BOOTHS IN SOUTH AFRICA (1970 – 1976)

I found Webster and Squillie waiting for me at Plett airport. We had to go into the airport office to confirm my return flight. The woman on duty there recognised Webster and regarded us with keen interest.
We drove “home” in his blue Vauxhall Viva station wagon through the Knysna Forest to the settler cottage in Graham Street which they were so keen to sell. The countryside around Knysna was beautiful and I was lucky enough to see a steam train crossing the bridge over the water as we entered Knysna. I also remember seeing the Cottage Hospital, which reminded me of my TV favourite, Dr Findlay’s Casebook.
As we entered the house, Webster said, “You can do what you like in this house, darling.”

22 February 1970 Letter from Webster to Mabel Perkin in the UK.

6 May 1970 Anne and Webster appear on BBC2 in an interview with Sue MacGregor on Women’s Hour.

April 1970
27 April 1970
27 April 1970 (cintinued)
Poor photo accompanying the interview.

26 June 1970 I get married to Errol Collen at St James’ Presbyterian Church, Mars Street Malvern.

Jean and Errol with the Rev Nicol Binnie
24 August 1972 – Durban.
24 August 1972 – Durban.
24 August 1972 – Durban.
Birthday dinner for Fred Cropper (He and his daughter Freda lived on the top floor of the Booth’s house in Knysna, 1972)
Imperial Hotel, Knysna
Rent receipt book R75 per month for top flat at 18 Graham Street.
Dick Whittington for the Port Elizabeth Musical and Dramatic Society in Port Elizabeth 7 December 1972
Port Elizabeth 5 November 1972 – Thirty-fourth wedding anniversary.
March 1973. Mikado in East London. Shirley Smith interviews Webster.
4 to 14 April 1973. The Mikado at Guild Theatre, East London.
Webster directing the Mikado; Jean Fowler conducting. March, April 1973.
Webster in the wings.
Webster – close-up
Webster stayed at the King’s Hotel. I wrote the letter (right) to the Daily Dispatch under the pseudonym of J. McIntyre.
Scene from the Mikado – Bernie Lee, Jimmy Nicholas, Colin Carney, Pamela Emslie
I visit Webster in Knysna in May 1973.
Postcard from Anne to Freda Boyce and Fred Cropper, 2 May 1973.
Anne visits Jean Buckley during her holiday in the UK.
Webster and I go to the Lookout Steak House in Plett while I am in Knysna.
Beacon Island, Plett.
18 Graham Street, Knysna.
From Webster to me.
Christmas card from the Booths. We returned from East London to Johannesburg. My baby, Michael was born on 12 March 1974.
Anne in the garden of the house in Somerset West (photo: Dudley Holmes)
October 1975 – Farewell Performance in Somerset West.
Anne and Webster sing “We’ll Gather Lilacs” at the British Ambassador’s residence to the accompaniment of Brian Kay after the King’s Singers’ Concert in Cape Town – 1976 or 1977 – shortly before they returned to the UK.

BOOTHS IN SOUTH AFRICA – (1960 – 1961)

Someone asked me recently whether I went to study with Anne and Webster because of their duet singing, but it had nothing to do with that at all. It was entirely due to Mabel Fenney that decided me to study singing with Anne and Webster and to make music my career.

3 February 1960 – Mabel Fenney

When I was in my final year at Jeppe High School for Girls in 1960, the permanent music mistress, Miss Diane Heller, went on long leave, and Mrs Mabel Fenney took her place for a term. Mabel was born Mabel Greenwood on Shakespeare’s birthday in Lytham St Anne’s, Lancashire in 1919. Her mother was a true contralto and had sung in several professional productions. The Greenwoods moved to East London in the Eastern Cape when Mabel was quite young.

She showed singing talent from an early age and did her initial singing diplomas in East London, trained by a gentleman she referred to as “Pop Lee”, and sang and acted in many local musicals, plays and recitals. Her favourite role was as Elsie Maynard in The Yeomen of the Guard. She married fellow Lancastrian, Eric Fenney, and instead of pursuing a singing career, she helped him run his plumbing business in East London. 

 When the Dramatic Society of East London invited Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler to star in the 1958 production of Merrie England, she and Eric stood surety for their salaries.  It was in this production where she first met them, playing their roles of Bessie Throckmorton and Sir Walter Raleigh. She played the part of Jill-All-Alone in the production. The following year the society put on Waltz Time, again with Anne and Webster in the leading roles, but, for some reason, she did not take part in this production. Instead she went to Johannesburg to have lessons with Anne and Webster in preparation for several advanced diploma singing examinations. By the time she arrived at Jeppe High School for Girls she had already won the University of South Africa’s overseas teaching bursary and was due to leave for Berlin to study at the Hochschule there for two years.

We schoolgirls looked on Mabel as a very glamorous figure in comparison with some of our staid academic teachers. She was lively and enthusiastic and took us on various outings to the opera.

 Towards the end of her term at Jeppe, Mabel gave a memorable recital in the school hall one afternoon. The event had not been widely publicised, so there were not many people present, but I was there with singing school friends, Margaret Plevin (née Masterton) and Valerie Vogt (née Figgins). We were impressed by her performance. The Booths had decided that she was a mezzo soprano rather than soprano, so she had sung a mezzo repertoire for her diploma exams. I will always remember her singing of the Habanera and Seguidilla from Carmen.

At the end of one of the arias she threw a rose coquettishly to her schoolgirl audience. We were completely captivated. Someone asked me recently whether I went to study with Anne and Webster because of their duet singing, but it had nothing to do with that at all. It was entirely due to Mabel Fenney that decided me to study singing with Anne and Webster and to make music my career.

Mabel Fenney (later Perkin) Photo taken in 1960 before she went to Berlin to study at the Hochschule there.
February 1960.
2 March 1960. Webster’s reference for Mabel.

27, 28 May 1960 – Grand Variety Show, Methodist Church Hall, Roberts Avenue, Kensington. Anne and Webster and other artistes. Anne and Webster sang just before the interval. I (aged sixteen) asked them for their autographs before they left, the only one to do so.

