BOOTHS IN SOUTH AFRICA (1956 – 1957)

My most enduring memory of the occasion was the tea break when Anne, her hair recently cut in a rather startling Italian Boy hairstyle, drank tea and chatted animatedly with the star-struck tea ladies a few feet away from where we were seated. Little did I know then what a great influence they would exert on the rest of my life. JEAN COLLEN.

Signing autographs in South Africa – 1956.
16 August 1956 Anne and Webster appeared in Spring Quartet in Cape Town shortly after they arrived in South Africa.

17 September 1956 Hofmeyr Theatre, Cape Town. Cockpit Players present Spring Quartet with Anne and Webster, Joyce Bradley, Cynthia Coller, Jane Fenn, Gavin Houghton, Sydney Welch, directed by Leonard Schach.

17 October 1956 – Beethoven Ninth Symphony. City Hall, Johannesburg. Webster, Betsy de la Porte, Mimi Coertse, Frederick Dalberg, SABC Orchestra, Festival Choir, conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent.


A very poor newspaper cutting (taken by microfiche) showing Webster, Betsy de la Porte, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Mimi Coertse and Frederick Dalberg,
12 November 1956 – Night in Venice for JODS
14 November 1956 – Night in Venice for JODs.

NIGHT IN VENICE

15 November 1956 – Star “crit” by Oliver Walker.

Booths in convertible Hillman Minx outside their flat at Waverley, Highlands North.
December 1956

16 April 1957. Webster has cartoon drawn at Rand Easter Show by Roy Sumner.

21 April 1957 – Easter Sunday morning, The Crucifixion. St George’s Presbyterian Church, Noord Street, Webster, Wilfred Hutchings, Choir augmented with Johannesburg Operatic Society chorus, conducted by Drummond Bell.

Polliack’s Corner – eighth floor balcony Booth studio Singing and Stagecraft. (Photo: Gail Wilson)
Anne’s new hairstyle – July 1957.

July 1957 – Keith Jewell and The Dream of Gerontius

At Cape Town – and this is almost unbelievable (but it is true) – young organist, Keith Jewell (only 27) put on the St Matthew Passion in the City Hall. But more than that he has another three oratorios scheduled before the end of the year, one of which is Elgar’s gigantic work The Dream of Gerontius, which has never before been performed in South Africa. Webster Booth, who has sung in a number of Dreams under Malcolm Sargent at the Albert Hall will be taking a leading role.

I know for a fact – he told me a day or two ago – that Edgar Cree is itching to put it on here. While we have the orchestra, the choirs and singers like Booth right on our doorstep, my reaction is an exasperated: WHY NOT?

1 August 1957 – Anne in her first straight play in South Africa as Dearest in Angels in Love.
September 1957. The Reps did not take up the option on this play.
Advert for Adrenaline!

20 November 1957 – Scots Eisteddfod.

Anne Hamblin was awarded 95% in the Scots Eisteddfod. Webster Booth was the adjudicator.

23 November 1957 – Messiah, St George’s Presbyterian Church and St James’ Presbyterian Church, Malvern. Anne, Webster, Joy Hillier and Wilfred Hutchings, conducted by Drummond Bell.

My parents and I (aged 13) attended the performance at St James’ Presbyterian Church, Mars Street, Malvern. It was the first time I had seen Anne and Webster, although I had already heard many of their recordings on the radio.

We arrived in Johannesburg in October of 1957. My father had been offered a job in the same firm as a former Scottish colleague from ISCOR in Vanderbijl Park and we were living in the Valmeidere Hotel 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.

  The boarding house proprietors were fellow Scots, Mr and Mrs Jimmy Murdoch. They were friendly with a couple called Mr and Mrs McDonald-Rouse. Mrs McDonald-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 McDonald-Rouses, Heather and her husband.

Through her work, Heather had met Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth shortly after their arrival in South Africa the year before and had become very 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 of his favourite choices when requested to sing a solo at a wedding. Another of his wedding favourites was the ballad, My Prayer.

