PROGRAMMES AND ADVERTS – 1953 – AUGUST 1956

Unlike the accepted view that Anne and Webster were losing popularity because of the rise of American entertainers and rock ‘n roll, they still had plenty of work from 1953 to 1956. Through no fault of their own they were struggling with the Inland Revenue so decided to move to South Africa in July of 1956.

18 February 1953 Ash Wednesday.
Elected Joint presidents of Concert Artistes’ Association.

Webster Booth was the guest of Roy Plomley on Desert Island Discs on the BBC Home Service on 3 April 1953.

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Opening of Desert Island Discs script. Sadly the recording is not available on the BBC webpage.
11 April 1953 – hardly something to commend him!

Anne as Mistress Knight and Webster as King Charles II in And So to Bed.

24 April 1953 – a poor crit for And so to Bed
in Coventry.
Diamond Wedding anniversary of Anne’s parents April 1953.
Anne and Webster went on an extensive tour of And So to Bed in the midst of many other commitments, particularly Merrie England in the Coronation Year.
Booths sing in concert version of Merrie England in Calgary on May 9 1953.
Merrie England at Luton Hoo with Douglas Fairbanks Junior

Merrie England at Luton Hoo.
CAA dinner 1953 Anne and Webster as presidents.
Advert – 1954

8 April 1954
15 April 1954

30 April 1954
16 May 1954

May 1954
Hiawatha concert had been cancelled for lack of interest. It was replaced by an extract from Aida.

21 September 1954 – Attack of Shingles. Far from “staying indoors for four or five days,” the pain troubled him periodically for many years to come.

28 October 1954
24 November 1954 – Victoria Congregational Church, Derby from Webster’s score.
15 December 1954

Webster’s score 10 December 1954
31 December 1954
I do not know whether Webster and Anne had any singing pupils in the UK.

27 May 1955 Gilbert and Sullivan concert.
29 April 1955 – Sir Malcolm Sargent’s birthday concert.
24 June 1955 – St Andrew’s Hall, Glasgow.
27 July 1955. Anne and Webster were presented to Princess Alexandra.

13 August 1955 Promenade Concert.
13 October 1955 Lady Audley’s Secret.
25 October 1955
November 1955 0n the way to South Africa for tour of Cape Province.

12 December 1955 – Arriving back in the UK again.

15 December 1955 Messiah, Huddersfield.

Huddersfield Town Hall

Return to South Africa for a further tour.

2 February 1956 Crit by Dora L. Sowden in Rand Daily Mail.

On “platteland tour”. Having tea in Bethal with accompanist, Arthur Tatler.
27 June 1956

Passenger List, Pretoria Castle – 12 July 1956.

On board the Pretoria Castle, 12 July 1956.

Signing the menu on board ship.
15 August 1956

WEBSTER BOOTH AND ANNE ZIEGLER – MERRIE ENGLAND

Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler were associated with Edward German’s comic opera, Merrie England for most of their lives, and they sang other Edward German songs into the bargain. Anne had taken the role of the May Queen in an amateur production of Merrie England when still in her teens, and she sang Bessie Throckmorton’s Waltz Song as a test recording when she auditioned for HMV in the nineteen-thirties. One of her few solo recordings was the Waltz Song from German’s Tom Jones. 

Webster, as part of the HMV Light Opera Company, had recorded The English RoseRobin Hood’s Wedding and With a Hey, Robin in the nineteen thirties’ recording of Merrie England Vocal Gems (C2106) He made his own solo recording of The English Rose in 1939. The latter recording was one of his most popular recordings. Later he made a recording of Where Haven Lies from German’s A Princess of Kensington and told me he considered this song to be “the greatest love song ever written”.

Bessie’s Waltz Song (test record for HMV)

Merrie England Vocal Gems (with Webster Booth)

24 April 1939 Another concert by the Glee Club – Merrie England. Eight years ago 16 music lovers met in a recreation room at North End and formed the nucleus of the Portsmouth Glee Club, now a well-known organisation. The first concert they produced in the Guildhall took the form of a Coronation presentation of Merrie England. That was on April 14, 1937. Since then they have given numerous performances and on Wednesday next will give a concert of the music by Sir Edward German. Olive Groves and Webster Booth, the opera singer will take part. The programme consists of excerpts from Merrie England, Nell Gwyn dances, which will be played by the orchestra, and a complete concert selection of A Princess of Kensington. This last-named will be performed by the full chorus and orchestra of the Glee Club under the direction of Mr Harold Hall.