27 May 1960.
Kensington Methodist Church as it is today (2019) In 1960 there was no wall surrounding it.
Variety Concert at Methodist Church, Roberts Avenue, Kensington 1960.
Kensington Methodist Church – as it is today.
Anne appears in various adverts!

24 November 1960 – A Country Girl. Springs Civic Theatre. Anne produced this show for the Springs Operatic Society.

24 November 1960

1960 – Mikado, Bloemfontein. I am not sure whether Webster sang in it, directed it, or both.

Webster in Bloemfontein to do The Mikado.

1, 2, December 3 1960 – Christmas Capers, Civic Theatre, Bloemfontein. Anne and Webster and local artistes in a variety show presented by Rotary Club.

December, 1960 – The Christmas Oratorio, Kimberley. Webster sang the tenor solos, although he was not as fond of Bach as he was of Handel.

8 December 1960 I had an interview with Anne Ziegler at the studio on the eighth floor of Polliack’s Corner, Pritchard Street and started lessons with Anne and Webster two weeks later. Webster was singing at the Port Elizabeth Oratorio when I had my audition. Anne was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter when I went for my first lesson. Here is the photo taken at that interview.

Lock Up Your Daughters – December 1960. Anne plays Mrs Squeezum!
Anne and Valerie Miller in Lock Up Your Daughters. The play was not a success.

March 1961 – advertising Skol Beer.

April 1961 SABC Bulletin – Wednesday at 8.30 pm. Webster Booth, who presents a programme of Opera, Operetta and Oratorio at 8.30 on Wednesday nights, began singing at the age of seven. That makes his career 52 years “and I hope it goes on a little further, but not too long,” he told announcer Robert Kirby in an interview.

This is how the conversation continued:

If you started singing when you were seven, how did you manage to fit in your education? – Well, I began in Lincoln Cathedral as a choir boy and was educated at the cathedral school. This was run by the Dean and Chapter. That took me up to the Oxford and Cambridge junior examination which was roughly equivalent to our Junior Certificate. After that I had to stop musical training as my voice was breaking and completed my schooling at a commercial school studying accountancy.

Broaadcasting at the SABC.

I know your fields of endeavour have been in Opera, Oratorio and Operetta. Do you have any preferences among these three? – Oratorio, definitely!

Why? – I suppose it was my first love and I certainly get much more satisfaction from singing in Oratorio, musically that is; I am trying to say that to do it properly and to do it well you have to work at it so hard that the feeling of achievement is that much greater. With Opera and Operetta one has stage clothing, and scenery and movement to register to an audience, whereas in Oratorio one has nothing except one’s own interpretation as a medium of reaching the audience.

Do you prefer working “live” with an audience, recording or broadcasting? – I certainly prefer working without an audience. In front of one that is. Usually in a broadcast one has a much larger audience but because they are unseen one can concentrate much more, also because of their quantity it makes me want to give much more than I would on a stage. If it would be possible to sing before an audience of perhaps fifty thousand people it would be much more awe-inspiring than singing to them via a microphone. I can always have a broadcast recorded and that is invaluable to me as I am my own greatest critic. One can always learn from one’s mistakes.

Do you suffer from stage fright? – Yes. The older I get the worse I get. I think the reason being that one always wants to be that one per cent better than the last time. The suffering comes from the fear of being one per cent worse. Stage fright should only happen before a performance. To go on being frightened during the performance is fatal.

Do you find that one person alone in an audience can affect you? – Very much so. Someone who is restive will invariably catch your eye and distract you. None of us are perfect and if one knows the position in the audience of a somewhat severe critic one is apt to wonder what he or she may be thinking and this can be most disturbing.

How do you react to severe criticism? – If you mean destructive criticism I am like anyone else. I react very unfavourably. But if it is constructive criticism then I try to swallow my pride and read into the criticism something from which I should benefit.

What was the worst critique you ever had? – I deliberately forget the bad ones. The best? – The finest write up I ever received, from my point of view, was for a show that only ran for two and a half weeks. “Here is the answer to a producer’s prayer.’

Which would you call the most fulfilling moment of your career? – The first night of the 1938 Covent Garden Festival of Opera. I sang the tenor role in Rosenkavelier with Erich Kleiber conducting and Lotte Lehmann as the soprano lead. To see a pre-war full house at Covent Garden from the stage with evening dress and tiaras is a sight one could never forget.

Which role was your favourite? – Definitely Francois Villon in The Vagabond King. It has everything an artist could wish for. Comedy, romance, glorious costumes, pathos and good solid music to sing.

Are you satisfied with what you have achieved? – Yes. If I had my life over again I doubt whether I would change much of it. I have been very lucky. I was given a voice, a figure, and my marriage with Anne Ziegler – something which has been successful and happy, and I have adopted what I think to be about the finest country in the world.

Webster’s programme is extended and is now called On Wings of Song, with the duet by Anne and Webster as the introductory music.
1 May 1961 Opening night of La Traviata at Empire Theatre.
Old Folks’ concert Durban May 1961

June 1961. Webster adjudicated at the Salisbury eisteddfod.

5 July 1961 – Concert in Salisbury.

5 July 1961 – Concert.8.15 pm Allan Wilson School, Beit Hall, Salisbury, Rhodesia – Anne and Webster appeared in a concert after Webster had adjudicated at the Vocal Festival for the Rhodesia Institute of Allied Arts.

17 July 1961 – Advert for pupils.

Advert for pupils. 17 July 1961 – Star.

August/September 1961. Mabel Fenney back in SA for holiday.

5 September to October 30 1961 –The Amorous Prawn,Alexander Theatre (previously the Reps Theatre); National Theatre, Pretoria, 31 October to November 12; Alhambra Theatre, Durban, November.

Webster was the Prawn, with Simon Swindell, Gabriel Bayman, Diane Wilson, Joe Stewardson, Ronald Wallace and Joan Blake, directed by Victor Melleney.

