The first time I heard of plans to establish a scholarship in Webster Booth’s name at the Royal Northern College of Music was in a letter from Anne Ziegler, dated 20 November 1985, just over a year after Webster Booth’s death on 21 June 1984.
In a letter, Anne mentioned that a coffee morning had been held in the local church hall in aid of the Webster Booth Memorial Fund. Jean Buckley, Anne and Webster’s friend and fan of 42 years standing had proposed the idea of providing a scholarship in Webster’s name for a tenor to attend the RNCM for a year’s post-graduate study. Jean worked hard to raise money for the Fund and by the time Anne wrote to me £1,600 had been raised towards the initial goal of £3,500. Anne’s letter continued, “The place was packed – which delighted us. Everyone local turned up and it was a great success and we raised £400 towards the Fund.”
I wondered why the scholarship was to be awarded at the RNCM as Webster had studied singing with Dr Richard Wassall at the Midland Institute in Birmingham, fitting in lessons after he finished work at a firm of accountants. I knew that conductor Sir Charles Groves was chairman of the RNCM council at that time and Webster had often referred to him affectionately as “Charlie Groves” who had often conducted him in radio broadcasts, so I though that perhaps this was why Jean had chosen the RNCM for the Award.
Many years later, Jean Buckley told me why she had chosen the RNCM. In her late teens she had studied singing part-time at the Northern School of Music, Manchester. This school and the Royal Manchester College of Music amalgamated in 1975 to form the Royal Northern College of Music, which was producing singing graduates of a very high calibre. Manchester was not too far from North Wales where Anne, Jean and her husband, Maurice lived. The trip to the College for the annual competition would not be too onerous for Anne and it would not be necessary to stay overnight in the city after the Award had been presented.
Anne and Bonnie with Jean and Maurice Buckley on holiday in the nineties.
In 1985 Jean wrote to The Stage, as follows:
“Close friends and relations of the late Webster Booth are anxious to provide a yearly scholarship for a tenor student at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Any admirers of Webster Booth and the contribution he made to music world, who wish to join in this tribute, can send cheques or money orders to the Webster Booth Memorial Fund….Llandudno, Gwynedd.”
There was little response to her letter, but, undaunted, she continued to raise funds by making things to sell, doing clothing alterations for a small fee, organising raffles, and collecting donations to the Fund from friends, fans, relatives of Webster and Anne, and local neighbours. Donations were often as little as £1 or £2, but occasionally bigger donations were made by societies such as the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society. Webster’s older brother, Edwin Norman Booth, his wife Annie and daughter Margaret took great interest in the progress of the Fund and helped Jean with fund-raising. Annie made beautiful rag dolls to sell, and each member of the family made regular substantial donations. Jean’s early singing training at the Northern College also benefited the Fund in a round-about way. She and her accompanist, Maureen, began entertaining at hotels around Llandudno and all the money Jean earned in this way went towards the fund. To publicise the Award she gave talks to various societies and clubs about Anne and Webster’s career.
South Africa’s prime minister, P. W. Botha’s disappointing “Rubicon” speech saw the South African Rand rapidly lose value, but my husband and I were determined to make a donation although Anne discouraged me from doing so. Our R100 realised nearly £30 in 1986. At the time we thought the Rand was worthless but now, in 2017, R100 would exchange at less than £6!
Sir David Scott had been the British Ambassador to South Africa in the 1970s and Anne and Webster had been invited to the Embassy in Cape Town with the Kings’ Singers after one of their concerts. Brian Kay had persuaded them to sing The Keys of Heaven to his accompaniment at the gathering.
In the meantime, a friend of the Buckleys, music critic, John Robert Blunn suggested that they should contact the Palace Theatre, Manchester, managed by Bob Scott – later Sir Bob Scott – the son of Sir David. In turn, Sir Bob sent Mrs Buckley’s letter on to his father. Not only did Sir David make a generous personal donation but the New Moorgate Trust, a charitable fund based in London, which he managed, made a donation of £5000.00, giving a welcome boost to the Fund. Sir Bob also suggested that Jean should contact the Granada Trust and this Trust made a donation of £1000.00. Companies and deceased estates made substantial donations, including Lloyds Bank, N Smith Charitable Settlement, Tom Chandley Limited, and the Estate of Mary Paine. The Bramley Trust gave a generous donation to the Fund and Mrs Bramley made a personal donation to Jean to thank her for all her hard work. Needless to say, Jean added this amount to the Fund.