20 November 1940 – Oldham Evening Chronicle

This performance, conducted by Ernest Craig in the darkest days of the war, was in aid of the Mayor’s Spitfire Fund. The Avro Works in Chadderton, just down the road was, of course, an important centre of aircraft production, although they made bombers, not fighters. Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, fairly recently married and among the most famous variety duettists of that time took part. Tickets rapidly sold out and a second performance had to be arranged in the evening.

They appeared together in Merrie England was in a concert version in a Circus Big Top in Blackpool in the summer of 1941.

In 1945 they starred in a concert performance of Merrie England with the Oldham Choral Society at the Odeon Cinema, Oldham. The performance took place on a Sunday afternoon, conducted by the resident conductor, Ernest Craig. The show was so popular that it had to be repeated again that evening by public demand.

Merrie England – Captivating Singing in Oldham.

So great was the demand for seats to hear the concert performance of Merrie England by the Oldham Musical Society and well-known soloists at the Odeon Theatre on Sunday that it was necessary to repeat it in the evening. Originally the intention had been to have only an afternoon performance. Both houses were full, and the audiences were enthusiastic.

This light opera, Edward German’s masterpiece, abounds in beautiful and easily remembered melodies and in gay and happy choruses. It was in these choruses that the members of the Musical Society, of whom 79 were to be counted on the platform (27 of them men) excelled. They have seldom been heard to better advantage and appeared to enjoy the performances as much as did the audiences. They were accompanied by an orchestra of 23 players led by Alfred Barker, under the baton of Mr Ernest Craig, ARCM.

Ernest Craig

The principal soloists were: Anne Ziegler, Bessie Collins, Webster Booth and Arthur Copley.

But it was in the early nineteen-fifties when Anne and Webster came into their own in Merrie England,  taking the starring roles of Bessie Throckmorton and Sir Walter Raleigh with various amateur operatic societies. The first such performance was from 15 – 18 August 1951 at Westbourne Gardens, Liskeard, Cornwall. The show was presented by Liskeard Musical Theatre, directed by Thomas J. Bell and conducted by Percival Hill.

24 June 1952 – Merrie England was performed at Priory Park, Chichester. The show was an open-air production presented by the Chichester Amateur Operatic Society and starred Anne and Webster in their usual roles, with Leslie Rands and Marjorie Eyres another husband and wife singing team, once distinguished members of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, playing the Earl of Essex and Jill-All-Alone in a week’s run in aid of charity in Priory Park, Chichester, Leslie’s birthplace. The remainder of the principals were drawn from the Chichester and Bognor Regis Amateur Operatic Society and Societies from the surrounding districts.

Merrie England – Anne and Marjorie Eyres sign autographs.

1953 was Coronation Year so Merrie England, set in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, seemed like an ideal work to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Anne and Webster were booked to appear in a number of these productions.

31 January 1953 – Northern Miner Luton’s Coronation pageant to be held in the grounds of Luton Hoo, one of England’s stateliest homes, from June 9 till June 15, will be one of the largest events of its kind ever staged in Britain. There will be more than 1000 performers, all in Elizabethan costume for this special version of Merrie England. The setting of the pageant will represent Old Windsor, with an impressive reproduction of the castle in the background.

A special feature will be an illuminated water curtain, which will screen the stage from the auditorium before the performance. The famous Luton Girls’ Choir will take part in the pageant and other well-known singers will support the principals – Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth. Mounted performers will be dressed in full uniform of the Yeomen of the Guard, and ballet, folk-dancing will be demonstrated by experts.

Calgary, Canada

There was even a concert performance of the work in Canada. An advance notice about this notified the public that it would take place in the Stampede Corral, Calgary in May conducted by Harold Ramsay, an old friend of the Booths. He had been born Harold Ramsbottom in England, but raised in Canada. He changed his name to Harold Ramsay and became a gifted cinema organist, first in Canada and the USA. He went to England in 1933 and became Granada’s Chief Organist. He returned to Canada after World War 2.

The Calgary Herald, 3 March 1953 read as follows:

17 April 1953 – Calgary Herald. Merrie England Presentation. British Stars Feature in Choral Society Début. When the Calgary Choral Society makes its first public appearance in the Stampede Corral on May 9, two of Britain’s brightest singing stars, Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler will be there to sing the leading tenor and soprano roles of the society’s Merrie England presentation…

The roles of Sir Walter and Bessie will be played by the British singers, who are making a special air trip to Canada for the production.

The two artists are probably the most popular singing team in the British concert stage today. They are familiar with the principal roles in Merrie England and having sung them on many occasions.

Webster Booth has been singing since he was a small boy. He began his singing career as a boy soprano in Lincoln Cathedral. When his voice broke he returned to his native Birmingham and took a job as a clerk in an accountant’s office.

