Webster looking hale and hearty when I go to studio. I ask how he is and he says in self-pitying little voice, “Well, I’m not as bad as I was but it’s still hanging over me, but I’ll soon shake it off.” He tries to make a cup of tea but a fuse blows so he is upset because we can’t have tea after all. Listen to Dell singing Il Bacio – very well, I must admit. Hear Anne telling her that she started to learn languages as part of her musical training with John Tobin and, of course, she went all over the continent with her family.

Anne tells Dell to sing the last part of the song again and Dells says, “I think I’ve done enough for today, Miss Ziegler – she doesn’t want ME to hear her sing badly. Anne says, “Well, we’ll shut the door!”

When she goes I pay Anne and start on scales. She is thrilled with my tongue in the exercises. We go up quite high – On the high note my voice goes back and she imitates me and then says, “That’s unkind, isn’t it?” and I say, “Yes,” with my tongue in my cheek. She says, “Jean, you’ll have to excuse my hands,” and glances fondly at her lily-white, smooth hands, “But I’ve been gardening like mad yesterday. Someone gave me some plants and they simply had to go in.” I make a polite remark and somehow cannot imagine her digging in the garden.

We start on Oh Love and Anne makes Webster come and sing it with me. He can’t read the words so he sings them incorrectly. She looks around at him and he IS quite injured at being pulled up by her. Anyway, Webster and I get on quite well, but we must have looked a jolly funny couple of duettists as he’s about 43 years older than me. She says I must imagine that I am Delilah, trying to woo Samson and cut his hair off, and look on the aria vulgarly as chorus, verse, chorus, as they do in the jolly old musical comedy. “Singing is like selling Cappuccino stockings in John Orrs. You have to put everything you know into it to sell your songs.” Nice vulgar ideas from an ethereal Sweetheart of Song!

I tell her that I was listening to my voice on the tape and it sounds very cold and she replies with the nice, well-worn lecture, “Smile, use your eyes, have no inhibitions. She writes “Smile” on top of the Delilah song and says, “I should add ‘darn you’ as well, shouldn’t I? Yes?”

I depart and she admires my colour scheme. I say goodbye to Webster and he replies. He’s like a spaniel puppy today.

I go up to choir at night and tell Mr S that I want to sing a solo in the choir sometime. He is delighted and says that he’s crying out for soloists. When we come home, Mr S tells Mrs Weakly that I’m going to sing a solo. I don’t know whether she thinks this is a good idea or not!

Webster at night – I listen and record the programme. He starts off with two items from the Beecham recording of Solomon, a choral piece from the Brahms Requiem to Robert Schumann. Then he plays his own recording from Rigoletto, This One or That One, Care Nome sung by “my old friend, Gwen Catley, one of the most popular coloratura sopranos in Britain.” Gwen Catley has a lovely lyrical voice and she is really gorgeous. Then comes the quartet from Rigoletto – Webster, Edith Coates, Arnold Mattie and Noel Eadie.

King’s Rhapsody. Webster and Anne were asked by Ivor to make duet arrangements of – Someday My Heart will Awake and The Gates of Paradise, and finally We’ll Gather Lilacs from Perchance to Dream.

4 August – At night the guild goes to Fotheringham’s bakery and we have a bread-baking demonstration. I go with Joan, Ann, Dorothy and Mr and Mrs Spargo. Mr S says that instead of gadding about they could be listening to programmes on the radio, “like to your singing teacher, Jean.”

We have an interesting time at the bakery and cakes and drinks afterwards. On the way home Mrs S raves about the Booths. She tells me that she loves his programme. “He’s a lovely, kindly man – is he like that in real life?” “Yes, he’s a honey.”

“Anne Ziegler is sweet too of course. I remember hearing them sing Messiah and they sang it so reverently. They’re a lovely, humble, reverent couple and I love the way he says “Anne and I” on the radio.”  They ask where they live and where their studio is and I tell them about singing with Webster yesterday and about his ‘flu. We part on very good terms.

7 August Go into town to the dentist and meet Muriel Hicks and Michelle Aronstam from Vanderbijlpark. Both are at Teachers’ Training college, as is Janet Lockhart-Ross, and Biddy Lawrence. Jackie Keenan and Irene Stanton are at Natal Varsity. Betsy Draper is doing a Rhodesian matric and Pam Nicolai and Valerie le Cordeur work at Iscor.