Jean’s friend, journalist and broadcaster Natalie Anglesey, interviewed her on the BBC about the Webster Booth Memorial Fund, bringing news of it to a wider radio audience. Jean’s interview with Natalie
On 6 June 1986 Jean was able to take a cheque for £3250.00 to the RNCM. The first Webster Booth Award was finally presented on 10 December 1986. Jean and Maurice had donated £500 for the prize rather than deplete the £3250.00 which Jean had given to the RNCM earlier that year.
The Duchess of Kent had presented diplomas to RNCM students at a graduation ceremony earlier that day so Jean and Anne were presented to her before she left the college. Later that evening Anne gave the cheque for £500.00 to tenor, Geraint Dodd, the first winner of the Webster Booth Award. There had been no time to hold a competition but the RNCM named Geraint Dodd as the most promising tenor of that year. In turn Geraint Dodd handed Anne a rose as he sang Only a Rose to her. Anne joined him in the singing and the audience, which included Joseph Ward (then head of Vocal Studies) and important guests who had attended the earlier graduation ceremony were touched and delighted. Anne was a STAR on that memorable night. Geraint Dodd joined the Welsh National Opera immediately after his graduation.
The following year, the prize money was increased to £750.00. The adjudicators of the competition were Alexander Young, Sylvia Jacobs and Caroline Crawshaw. Stephen Rooke, a Welsh tenor won the award and received his prize from Anne. It was hoped that the prize money the following year would increase further to £1000.00.
Maurice Buckley typed hundreds of letters to big business and in 1988 Esso plc became a sponsor for the Webster Booth Award. The RNCM also found an additional anonymous sponsor. With this sponsorship the award became much bigger in scope. Esso agreed to sponsor public concerts for the fund the following year. There would be three finalists competing for the award. In 1988 Anne was one of the three judges and presented the prize to New Zealander, Paul Whelan, then a bass baritone. Later Paul Whelan became a baritone and won the Song Prize in the Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 1993.
The prize was not awarded in 1989 but in 1990 the competition for the Webster Booth/Esso Award was held once again and this time the prize money was £5000.00. It had been decided that the competition would no longer be limited to tenors and that all male singers could enter the competition. In 1990 the panel of judges for the final were Ryland Davies (chairman), Anne Ziegler and Ava June.
At the end of 1990, at the suggestion of Joseph Ward, head of Vocal and Opera Studies, the College and Esso decided that a similar award should be made in Anne Ziegler’s name and the first Anne Ziegler/Esso Award for outstanding merit was made to Scottish soprano Rosalind Sutherland in 1991. This Award of £1000.00 was to be used towards the winner’s postgraduate studies at the RNCM. Prospective candidates were asked to perform works, including a duet, which reflected “the wide-ranging repertoire of the legendary tenor Webster Booth and his widow Anne Ziegler, whose remarkable partnership is commemorated in these awards”. By 1992 the competition was open to all suitably qualified singers regardless of gender.
The winner of the Webster Booth/Esso Award would receive £5000.00 for one year’s postgraduate study at the college, a stage audition at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and have engagements with the Hallé orchestra and the Camerata Orchestra. Under Esso sponsorship, the two prizes were awarded each year. Anne no longer judged the competition but continued to present the prizes and address the audience. Although she was over eighty and not in the best of health she continued to delight audiences with her charming speech at the finalists’ concerts. Anne was no longer performing so attending these concerts and presenting prizes to the winners gave her many more years of direct involvement with music than she would otherwise have enjoyed. She always said that on these wonderful occasions she and Jean were “treated like royalty” by everyone associated with the presentation at the RNCM.
Because of changes in company policy Esso terminated its sponsorship of the Webster Booth/Anne Ziegler awards in 1996. Esso gave a year’s notice about this change in order to give the Buckleys a chance to find new sponsors for the awards. In the interim period it was decided that the College would find £1000.00 for the Webster Booth Award while the original money raised by the Buckleys would yield £1000.00 for the Anne Ziegler Award.