Their trip to Canada in May will inaugurate the Calgary Choral Society which was organised last September by the Calgary Kiwanis Club. Music for Merrie England will be provided by 50 musicians drawn from the Calgary Symphony Orchestra.

The Calgary Choral Society has 188 male and female voices and from this group several have been selected to sing title roles in the production…Conductor of the choir is Harold Ramsay, director of Mount Royal Conservatory of Music and organist and choirmaster at Wesley United Church…

28 April 1953 – Ottawa Citizen. British Stars Flying 8,800 Miles to Sing – by the Canadian Press. London – Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler, Britain’s top man-and-wife operatic team, will ditch a well-earned holiday to fly 8,800 miles to a one-night stand in Calgary.

Calgarians can thank a long-standing friendship between the British couple and Harold Ramsay, former BBC organist who founded the Calgary Choral Society under the sponsorship of the Calgary Kiwanis Club.

Ramsay said wistfully in a letter describing a musical play he is producing: “I only wish you and Anne were free.”

The couple immediately gave up plans for a three-week holiday in France and will appear in the opening performance on May 9 of Merrie England, a Tudor production well suited to the coronation of the second Elizabeth. They will be the only professionals in an otherwise all-Canadian cast…Calgarians will be the more appreciative of Ramsay’s success because the Booths have leading roles in this country’s coronation summer entertainment plans.

The Calgary appearance will be one in a series of Merrie England performances. The first in the United Kingdom is scheduled to begin on June 1 at Newport, Wales. One of the biggest will be at the country home of Sir Harold Wernher at Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire.

Bulldozers have processed three acres for a vast open-air stage that will hold a cast of 1,000, of which 300 will be on horseback. Forty-one microphones have been installed to accommodate audiences of about 21,000 expected every day in a week-long festival starting on June 8.

It will be Miss Ziegler’s first trip to Canada. Booth last visited the country in the ‘20s when the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company toured North America. They will have three days’ holidays here before leaving for Calgary and will make a few radio, and possibly television appearances before returning by sea.

17 May 1953 MERRIE ENGLAND, Calgary, Canada; Kiwani’s Club sponsored Anne and Webster in one performance of Merrie England in the incongruous setting of the Rodeo Stadium, Calgary. As part of their fee they were treated to a memorable luxurious train journey through the Canadian Rockies to Montreal.

Although the show in Canada was a great success, the trip was spoilt when Webster suffered a severe bout of sciatica in his hip. He could barely move his right leg.

Here is the criticism of the show: Calgary Herald 11 May 1953

 Merrie England show pleases 6000 persons by Shirley McNeill 

From the opening chorus of Merrie England at the Stampede Corral Saturday night, the audience of 6,000 people who went to hear the premier performances of the Calgary Choral Society showed by their applause that hey approved heartily of what they heard.

Much of the success of the concert must be credited to singing stars Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler, who came all the way from England to appear with the society. This accomplished vocal team turned in performances that were polished and professional throughout.

The two other soloists of Merrie England, Calgarians Janet Warren and Ian Smith, are deserving of high praise for their roles in the delightful little opera. Mrs Warren’s vibrant contralto voice gave her roles of Jill-all-Alone and Elizabeth both contrast and warmth.

Mr Smith as the Earl of Essex was a convincing, confident performer. His deep well-rounded tones and the good control he displayed were a pleasure to hear.

But the man who deserves perhaps the greatest share of laurels for the success of Merrie England is Harold Ramsay, who in a few short months conducted the Calgary Choral Society to the high standard of musical accomplishment which they gave the audience on Saturday evening. It was Mr Ramsay’s job to conduct the choir as well as the 50 members of the Calgary Symphony Orchestra who gave instrumental support to the singers. This double duty was commendably performed.

One of the most rousing songs from Merrie England, the finale to the first part, It is a Tale of Robin Hood, was unfortunately distorted by loudspeakers, particularly for those members of the audience seated directly beneath them. The chorus and the four soloists combining voices in this finale were all too powerful a singing combination for the public address system set up to carry to all corners of the vast Corral. The microphones, however, were a necessary evil. Without them, it is doubtful if the concert would have been clearly audible to the entire audience.

The story of Elizabethan court days was incidental to the vocal beauty which Merrie England provoked in the ears of the audience. The rigid training program undergone by the Choral Society in recent months came to the fore in such selections as Sing a Down, a Down and the grand finale, Robin Hood’s Wedding.