Anne and Leslie Green Opening night of The Amorous Prawn 1961
A reference for my first job in the bank! 6 October 1961.

November 1961 – The Stage. Johannesburg Theatre by Evelyn Leveson. The evening attraction at the Alexander – acclaimed with delight by both critics and public – was The Amorous Prawn, directed by Victor Melleney and starring Joan Blake, one of our most versatile actresses, who, for the past two years, has been touring the country in Adam Leslie’s witty intimate revue Two’s Company.

Excellent notices were also received by Webster Booth who, with his wife Anne Ziegler, has been living here for the past five years. As the Prawn, Mr Booth is appearing on the South African stage in his first non-singing role.

1 November 1961 (from my teenage diary)
1 November 1961 (from diary)
1 November 1961 (diary)
November 1961 Durban.
Anne as Mrs Siddons 31 October 1961.
1 November 1961 from diary – the story continues in the diary itself (1961)
27 November 1961 Dream of Gerontius.

EXTRACTS FROM MY TEENAGE DIARIES (1960 – AUGUST 1963)

30 April 1963 In the afternoon he goes to sleep for a while and then plays a tape of his religious songs for me and makes me cry – they are so beautiful. We have one last pupil and then he comes home to dinner with us. He has two drinks and is so sweet to me and my parents. He keeps Shandy on his knee and calls her, “my girlfriend.” He tells us lots of theatrical stories and is absolutely charming.
Shandy – “my girlfriend”!
My mother says, as he is leaving, “Thank you for looking after Jean,” and he gives me a fond glance and replies, “I think it’s Jean who’s looking after me.” He gives a short hoot of farewell as he drives over the Juno Street hill on his way home. What a heavenly day.

Extracts from my Teenage Diaries.
https://www.lulu.com/duettists

I have published each month of these diaries individually on this website but now I have published the entire book as a pdf file, dating from 1960 until my twentieth birthday on 31 August 1963. The book is substantially illustrated and contains tales of the period, the many musical, broadcasting and theatrical personalities frequenting Johannesburg at that time.

It also tells of my own very innocent life in those days. As I was going through the diaries I wondered what had happened to so many people I knew in those days. Sadly, many of them are dead now, and others have probably left South Africa. I would be delighted to hear from some of my lost friends from those far-off days. Many people are still fresh in my mind, while others, like Elsa and Pam, I do not remember at all.

I am not sure whether this book will be of any interest to anyone at all, but it is now available in my Book Store on Lulu, along with a number of other books – some paperback, others epub and pdf, all reasonably priced. Have a look.

Jean Collen

March 2019.

WEBSTER BOOTH AND GILBERT AND SULLIVAN.

In 1926 Doctor Malcolm Sargent (as he was then) took over as conductor for the London season at the Prince’s Theatre and Leslie considered that period to be one of his happiest and most fulfilling times with the company. It was then when he asked Sargent to listen to his voice and tell him whether he thought he could make it as an opera singer. Sargent told him that if he did not have a private income he should forget about singing in opera as the pay was very poor.

Webster Booth and Gilbert and Sullivan.

As a young man, Webster Booth was serving articles as an accountant in Birmingham and taking singing lessons in his spare time at the Midland Institute with Dr Richard Wassell, the organist, and choirmaster at St Martin’s Church in the Bull Ring, Birmingham. He was a tenor soloist in the church and fulfilling engagements as tenor soloist in regional oratorio performances as far apart as Wales and Scotland.

Midland Institute where Webster had lessons with Dr Richard Wassell.

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

St Martin's

In 1923 the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company came to Birmingham and he managed to obtain an audition with New Zealander, Harry Norris, the D’Oyly Carte conductor. Harry Norris was impressed with Webster’s voice and on his recommendation, he was summoned to see Rupert D’Oyly Carte in London. He was meant to audit a firm’s books in South Wales. Instead, he decided to throw caution to the wind and went to London for the audition instead. He sang five or six songs to an unreceptive D’Oyly Carte and his general manager, Richard Collett.

‘I became increasingly anxious. It was like singing to two mummies…
”I think he’ll do,” Mr D’Oyly Carte said in a rather pained voice, thinking, no doubt, that here was yet another name one the pay-list.
“I should think so, sir,” was the reply.
‘Thus unenthusiastically was I welcomed into the Profession of the Stage.’ (Duet, p. 34)

Although he had been doing well in accountancy, he abandoned his job with little regret to become a professional singer, making his debut with the company as one of the Yeomen in The Yeomen of the Guard at the Theatre Royal, Brighton on 9 September 1923.

In 1924 he married Winifred Keey, the daughter of Edgar Keey, his former headmaster at Aston Commercial School. Winifred borrowed £100 from a relative, with no intention of repaying it, and used the money to follow Leslie to London against her parents’ wishes, or possibly, even without their knowledge. They might have approved of the match had Leslie remained a respectable accountant like his elder brother, Norman, but they were against her taking up with a chorus boy in the D’Oyly Carte. Her family had no more to do with her, partly because of her defiance of their wishes and partly because she had borrowed such a large sum of money under false pretences from a member of the family. Because they disowned her they never knew that she and Leslie had married or that she gave birth to a son, and, thinking the worst of her, imagined that she and Leslie were living together in sin.

Winifred and Leslie’s son, Keith was born the year after their marriage on 12 June 1925, and his birth was registered in Birmingham North.