8 August. – Go skating in morning and practise in the afternoon. Listen to Ivor Dennis at night and he reaches the very top of my list by playing a record by Webster – by Coleridge-Taylor. He says, “Most of the listeners will probably know that Webster and his charming wife came to settle here some years ago and they are heard often on the radio.” He is a sweet old man and plays very nicely indeed.

10 August – Go for an interview at SABC – very Afrikaans indeed. Talk to Pieter de Waal on the lift. I don’t think I’m going to get a job there!

Go to the studio and Webster answers the door in kindly, unclish fashion. Dell doesn’t do so well today and I am happy – bad me! When I go into the studio Anne is powdering her face and tells me that her eyes feel as though she has been crying for two days. They are happy with my scales and I feel a little more self-confident than I have done lately. Webster says, “Now do the same with Delilah’s aria.”

He makes tea and Anne says brightly, “Let’s have some of the new biscuits. Will you have one, Jean? They’re delicious.” We go on with the Samson and Delilah aria and they say it has improved but I must clip my consonants with the tip of the tongue. Webster is very red in the face today and doesn’t look very well. Anne gives me a few tongue exercises for my consonants and Webster dashes off to put 3d in his parking meter. I tell Anne that I might be starting work soon and what shall I do about lessons? She says that after 5 pm is a busy time but she’ll arrange something – never fear. She sounds reassuring so I hope she can.

11 August – Listen to Webster at night – he doesn’t play any of his own records. First Owen Brannigan singing The Trumpet Shall Sound, something from the Brahms’ Requiem, a chant by a Russian choir, and arias from Othello and songs from Kismet.

17 August – Go for interview at Barclays Bank, Simmond Street. I’m going to start there in October. Have lunch with Mummy and then go to Afrikaans eisteddfod and see about 20 little grade one girls singing – eek!

Go up to studio and Webster answers door and says in funny accent, “Helloo – Sit ye down.” Listen to Dell singing. Anne says something about Dell going to night spots and they suggest she is “hitting the bottle!” Dell goes out. She is wearing a leopard skin coat. I go in and Webster says impudently, “And how is Delilah today?” They are in the throes of the Afrikaans eisteddfod and have had two firsts and a second and hope for a few more prizes tonight. She is dressed to kill in a dress made of coat material.

Scales go quite well and they are pleased with high B. Webster says the Delilah aria is too pedantic and does one of his gruesome imitations. He says I must think of my voice as a ‘cello, and pretends he is playing it. He is funny at times.  Anne tells me how much she likes my white hat. She says, “Oh, it’s sweet, isn’t it, Boo?” He studies it for a moment and says that it’s utterly charming.  We say goodbye and I grin at Roselle, whose mother is with her. Come down on the lift whistling Only a Rose in complete abandon.

At choir I sing solo 4 times. I am to sing it on Sunday night.  Am listening to Webster now. He plays excerpts from La Bohème – him singing Your Tiny Hand is Frozen, then the duet in the last act with Webster and Joan Cross, and a duet with Dennis Noble.

20 August – Practise song for tonight – God help me! Absolutely massive congregation (for our church) about 80 or 90 and I feel grim – cold hands, warm face, and I try to think uplifting and confident thoughts. My doom arrives and I manage through it fairly well if not a bit tremblingly in my own heart.

Everyone in the choir says that it is good and I feel relieved that it is over. Well, that is my first solo over with reasonable success and I don’t think I let my parents or Webster and Anne down too badly. Let’s hope that future solos will be successively one per cent better and that I will actually enjoy singing them. Whew!

21 August – Go to eisteddfod in afternoon at Library theatre. Girls (Form 2) sing solos – My Skat is ‘n Boerseun.

24 August I practise the piano in the morning and then go to the Booths in the afternoon. Webster answers and looking worried, says, “I didn’t even hear you knocking!”  We start on scales and they are both delighted – I get B flat comfortably. They make me smile while I’m singing. Webster does this in wicked fashion by mimicking me and then he makes me sing The Lass with the Delicate Air and makes me smile again. High A in this is beautiful and they think so too.