The Singing courtship of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth as Bessie Throckmorton and Sir Walter Raleigh was romance of a high calibre, particularly so in such songs as Bessie’s Who shall say sic (The Waltz Song) and Raleigh’s The English Rose, one of the loveliest songs in the entire light opera.

With the concert version of Merrie England over, Miss Ziegler and Mr Booth delighted the audience with an aria from Faust, a medley of Viennese waltz songs and a comic performance of the popular Wunderbar.

Before singing this song from Broadway, the team had been presented with big white cowboy hats by Art Baines, president of the Calgary Kiwanis club which sponsored the concert. Miss Ziegler, wearing a black and gold hoop-skirted gown, tossed aside a feather hair adornment, and, assuming a genuine western air, donned the ten-gallon hat to the delight of the audience.

Stampede Corral, Calgary – opened in 1950

Anne and Webster signed the Coronation menu on the sea trip back to the UK.

1953 Calgary Merrie England

Luton’s Merrie EnglandComplete arrangements have been made for the Harold Fielding and Luton Coronation Pageant Committee production of Merrie England at the historic Luton Hoo house, nightly from June 9-13. With Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler will be Redvers Llewellyn, Nancy Evans, Graham Clifford, Betty Sagon, Amanda Rolfe, the Luton Girls’ Choir and the Irish Guards Band, conducted by Captain CH Jaeger. The producer is H Powell Lloyd.

June 1953 – Merrie England, Crescent Cinema, Leatherhead. Leatherhead Dramatic & Operatic Society’s 1953 Coronation production starring Webster Booth as Raleigh and Anne Ziegler as Bessie Throckmorton.

8 June 1953 – Merrie England, Luton Hoo Anne and Webster, the Luton Girls Choir. There were over 600 singers in the chorus, 200 dancers and 50 men on horseback. A massive 250 foot stage was created beside Luton Hoo lake for the performances.

Merrie England at Luton Hoo.

Merrie England 1953
Merrie England, Luton Hoo, June 1953.

Douglas Fairbanks Junior with Anne, Webster and other cast members of the Luton Hoo production of Merrie England.

Luton Hoo bigger

Luton’s Merrie EnglandComplete arrangements have been made for the Harold Fielding and Luton Coronation Pageant Committee production of Merrie England at the historic Luton Hoo house, nightly from June 9-13. With Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler will be Redvers Llewellyn, Nancy Evans, Graham Clifford, Betty Sagon, Amanda Rolfe, the Luton Girls’ Choir and the Irish Guards Band, conducted by Captain CH Jaeger. The producer is H Powell Lloyd.

8 June 1953 – Merrie England, Luton Hoo Anne and Webster, the Luton Girls Choir. There were over 600 singers in the chorus, 200 dancers and 50 men on horseback. A massive 250-foot stage was created beside Luton Hoo lake for the performances.

Pamela Davies remarked in her book, Do You Remember Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth? :

“After And so to Bed finished in April 1953, I was so busy preparing to go to work in the United States that I learned too late that Anne and Webster had taken part in a spectacular show in June, when Merrie England was staged as a pageant at the historic Luton Hoo. They had only just returned from a lightning trip to Canada, to take part in the same operetta. On a tour of Canada the following year I had a brief glimpse of the huge rodeo stadium in Calgary at the entrance to the Rockies where it was staged – a more unlikely setting for Merrie England is hard to imagine.”

Merrie England in South Africa

Webster and Anne moved to South Africa in 1956 and did two more full productions of Merrie England in 1958, one in East London and the final one in Johannesburg.

16 – 21 June 1958 – Merrie England, City Hall, East London. Anne and Webster, with Jimmy Nicholas, Mabel Fenney, Pam Emslie and others.

Merrie England 19581958 Merrie England 1958a

3 November 1958 – Merrie England – Anne and Webster know the show backwards.

Any Monday, Wednesday or Friday Evening of the past few weeks, Fox Street (corner of Eloff) has been ringing with loud, lusty singing of God Save Queen Elizabeth (sic).

It is not a new anti-republican movement but Johannesburg Operatic and Dramatic Society rehearsing Merrie England. And as one passing listener remarked the other night: “With things going as they are, it’s likely we shan’t ever again hear this kind of production here, isn’t it?”

This production of Merrie England, which opens at the Reps Theatre on November 12, has more to it than this “last ever” interest. For one thing, it has a cat. Jill-All-Alone (Marian Saunders) one of the characters of Edward German’s operetta has to sing a ditty to her cat. She is accused of witchcraft and Sputnik (owned by a member of the chorus) is as black as any witch could wish.