6 August 1925 – Borough, Stratford. Interest remains unabated in the D’Oyly Carte company, now in the second of their two weeks’ engagement at this theatre. On Tuesday The Yeomen of the Guard was staged, and met with the usual enthusiastic reception from an audience who obviously enjoyed every number. Encores were frequent. The entrance of Mr Henry A Lytton as Jack Point was naturally the signal for an outburst of applause, which was fully justified by his consistently fine work in this well-written role. His apt mingling of humour and pathos is amongst the best things he has ever done. As the other strolling singer Miss Winifred Lawson made a distinct success, singing and acting with real talent. Happily cast also were Mr Leo Sheffield as the grim gaoler and Miss Aileen Davies as Phoebe. Miss Bertha Lewis made a capital Dame Carruthers, whose chief song was rendered artistically; and Miss Irene Hill scored as Kate. Mr Sydney Pointer’s agreeable voice helped him to make Colonel Fairfax a prominent figure, and Mr Darrell Fancourt was a strong Sergeant Meryll. Others who shared in the success were Mr Joseph Griffin as Sir Richard, Mr Herbert Aitken as Leonard, and Mr Leslie W. Booth as the First Yeoman. The stage director is still Mr J.M. Gordon and Mr Harry Norris is the touring musical director.
In 1926 Doctor Malcolm Sargent (as he was then) took over as conductor for the London season at the Prince’s Theatre and Leslie considered that period to be one of his happiest and most fulfilling times with the company. It was then when he asked Sargent to listen to his voice and tell him whether he thought he could make it as an opera singer. Sargent told him that if he did not have a private income he should forget about singing in opera as the pay was very poor.

18 November 1926 – D’Oyly Carte Canadian Visit. It has been arranged for the D’Oyly Carte principal company to visit Canada at the end of the season at the Princes on December 19. The company will embark for Canada in the steamship Metagama on the 24th. The tour will open in Montreal on January 4. Mr Richard Collett, the general manager of the company, will be in charge of the tour.

After a stay of two weeks in Montreal, the company will proceed to Toronto and thence to Winnipeg, staying in each of these cities for a fortnight. There will also be visits to Lethbridge, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, and Victoria, the capital of Vancouver Island. The tour will end at Montreal in the middle of May. The Mikado, The Gondoliers, The Yeomen of the Guard, and HMS Pinafore will form the repertory. The leading principals, with the exception of Miss Elsie Griffin, will take part in the tour. Miss Griffin’s place will be filled by Miss Irene Hill. Misses Bertha Lewis, Winifred Lawson, Aileen Davies, Messrs Henry A Lytton, Darrell Fancourt, Leo Sheffield, and Charles Goulding are included in the company.
Webster Booth sang Your Tiny Hand is Frozen at the ship’s concert, so impressing principal soprano Winifred Lawson that she was not at all surprised when he soon rose to fame after he left the company. He was particularly impressed when the chorus sang Hail Poetry in the open air when the company visited Chief Big Crow and Chief Starlight in the Sarcee Reserve, Calgary.

Passenger list on return to Liverpool 

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

He stayed with the company for four and a half years but made no great advancement from singing in the chorus, small parts and understudying the tenor principal roles. In Duet, his joint autobiography, with Anne Ziegler, he complained that the only way he would advance in the company was to wait patiently to fill “dead men’s shoes”. Despite this observation, he was one of the few singers allowed to record individual songs from the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire without prior approval of the D’Oyly Carte family.
His recordings of Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes and A Wand’ring Minstrel under the baton of gifted conductor, a fellow native of Birmingham, Leslie Heward, who died tragically young, remain unsurpassed and are now available on CD.

Leslie was away on tour for fifty weeks of the year and Winifred, left alone with her small son, was estranged from her parents although living in the suburb of Moseley in the same city. Leslie had suspicions that all was not well at home when he arrived home from a tour with D’Oyly Carte to find Keith sitting by himself on the doorstep. Winifred had left her small son to his own devices while she went dancing. Several years later, she suddenly deserted Leslie and his son.

Leslie searched for Winifred in every town where he happened to be singing, but despite desperate attempts to trace her, he never found her, and eventually divorced her in 1931, citing Trevor Davey as co-respondent. Leslie was granted custody of Keith, who decided on his sixth birthday that he never wanted to see his mother again.

After the stability of a regular – if small – salary from D’Oyly Carte, he was now a freelance performer with a small son to support and no regular money to his name. In the D’Oyly Carte Company he was known as Leslie W. Booth, but now he adopted his middle name and became known as Webster Booth on stage, although his family and close friends continued to call him Leslie for the rest of his life. One of his boyhood nicknames was Jammy, and he once signed a photograph “Yours sincerely, Kingy”!

LWB -01

26 May 1939 – Gilbert and Sullivan The scheme of the London Music Festival is designed to embrace all the chief musical activities of the metropolis and it was proper that the popular concerts given by Mr Ernest Makower at the London Museum should have their place in it. The concert given on Wednesday evening was an unusual one, though Mr Makower never keeps to any beaten path in his selection of music for performance. It was felt that no English festival would be really complete if Gilbert and Sullivan was not represented in it. So, with the permission of Mr D’Oyly Carte, Dr Sargent arranged a programme of selections from the famous comic operas. In a preliminary talk, Dr Sargent apologised for going against Sullivan’s expressed wish that his operatic music should not be performed in concert form.

But no excuse was necessary to justify the admirable singing of the extracts by Miss Irene Eisinger, Mr Webster Booth, and Mr George Baker. We do not often hear Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes so well sung in a theatre. Miss Eisinger’s songs reminded us that Sullivan’s heroines descended at no great distance from Mozart’s soubrettes, whom we are accustomed to hearing her sing so delightfully. It was good too to hear the music played by the Boyd Neel orchestra, whose contributions included the delightful patchwork overture, Un Ballo and the Iolanthe overture. There was, as usual, a large and enthusiastic audience.

1953 – The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan (film). Robert Morley, Ian Wallace, Owen Brannigan, Harold Williams and voices of Webster Booth, Elsie Morrison, John Cameron.
Webster was annoyed at the billing he was given in this film. He did not appear in it but his voice was dubbed for Colonel Fairfax in the scene from The Yeomen of the Guard and in the final section singing an echoing version of A Wand’ring Minstrel.
The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan 

January 1962 When the copyright on Gilbert’s words was lifted at the end of 1961 Webster was asked to present a Gilbert and Sullivan series of programmes on the English Service of the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

1962 WB radio

1963 Only a few weeks before The Johannesburg Operatic Society was due to open with The Yeomen of the Guard the committee decided that they needed a stronger Colonel Fairfax than the person originally cast in the role. Webster (aged 61) was asked to take over what is essentially the juvenile lead. He was a great success in the role.