Everything goes well. After about four lines of Delilah aria Anne stops me and I wonder what on earth I have done wrong. Webster looks quite thrilled and says, “That note was absolutely beautiful.” Anne says she had to stop me to tell me so. I feel very flattered. We do the aria again and work through it thoroughly.

Anne says, “You have a really lovely voice but you mustn’t be so mean with it – you must let everyone hear its beauty.”  I say, “It must be the Scots in me,” and we all have a good laugh.

Anne says that she’s been using all her spare time for the garden and her hands are in a terrible state – they look like the hands of a charwoman. I look at them – they’re lily-white – so I can’t resist saying that they look very nice. She says they’re very dry and she always puts oil in her bath for them but it still doesn’t help.

Webster goes down to put money in the parking meter. She says they have a recording of Delilah at home so she’ll lend it to me. It is done by Risé Stevens. I say that this is very kind of her.

She has a violent choking fit – swallows saliva wrong way and dashes up and into the kitchen to get some water. While she is there Roselle arrives with friend and I hear her telling Anne that friend has a lovely voice and she’d like Anne to audition her and give her verdict. Friend is evidently very nervous but she still thinks that Anne will put her into an opera right away!

Webster comes back and I finish the aria with reasonable success. Webster tells me, “You may think you look silly, but you don’t.”

Listen to Webster at night. He starts by playing O Thou That Tellest by a counter-tenor. He then plays Lift Up Your Heads by Jo’burg African Choral society. Very well sung indeed. He goes on to La Bohème – a well-known aria on every page. He goes on to Naughty Marietta and then plays, Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life “sung by Anne and myself.” Afterwards he says, “Well, that was Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth!” He plays out with the Pizzicato Polka.

He’s singing a solo on Monday night at the Yeoville Presbyterian Church.

26 August – At night I notice Webster’s solo appearamce mentioned in the church columns and also get quite a shock.

28 August 1961

The other day when Dell asked if she could change her lesson to Tuesday, Anne said, “Well, it’s OK for this Tuesday but the next week is his first night.” I thought at the time that she meant they were going to Lucia di Lammermoor in Pretoria but it says in the paper tonight that Webster is playing in the West End comedy success The Amorous Prawn as the title character, with Joan Blake and Simon Swindell! I didn’t even know about it.  Dad says we can go to see Webster in the play so that’s something to look forward to.

27 August. Sunday school. Mark is very naughty. In the afternoon go to Spargos and have a lovely time. We go for a drive and see Waverley, the block of flats where Webster and Anne used to live. We look in Rosebank shops. When we arrive back Mrs S pumps me with innumerable questions about Webster and Anne – Are they well off? Are they religious? I say I think they’re quite comfortable, that they are Anglicans but I don’t say whether they are religious. After dinner we go to Church. Ann comes and tells me that my singing last Sunday was gorgeous and it was a very difficult thing to sing. Leona says she liked the singing but not the aria!  I wonder if the Spargos want Joan to do singing. Poor them – they’d be a little worried if they could see the huge picture of Webster and Anne advertising beer!

Webster, Joan Blake and Ronald Hall in The Amorous Prawn

The Amorous Prawn – Ronald Hall, Joan Blake, and Webster

29 August – Go into town today for an interview with Sylvia Sullivan with whom I’m going to study piano. She has a very nice studio in Edinburgh Court in Von Brandis Street– quite a few rooms to it. She is middle-aged possibly as old as Anne. She is quite plump but very nice. I’m going to start next Wednesday.

I have to go to dentist afterwards so I go into John Orrs to kill time. The first person I see is Dell carrying a big bunch of flowers, with eye shadow plastered indiscriminately round the relevant regions and wearing her artificial leopard skin coat. She is going up to Webster and Anne. She has changed her time – perhaps because she doesn’t want me to hear her singing. She doesn’t see me but I expect she wouldn’t have been very affable had she seen me. I wonder if the flowers were for Anne.

30 August – Have lunch with mum and then pay another call to the dentist. I’ll be glad when it’s all over for another three months. At night I see another picture of Webster in paper with the rest of the cast – Simon Swindell, Gabriel Bayman, Joan Blake and Victor Melleney. Joan B has a protective arm around Webster’s shoulder. Caption is, “Comedy rehearsal is no joke,” and the whole cast looks grim. Webster looks cute with monocle but what will Anne say about Joan B?

Amorous Prawn rehearsal.