Used to noise. He comes from a musical household where (as his owner explained) he has been used to noise since kitten-hood.  At rehearsals, he lies in the laps of young ladies and purrs pleasantly.

Co-producers Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth are themselves a treat to watch. Anne, who plays Bessie Throckmorton has every little error taped: “You looked like a sack of potatoes there. Don’t stand as if you were at a South African tea-party – girls on one side, men on the other.”

How do they manage it almost without glancing at the text? “We know it backwards,” says Anne. DLS (Dora Sowden)

12 to 29 November 1958 – Merrie England, Reps Theatre, Johannesburg JODS. Anne and Webster starred and produced the show, with Marian Saunders, June Bass, Nohline Mitchell, Kenneth Anderson, Len Rosen, and Dudley Cock, conducted by Drummond Bell.

14 November 1958 – Merrie England

Merrie England, Johannesburg

 

Merrie England WB

All behaved well in Merrie England. Rand Daily Mail. Contrary to all misgivings, Sputnik the cat behave beautifully in Merrie England at his premiere. He seemed a little timid but he clung prettily to Jill All-Alone (Marian Saunders) and he looked once or twice at the audience as if told when to turn.

That was also the manner of the whole production. Everyone behaved beautifully, went through the paces well, and if there was some first-night timidity, it had worn off before the final curtain.

One day someone (an American perhaps) will revise the libretto, pep up the music and make a great musical out of it. There may be those then who will feel about it as the quartet of singers fell about Cupid dressed up – that they “wouldn’t complain if he was a naked child again.”

There was too much sauntering about by the principals, too much preparation for the onset of a song, too many obvious smiles and bows.

Yet there was much excellent material both in the piece and in the performance. Len Rosen, when he put weight into his voice made an amusing character of Walter Witkins, even though one couldn’t believe he was ever in Master Shakespeare’s company.

June Bass was a dainty minx as the May Queen, Nohline Mitchell the very figure of a stiff Queen Bess, and when she steadied up, as regal in voice.  Kenneth Anderson made much of The Yeomen of England but his appearance more resembled Malvolio than Lord Essex.

Not surprisingly, Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth (also produced) were thoroughly at ease in their roles.  Drummond Bell’s direction was as reliable as ever. DORA SOWDEN.

Tuneful English musical – an eyeful of pleasure – Oliver Walker – The Star. Odd’s fish, but what a punning rogue of a librettist we have here! Was he also yclept Edward German like the composer? Marry, it could well be, for, like the music, the words are at all times prettily true and truly pretty as if written in the shadow of a maypole…

Do not be put off by the “ie” in “Merrie”. This is old world stuff, but not olde worlde. The references to “Cupid’s garden” and the sweetness of the English roses are there. But not in any mimsy-pimsy way. And besides, Edward German’s music is made of sugar not saccharine.

Apart from a shortage of yeomen and bowmen to match the bevies of blooming dairy-maids, this is a spanking, handsome production behind whose liveliness of movement and apt “business” it is easy to detect the guiding hands of its two evergreen, debonair principals Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth.

Jerkined giant. What the men lacked in numbers they made up for in heroic stature. Dudley Cock was a tuneful giant in green jerkin. Emil Beth matched him in voice and presence, while Len Rosen’s Walter Wilkins was a veritable Malvolio in cross-gartered fantastical humour.

June Bass’s May Queen needed more lung-power and Marian Sanders’ Jill-all-alone was altogether too parlour-bred for a suspect witch. Nohline Mitchell’s Queen Bess was gowned and jewelled fit for a Holbein portrait but should spare the yellow make-up.  She was one of the several new voices of excellent promise in a production that gave an eyeful of pleasure and was always easy on the ear.

1958 – Merrie England – Star Oliver Walker wrote an article concerning the flop of Merrie England, a show which had proved a great success in places like East London and Port Elizabeth. “JODS will lose its boots on what is voted a very tuneful colourful musical.”

He wondered whether English musicals of this type were losing their appeal with Johannesburg audiences.

JODS – Merrie England At a committee meeting of JODS, the Booths said that they hoped that one day they would get a full cast at rehearsals. Not the most propitious conditions under which to work when trying to create a success for the society.

1968 Knysna Ten years later the Booths presented a concert version of Merrie England in Knysna shortly after they moved to the village.

1 to 13 July 1968: Merrie England (Concert Version)  at 8.15 pm Knysna and District Choral Society D R Church Hall, Fichat Street, Knysna Webster, Anne, Dorothy Davies, James Squier and Ena Van der Vyver, directed by Anne Ziegler, conducted by Webster Booth, Accompanist: Wanda Willis.

 

Jean Collen (updated 14 September 2018)