2014-03-13_140054

14 June 1963 (from my 5-year diary)

14 jUNE 1963

4 to 14 April 1973 – The Mikado, Guild Theatre, East London, The East London Light Operatic Society, Pamela Emslie, Colin Carney, Bernie Lee, Leigh Evans, Irene McCarthy, Jim Hagerty and Jimmy Nicholas, produced by Webster Booth. The musical director was Jean Fowler.

I had moved to East London at the beginning of 1973 and joined the show at the last minute. I had a very happy reunion with Webster after seven years apart.

Jean Collen 23 August 2018.

 

Mikado, Guild Theatre, East London 1973

Dinner with Webster and my parents at Juno Street, Kensington (1963)

21 Juno Street, Kensington as it is today.

I invited Webster to dinner with my parents during those two halcyon weeks when I was playing for him. As we sat
chatting in his car in front of my house in Juno Street, Kensington after he had driven me home one evening, I asked him, rather nervously, whether he would like to come to dinner with us one night the following week. I had not imagined that he would agree as he was probably quite tired after spending the day teaching in the studio in the city but to my great surprise he seemed delighted at the idea and agreed to dine with us on the following Tuesday, as we finished fairly early at the studio on that day.

As you will have read in a previous post, we had a memorable lunch at Dawson’s Hotel earlier that day. After he had taught Winnie, the only pupil who arrived for her lesson that afternoon, he drove me home in the Hillman and stayed to dinner with my parents. He took an immediate fancy to our dog, Shandy, whom he christened “my girlfriend,” and kept her on his knee for the rest of the evening.

Webster and Shandy – My girlfriend

My father offered him a whisky, and he informed us that whisky had never done him any harm so far. He teased me because I had refused a drink at lunchtime when we dined at Dawson’s Hotel. My father looked suitably alarmed at the thought of his innocent teenage daughter being plied with alcohol. No doubt he was relieved that I had turned down the offer.

My parents – David and Margaret Campbell.

 

 

 

 

 

Webster and me

Webster talked to my parents about Britain, and all the artists he and Anne had known and worked with during the war, people like Max Miller and Tommy Handley and many others. He looked so at home in our sitting room, smoking and drinking whisky, with Shandy on his lap. Who would have thought that he was a famous tenor with a world-beating voice?  I didn’t know nearly as much about his illustrious career then as I do now, years after his death. Neither he nor Anne ever boasted about their achievements as so many lesser people do.

When he was about to go home and was standing on our balcony, which was enclosed with an indigo bougainvillea creeper in those days, my mother said, “Thank you for looking after Jean.” He regarded me fondly and replied, “I think it’s Jean who’s looking after me”. My heart was bursting with happiness to think of the perfect day I had spent with him.

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

The next few days passed all too quickly and soon Anne was phoning the studio to say she had returned from her holiday with Leslie Green, the radio announcer. She had sent me a card from Fish Hoek and Webster had pretended to be cross because she had not yet written to him at that juncture.

Card from Anne.

On the last night of my accompanying stint, Webster drove me home, and said quite pensively, “I shall miss my Sylvia Pass next week,” referring to the route he took from Juno Street to his home in Buckingham Avenue, 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 at your lesson, dear,” he said.

The following day my great friend Ruth Ormond phoned to say that Webster had raved about me at her lesson that Saturday morning. He said I was a very good accompanist and the whole experience of playing for him had boosted my ego. I was a lovely girl and he had so enjoyed having dinner at my home and meeting my parents. Ruth had the impression that Anne was slightly put out by his unstinted enthusiasm.

“He seems very much taken with you,” said Ruth.

That afternoon 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 they would never be able to afford one now. And so ended two wonderful weeks. I had enjoyed playing for the pupils, had acquitted myself creditably and had got to know Webster very well indeed. I thought that I  would probably not be accompanying for Webster again. But luckily that was not the case. I went on accompanying for Webster in the studio for some time to come.

Jean Collen 15 May 2018.

MY FIRST MEMORIES OF WEBSTER BOOTH AND ANNE ZIEGLER (1957 – 1960)

We arrived in Johannesburg in October of 1957. My father had been offered a job in Rogers-Jenkins where a former Scottish colleague from ISCOR (now Arcelor Mittal) in Vanderbijl Park, was working and we were living in the Valmeidere boarding house in Roberts Avenue, Kensington until we found a suitable flat. We witnessed the lights of Sputnik flying over our heads at night and wondered whether this was a sign that we had made the right move to the big city.

We arrived in Johannesburg in October of 1957. My father had been offered a job in Rogers-Jenkins where a former Scottish colleague from ISCOR (now Arcelor Mittal) in Vanderbijl Park, was working and we were living in the Valmeidere boarding house in Roberts Avenue, Kensington until we found a suitable flat. We witnessed the lights of Sputnik flying over our heads at night and wondered whether this was a sign that we had made the right move to the big city.

 

            My parents and me in Vanderbijlpark (1950) 

The school year in South Africa runs from January to December, so I, aged thirteen, went to yet another new school just in time to prepare to write the end of year exams in subjects with seemingly different syllabuses to the ones I had been studying at the Vaal High School in Vanderbijlpark. I staggered into the middle of the busy road each morning, praying that I would not be knocked down by a speeding car, in order to catch a rattling tram on its way down the hill to Jeppe Girls’ High School, clad in my new green dress and black blazer with white stripes. The most important part of the uniform seemed to be the white panama hat adorned with ribbon of school colours and a badge in the front. There was a strict rule that thishat had to be worn at all times when outside of school. Heaven help anyone who removed it, or worse still, forgot to wear it.