Once again, the Buckleys began writing to various institutions hoping to find new sponsorship, including Arts for Everyone and the National Lottery, but unfortunately their appeal was turned down by both these institutions. The College in 2001 and 2002 found a generous sponsor in Chartered Accountants Lloyd Piggott.
In 2000, the year of Anne’s ninetieth birthday, the RNCM hosted a luncheon party for Anne at Bodysgallen Hall Hotel, Llanrhos. The RNCM was represented by Christopher Yates and Eileen Henry. Jean and Maurice Buckley and the winners of the Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler awards for that year, Sarah Cox (soprano) and Tom Raskin (tenor) were guests at the lunch. In 2001 the judges were Adele Leigh, John Savident and Caroline Crawshaw. Unfortunately Anne was unable to attend the competition. Her health was failing and she died two years later on 13 October 2003.
Sadly, the Webster Booth Award was discontinued after 2002 when soprano Lee Bissett from Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire, won £2000.00. She went on to represent Scotland in the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 2005.
Earlier winners of the Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler Awards who also represented their countries in the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, included:
Paul Whelan WB Award 1988 (baritone): New Zealand, 1993, Song Prize winner
Ashley Holland WB Award 1994 (baritone) England 1995
Rosalind Sutherland AZ Award 1991 (soprano) Scotland 1995 Finalist
Roland Wood WB Award 1998 (baritone) England 2003
The College continued to present the Anne Ziegler Award each year. When asked by the late Eileen Henry, Development Manager of the RNCM in 2002, Jean agreed that the Anne Ziegler Award should continue, funded by the remaining money she and her husband Maurice had helped to raise. I am not sure if Anne’s award continues as I have lost contact with the RNCM and Jean Buckley is no longer in good health. The winner in 2009 was tenor Sipho Fubesi from Centane, Eastern Cape, South Africa, which would have pleased Anne since she and Webster had lived and worked in South Africa for 22 years.
WEBSTER BOOTH AWARD WINNERS
1986 Geraint Dodd, tenor
1987 Stephen Rooke, tenor, Wales
1989 No prize awarded
1995 Darrell Babidge – baritone (shared)
1996 Mari-Kjersti Tennfjord – soprano
1997 Antonia Sotgiu – mezzo soprano
1999 Toby Stafford-Allen – baritone
ANNE ZIEGLER AWARD WINNERS
1997 Daniel Broad baritone
2002 Stephen Pascoe – baritone
After 2005 the concert was no longer held and the award was made to a promising singer by the Head of Vocal and Operatic Studies in consultation with departmental staff.
2006 Sarah Lawson
2007 Cressida van Gordon – soprano
2015/16 Fiona Finsbury
Suzie Thompson, the Director of Development at the RNCM told me that in 2016 it was decided that the College had been funding the Anne Ziegler award for a number of years without any external funding to support the payment of the award. Several of the prizes were cut in that year. Apart from financial considerations, the students were under great pressure preparing for an increasing number of prizes and competitions so it was thought that it would be better that they should compete for fewer prizes.
Jean Buckley died in July 2017 and I believe she made a bequest to the RNCM to present an award in the joint names of her and her late husband, Maurice, who did so much work to create and finance the Webster Booth award in 1986.
So the story of the Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler awards at the RNCM comes to an end, although perhaps one day a new sponsor might be found to reinstate them The names of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler might have been forgotten historical musical figures today, but thanks to the efforts of Jean and the late Maurice Buckley, and the generosity of the RNCM in creating and staging the awards for some time, Anne and Webster’s names and voices are known to many professional singers of the present generation.
I heard this morning that Joseph Ward, head of opera studies at the RNCM for 18 years until 1991 when he took up a position in Australia, had died. He was a staunch supporter of the work that the late Jean Buckley had done to promote the Webster Booth award at the RNCM and said in a letter to her in 1991:
I would like to take this opportunity of thanking you especially for your hard work in promoting the Webster Booth Esso award. In doing so you have established a very valuable scholarship which has already benefitted several of our students and will, no doubt, continue to promote the careers of young singers for many years to come.
Sadly, Esso withdrew its sponsorship of the award several years later.
© December 2009
Updated January 2019