31 August – My 18th Birthday. Go for lesson and Anne is wearing a black jersey – very sexy indeed. A girl is there singing an Afrikaans song terribly and they battle over it with her. She tells them that she is having pupils on Saturday from a quarter to eight till 5 in the afternoon. She says she is not a bit nervous about singing because she has been on the stage since she was three. She is singing this song at a wedding and is worried about it. I expect, by the way she talks, that she will be a really gorgeous-looking girl, but she isn’t. She is tall with glasses and I dislike her on sight!

They are both thrilled with my scales but Anne says I must smile. She takes me over to the mirror so that I can practise there and puts her arm around me in protective fashion. I look in the mirror feeling like a cabbage next to her. I don’t really understand why I should smile when I’m singing scales!

We do Delilah aria and Webster says I mustn’t do it like a little girl because I am a grown woman! I say that I’m afraid to sing too loud in case I go out of tune. He says, “Well, you’re here to learn to sing, so sing out of tune!”  We go through the aria again with reasonable success. Anne says I must fill in all the vowel sounds for next week to see that I understand which ones I must use. I say, a little sarcastically, that instead of going out at night I can sit at home doing this!

Roselle’s mother phones to say that Roselle can’t come because she has an inflamed throat and has to stay in bed. Anne says to Webster, “I hope you reminded her that it is a five-week month so we won’t be making up the lesson.” No word of sympathy for poor Roselle and her throat.

When I go, I remark that I hope it will soon be cooler and she says, “Oh, but I love the summer. I think it’s gorgeous.”

I listen to Webster on the radio. He starts with the Sanctus from the Solemn Mass by Beethoven with Elisabeth Schwartzkopf and three other German singers. Webster says that the music is very hard on the voice.  He plays Malotte’s setting of the Lord’s Prayer sung by himself. Gerald Moore and Bertram Harrison are his accompanists. It is lovely. At this very moment, I am of the opinion that Webster is far more sincere in what he says than Anne.  He has Magic Flute as his opera, one of the two operas in which he sang at Covent Garden (NOT the principal role). He plays the opening scene from Gypsy Baron and this is really lovely. Webster forgot to bring the Samson and Delilah record for me. Perhaps he is too busy with the play.

ACCOMPANYING FOR WEBSTER BOOTH

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

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

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

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

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

ACCOMPANYING FOR WEBSTER

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

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

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

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

Me at about the time I was accompanying for Webster.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anne at a concert with Leslie Green (1961)

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

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

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

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

The great accompanist Gerald Moore
The great accompanist Gerald Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

-O-

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

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

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

Lawson Memorial Hall, Selkirk 31/3/1937

Drill Hall, Derby Choral Union 6/11/1937

Broadcast, Town Hall, B’ham 9/11/1938

BBC Home 3/12/1952

BBC Third 4/12/52

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I felt elated and terrified at the same time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-O-

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

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

Ruth Ormond.
Ruth Ormond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you think you did?”

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

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

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

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

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

-O-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dudley Holmes (Bass)
Dudley Holmes (Bass)

 

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

-O-

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

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

He was horrified when I told him.

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

I mumbled something about not wanting to disturb him.

“Of course you won’t disturb me.”

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

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

 Looking down Eloff Street from the studio balcony.

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

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

-O-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday was a red-letter day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sullivan’s The Lost Chord  (Webster Booth)

Abide With Me (Liddle) (Webster Booth)

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

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

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

Our house is Juno Street as it is today.

Our house is Juno Street as it is today.

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

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

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

Shandy – Webster christened her “my girlfriend”.

Shandy

Shandy

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

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

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

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

“I have enjoyed having you play for me, darling,” he added.

“So have I,” I replied fervently.

“We’ll see you on Tuesday, dear,” he said.

The following day Ruth phoned to tell me that Webster had raved about me at her lesson, and said how much he had enjoyed having dinner at my home. I phoned Anne to welcome her home and we chatted for an hour about her trip and how they had always dreamed of owning a smallholding in England, but would never be able to afford one now. And so ended the two wonderful weeks. I had enjoyed playing for the pupils, had acquitted myself creditably, and had got to know Webster very well. As time passed I would get to know him even better.

Jean Collen (first published in 2005)

Updated 5 November 2019.

©

Sylvia by Oley Speaks, sung by Webster Booth.