The boarding house proprietors were fellow Scots, Mr and Mrs Jimmy Murdoch. They were friendly with a couple called Mr and Mrs MacDonald-Rouse. Mrs MacDonald-Rouse ran a flourishing amateur concert party and was the accompanist to all the singers in the group. Her daughter Heather, a theatrical costumier, had recently married and sometimes dined with her parents and her new husband at the Valmeidere. In due course, we were introduced to the MacDonald-Rouses, Heather and her husband.

Through her work, Heather had met Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, shortly after their arrival in Johannesburg the year before and had become extremely friendly with them. Through the grapevine we heard that Webster had sung the aria from Mendelssohn’s oratorio, St Paul at Heather’s wedding entitled Be Thou Faithful unto Death. Later I learnt that this aria was one he sang when requested to sing a solo at a wedding. Another lighter wedding favourite of his was the ballad, My Prayer.

Click on the link to hear Webster singing: BE THOU FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH

It was not long before we were introduced to Mr and Mrs MacDonald-Rouse, their daughter, Heather and her new husband when they dined at the hotel one evening. We were invited to a performance of the concert party and enjoyed the singing of Janet Goldsborough (later Swart), an energetic bone player, and a comedian, who was related to the famous Scottish comedian, Harry Gordon.

My father’s colleague at Rogers-Jenkins, John Corrigan, was an elder at St James’ Presbyterian Church, then situated in Mars Street, Malvern. He invited us to a performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Church, with Anne and Webster as soprano and tenor soloists. I can’t remember very much about the performance. I thought Webster looked rather stern, and I still have a distinct vision of Anne, her hair styled in a feathery Italian Boy, having tea at the interval, and being utterly charming to the tea ladies.

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Looking back on this occasion I realise that it could not have been very easy for Webster who had been a top oratorio performer in the UK, often singing at the Royal Albert Hall and other great concert halls, to be singing the same work in a little suburban Church hall.

They had sung the Messiah in various Presbyterian churches the year before also.

12 December 1956, Messiah, St George's Presbyterian, Johannesburg

In mid-1958, my parents, doubtful of what the future in South Africa held, made a bid to return to the UK. We lived in Southampton – yet another new school another different syllabus, new subjects and girls with Hampshire accents. My mode of transport in Southampton was a crowded bus from the suburb of Bitterne to St Anne’s Convent Grammar School. It was winter, so the bus journey began in the dark and ended in the dark by the time I reached home in the late afternoon.

One of my parents’ friends had a grand piano on which I was allowed to practise and receive music lessons. The gentleman had a collection of 78 records which had belonged to his late wife. While his son and his friends chatted about various forms of jazz in the sitting room, I looked through the record collection in the dining room and was delighted to find a number of Anne and Webster’s recordings. After listening to their fill of Chris Barber records, the young men departed and I was able to play the duet records on the ancient record player. I enjoyed listening to the records and thinking that I had heard Anne and Webster singing in Johannesburg the previous year and knew something about them.

While I was in England Anne and Webster starred in and directed Merrie England for the Johannesburg Operatic and Dramatic Society (JODS) in 1958. Although they had been in South Africa for less than two years, Anne was complaining that she never had a full chorus at rehearsals. The show received good notices, but the committee of JODS was not impressed that the production only made a profit of ₤300.

They were very popular in East London in the Border region of the Eastern Cape, where they had given a concert in the City Hall on their initial tour in November 1955. They appeared in a number of shows there in the late nineteen fifties. In 1958 they starred in Merrie England, and followed this with Waltz Time in 1959. Anne also played principal boy in an East London pantomime, Puss in Boots. She sang I’ll follow my secret heart after she had “fought the dragon and won the lady”. They also sang at the East London Hobbies Fair in 1957.

 By the end of 1958 my parents decided that we would return to South Africa so we were on our way back on board the Pretoria Castle, the same ship on which Anne and Webster had travelled to South Africa in July 1956.

 
 
Despite my disrupted education I was back at Jeppe Girls’ High,admitted to Form IV for my final two years at school, which would culminate in writing the matriculation exams at the end of 1960. My father had returned to his old job with Mr Corrigan, and my parents bought a house in Juno Street, Kensington, having decided that life in South Africa, despite its uncertain political future was easier than life back in the UK where the weather was hard, the cost of living high, and Southampton was still full of bomb sites thirteen years after the war. 
21 Juno Street, Kensington – as it is now.

 

We had returned to Jo’burg at the beginning of 1959 and I next saw Anne at the end of that year. My friend Gillian McDade was a year ahead of me at school and had been head girl at Jeppe Girls’ High that year. She was as keen on the theatre as I was and we had appeared in a Scottish school play together in early 1958, entitled Lace on Her Petticoat. Her mother was involved with the Children’s Theatre Organisation, and Gillian asked if I would like to usher for a matinee performance with her at the Reps Theatre (later the Alexander Theatre) in Braamfontein, where Anne was playing the Fairy Godmother in Children’s Theatre’s production of The Glass Slipper.

December 1959 Glass Slipper3

 The house was full so there were no spare seats for the teenage voluntary ushers, but I was delighted to watch the enchanting show seated on the carpeted stairs of the darkened auditorium. Anne Ziegler was playing the Fairy Godmother and pointed Cinderella on her way in a glass coach drawn by a donkey. She looked every inch an ethereal Fairy Godmother in her gossamer crinoline gown.

In 1960 Anne and Webster came to the Methodist Church in Roberts Avenue, Kensington to sing in a Variety show that had been arranged to raise money for Church funds. It was the first time I had seen their variety act. Once again they looked wonderful, with Anne in a tangerine evening dress and Webster immaculate in evening suit. I loved their charming act, once again done on the small stage of a suburban Church hall rather than in one of the great Variety Halls in the UK where they had been performing only a few years before. The banter between the duets appeared to be entirely off the cuff, but Anne told me later that their words and movements were always meticulously planned.

At the interval I waited rather nervously for them to ask for their autographs. Webster, ever the gentleman, held the door open for me to precede him into the Vestry, where they graciously signed my book for me. Strangely enough I was the only autograph hunter that evening. They were both charming to me.

Do you remember? on Springbok Radio saw them reminiscing on their illustrious lives in Britain, based on their autobiography, Duet, published by Stanley Paul in 1951. We all listened avidly to this programme every Sunday afternoon.

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East London cast of Merrie England (1958). Mabel Fenney (later Perkin) was Jill-All-Alone on the left of the photograph
 

When I was in my final year at Jeppe Girls’ High School in 1960, the permanent music mistress, Miss Diane Heller, went on long leave, and Mrs Mabel Fenney took her place for a term. She had sung the part of Jill-All-Alone in the 1958 East London production of Merrie England, where she had first met Anne and Webster in their roles of Bessie Throckmorton and Sir Walter Raleigh. She came up to Johannesburg to have lessons with them as she prepared for several advanced diploma singing examinations. By the time she arrived at Jeppe she had already won the University of South Africa overseas teaching bursary and was due to leave for Berlin to study at the Hochschule for two years. Her husband, Eric Fenney remained in South Africa and had agreed to pay for her keep in Berlin.

We all looked on Mabel as a very glamorous figure in comparison with some of our more staid academic teachers. She was lively and enthusiastic and took us on various outings to the opera. Most teachers wrote off one of the naughtiest classes in the school as impossible to teach, but Mabel developed a good relationship with the girls in that class. She taught them to sing Brother James Air, which they performed creditably at the final assembly of the term, giving staff and pupils a pleasant surprise.

Towards the end of her term at Jeppe, Mabel gave a memorable recital in the school hall one afternoon. The event had not been widely publicised, so there were not many people present, but I was there with my musical school friend, Margaret Masterton. We were impressed by her performance. The Booths had decided that she was a mezzo soprano rather than soprano, so she had sung a mezzo repertoire for her diploma exams. I will always remember her singing of the Habanera and Seguidilla from Carmen. At the end of one of the arias she threw a rose coquettishly to her schoolgirl audience. We were completely captivated. Mabel left for Berlin and I hoped that I might have a good enough voice to study singing with Anne and Webster when I left school at the end of the year.

 
Jean Collen (revised 6 November 2019)
 
Join: The Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler Appreciation Group on Facebook.
 
 

ACCOMPANYING FOR WEBSTER AGAIN.

Later that week we went to see The Yeomen at the old Reps Theatre in Braamfontein, now named the Alexander Theatre after Muriel Alexander. We were very impressed by Webster’s performance as the somewhat elderly Colonel Fairfax, who wins Elsie Maynard and breaks poor Jack Point’s heart in the process. Anne told me that Webster would be very hurt if I didn’t go backstage to see him afterwards, so I did. He was fighting off the ‘flu and did not look well, although from the auditorium nobody would have realised that he was ill.

This article is mainly from my book, available at: Lulu.com

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I had played for Webster for two weeks while Anne was away in April and assumed that I would no longer be needed now that she had returned. Anne and Webster insisted that I keep the spare keys to the studio so that I could work there when they were not teaching. I was preparing for the ATCL singing examination in October and Grade 8 piano the following year, so I found the studio, high above the hustle and bustle of downtown Johannesburg, the ideal place to work and practise. In return, I answered queries, took messages on the phone, and answered the door to visitors.

Towards the end of May the Johannesburg Operatic Society (JODS) asked Webster to take over the role of Colonel Fairfax in their production of The Yeomen of the Guard at short notice. This was an incongruously youthful role for someone aged sixty-one, but he acquitted himself as well as he always did and lifted the production with his dynamic stage presence and undiminished vocal gifts. The show opened to mixed reviews, but all the critics had great praise for Webster. Dora Sowden headed her review in one of the Sunday papers:”Webster towers”. He had certainly taken on a remarkable feat as the juvenile lead at sixty-one.

6 June 1963 The Yeomen of the Guard, JODs Alexander Theatre RDM (2)

Later that week we went to see The Yeomen at the old Reps Theatre in Braamfontein, now named the Alexander Theatre after Muriel Alexander. We were very impressed by Webster’s performance as the somewhat elderly Colonel Fairfax, who wins Elsie Maynard and breaks poor Jack Point’s heart in the process. Anne told me that Webster would be very hurt if I didn’t go backstage to see him afterwards, so I did. He was fighting off the ‘flu and did not look well, although from the auditorium nobody would have realised that he was ill.

1963 Yeomen of the Guard 1963-06

In June, while Webster was still involved with The Yeomen, Anne told me that their housekeeper, Hilda, who was from the island of St Helena, was planning a trip home for six and a half weeks. Anne and Webster had decided to do alternate days in the studio while she was away as they would have to do the housework and cooking themselves. Would I care to accompany for Webster again? I did not have to think twice about it before agreeing to do so.

After Hilda left on her trip I settled into accompanying for Webster once again. Anne came in on alternate teaching days so occasionally I had a lesson with her. One Monday afternoon Ruth phoned me at the studio to ask whether I would like to have dinner with her family before going to the SABC choir meeting afterwards. Webster gladly agreed to take me to Parkwood instead of Kensington, as it was on his direct route home. We drove past Zoo Lake and he pointed out his bowling club, saying it was the loveliest setting in the world in which to play bowls. He had played golf in England, but could not afford to do so in South Africa.

I had a pleasant dinner with the Ormonds, and then Mr Ormond transported us to the meeting in his big black Rover which had been bought from the proceeds of the £40,000 Mrs Ormond had won in the Rhodesian Sweep the year before. There was a party after the meeting and Ruth and I chatted to Anton Hartman, the chief orchestral conductor at the SABC. Toward the end of June, we sang in the Light Music Festival where we did a number of unaccompanied American, German and Afrikaans folk songs. The Dutch conductor Jos Cleber conducted the orchestra, with Gert Potgieter and Bob Borowsky as soloists. Ruth was working for matric exams, and I for my singing diploma so we decided to take leave of absence from the choir, with the idea of returning when our respective examinations were behind us.

One evening, after we finished work at the studio, Webster took me with him to see one of The Three Petersen Brothers in connection with going into partnership with them in a new film company. Webster introduced me as: “This is Miss Campbell. She plays for me.” The Petersen brother concerned looked mystified. Webster had to explain to him exactly what it was I played! Although they had a long discussion, nothing came of the film company as far as Webster was concerned.

In July Anne had a very bad cold which lingered on for a long time, and Webster had a funny turn one evening. He lost his vision, and his head was spinning even when he was lying down. Anne told me that she wanted him to see the doctor about the state of his general health and his general grumpiness, but he refused to do so. She admitted that he hated teaching everyone apart from his few “pets”. She was very worried about him.

From the way he treated Lucille at her lessons, I gathered that she was one of the “pets”. She was having her twenty-first birthday party and had invited them to her party, but they had another engagement and could not attend. For some reason I felt quite jealous of her and was glad that they weren’t going to her party!

A few days later Webster told me that Anne’s cold was no better. He wanted her to see the doctor about it but instead she had insisted on going to Leslie Green’s draughty house for dinner. She was not pleased when he told her she would be better off staying in bed and trying to get rid of her cold.

One evening I was washing the dishes in the kitchen before we left the studio for the night, when I overheard him telling Gertie, our last pupil of the day, for whom I had just played the accompaniment of Softly Awakes my Heart from Samson and Delilah, what a wonderful musician I was at only nineteen. Praise indeed.

When Hilda returned from her St Helena holiday, the Booths went to sing at a concert in the country with Desmond Wright, who had conducted The Yeomen, as their accompanist. Webster told me that the only reason he had not asked me to play for them at this concert was because he thought that another woman on the stage would draw the audience’s attention away from Anne.

They made a great fuss of my twentieth birthday at the end of August, with Anne singing Happy Birthday to me, and both of them kissing me to wish me a happy day. There was a present of lipstick and matching nail varnish waiting for me on top of the piano when I went in for my lesson. I was very touched that they had remembered my birthday. Ruth had her lesson after mine, so I waited for her, as we were going out for coffee after her lesson.

Webster said, “Don’t drink too much whisky,” as we left. It was another lovely day.

They had acquired a protégé, a talented boy soprano called Robin Lister, whom they were coaching in preparation for his first LP recording. Robin had an exceptional voice, resembling a mature female soprano rather than the typical Ernest Lough boy soprano. He had been having lessons with a teacher in Benoni, but left her to study with Anne and Webster. Before his voice broke he made several recordings supervised by Anne and Webster. He became very well known and sang at a number of concerts. After his voice broke, he continued his lessons with the Booths, changing from singing to piano. The last I heard was that he became an engineer and had immigrated to Australia.

Webster phoned me before he left for Michaelhouse School in Natal to sing Elijah to ask whether I would play at an audition for two of their boy sopranos for Amahl and the Night Visitors the following Saturday. I agreed to do so and wished him well for the Elijah performance. “I know you’ll sing beautifully,” I added, and he replied, “Bless you, dear”.

On Saturday morning the two boys, Denis Andrews and Selwyn Lotzof, together with their parents and I arrived at Gwen Clark’s sumptuous penthouse at the top of Anstey’s Building, where the audition was to be held. The boys acquitted themselves well and we were given a lovely tea afterwards, but neither was chosen to sing the part of Amahl. Instead they decided to import a boy from Britain. Webster said that Ruth could have done the part, if suitably disguised, as her voice was like a boy’s, with absolutely no vibrato.

I went back to the studio after the audition to let Anne know how the boys had fared. She had had a tiring morning teaching all by herself, as Webster was at Michaelhouse to sing in a performance of Elijah, conducted by Barry Smith, the musical director at Michaelhouse at the time. He and Anne had not parted on good terms when he left for Michaelhouse so she had been rather surprised that he phoned her when he arrived there.

Anne insisted on making us coffee before she left. She spoke of Jo’burg “high” society, who had gone out of its way to cultivate them when they first arrived in South Africa as international stars, but soon dropped them when they realised that they were not rolling in money and were obliged to work for a living and were not able to go with them to race meetings or the like.

My diploma was pending and I spent a lot of time practising ear tests at Sylvia Sullivan’s studio with Edith Sanders, who was working for a piano diploma. She had perfect pitch, so I admired her sense of pitch which made ear tests very easy and she admired my competent sight-reading, which had improved remarkably since the early days of accompanying for Webster.

My Associate diploma, once again with Guy McGrath as examiner and Anne as accompanist, went well in all departments. After the exam, I went with Anne in her pale blue Anglia to Macey’s, a store in the city, where she bought a new carpet sweeper. On the way there she told me that she thought I was going to be another Mabel Fenney. By this time Mabel had passed her final exam at the Höchschule in Berlin. She was divorced from her first husband, Eric Fenney, who had financed her stay in Berlin, and had recently married Maurice Perkin in England.

About a week after the exam Webster phoned me at the studio to ask me to look up something about one of his “great voices” for his radio programme in my musical dictionary. He had seen the heavy tome and always termed it as my Bible.

I met my mother for lunch in Anstey’s that day and was pleased to hear that I had passed the Associate exam with 77%.

When I went to the studio in the afternoon, Webster answered the door. We had our usual shilling bet on passing or failing the exam.


“I owe you a shilling”, I said, handing it to him.


“What’s this for?” he asked as I went into the kitchen-cum-waiting room.


“I’ve passed my exam!” I announced as I sat down.


“Congratulations, darling,” he cried, bending down to kiss me.

We told Anne the good news when I went into the studio for my lesson.
“Did you know about it when I phoned you this morning?” Webster asked.


Anne asked sharply, ‘Why did you phone Jean?”


“I wanted her to look up something in her Bible for me,” he replied mildly.


“Whatever for? We have four Bibles at home!” she retorted, regarding us both with suspicion.


“It’s not a Bible really. It’s a music dictionary,” he explained.

She obviously did not believe a word he told her. I felt embarrassed to suddenly be the object of unfounded suspicions when we had always got on so well together. The episode put a damper on my exam success.

Jean Collen Updated 6 November 2019.