John Corrigan, my father’s colleague, was an elder at St James’ Presbyterian Church, then situated in Mars Street, Malvern. He invited us to a performance of Messiah to be held in the Church Hall, conducted by Drummond Bell, organist and choirmaster at the Central Presbyterian Church, St George’s. Coincidentally, the tenor and soprano soloists were to be Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth. This was the first time I ever attended a performance of Messiah, and the first time I ever saw Anne and Webster. I did not know then that Webster had been one of the foremost oratorio tenors in Britain, but I had heard a number of their duet recordings, which were often played on the radio. It now seems rather incongruous that they should be singing Messiah in a suburban Church Hall when only two years before Webster’s oratorio stamping ground had been the Royal Albert Hall, with the Royal Choral Society, with Sir Malcolm Sargent as conductor and other foremost oratorio soloists.

Since their arrival in South Africa, Anne and Webster had received a great deal of publicity on the radio and in the newspapers. As I have mentioned, their records were featured on South African radio a number of times each day. South Africans could not quite believe that such an illustrious theatrical couple had willingly chosen to exchange their successful careers and lives in the UK as the best-known duettists in Britain – possibly the world – to become immigrants in the colonial backwater of Johannesburg. My parents remembered them fondly from their frequent broadcasts in the UK, and seeing them in Variety and in the musical play, Sweet Yesterday at Glasgow theatres.

We sat fairly near the front of the hall on the right-hand side. I wish I could say that I remember every moment of that performance nearly sixty years ago. But sadly. I only remember snatches of it. Webster looked rather stern during the whole proceeding and I am sorry to admit that I was not immediately struck with the exquisite beauty of his voice. I did not know every aria from the Messiah then as I do now. In fact, the only piece I had heard before was the Halleluiah Chorus.

My most enduring memory of the occasion was the tea break when Anne, her hair recently cut in a rather startling Italian Boy hairstyle, drank tea and chatted animatedly with the star-struck tea ladies a few feet away from where we were seated. Little did I know then what a great influence they would exert on the rest of my life. JEAN COLLEN.

25 November 1957 – Messiah, Johannesburg Town Hall, Webster Booth(tenor)

December 1957 – The Dream of Gerontius, City Hall, Cape Town. Webster, conducted by Keith Jewell, aged 27. This was the first performance of Gerontius in South Africa.

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)

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.

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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

MOVING TO SOUTH AFRICA

A great fuss was made of them when they came to settle in Johannesburg. They stayed for several months at Dawson’s Hotel in Johannesburg while they looked for a suitable place to live. They eventually found a pleasant flat at Waverley, just off Louis Botha Avenue in Highlands North, where they lived until they bought their first house in Craighall Park several years later. They were lucky to obtain the services of Hilda, who hailed from the island of St Helena, to be their housekeeper. Hilda remained with them during their eleven years in Johannesburg.

1 Early days in Johannesburg

Anne and Webster had toured the Cape towards the end of 1955 with the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra and returned to the UK so that Webster could fulfil oratorio engagements over Christmas.8 November 1955 - Rand Daily Mail.8 November 1955 8 November 19552

12 Dec 1955
The Booths arrive back in the UK from their South African tour on 12 December 1955.

Towards the end of January 1956, they were back in South Africa to appear in major cities in the Transvaal, Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban, and Pietermaritzburg, before doing a tour of the country districts of the Transvaal. In this second tour, they were accompanied by Arthur Tatler on the piano. There was even a notice in The Rand Daily Mail advising people of the time of their plane’s arrival at 5.50 pm on Saturday afternoon 28 January. 10 January 1956 2

They were entertained by the Mayor, Leslie Hurd, in the mayoral parlour. The Mayor spoke to the assembled gathering of local celebrities about the fact that he shared a Christian name with Webster.

The critics were rather severe in their judgement of their recital, viewing them as ballad singers rather than operatic singers, although both Dora Sowden from The Rand Daily Mail and Oliver Walker from The Star agreed that Anne and Webster knew how to charm their audiences. The writers of the “women’s’ pages” were much more enthusiastic about them. Amelia from the Women’s Journal in The Star gave a fulsome report of one of their concerts on 20 February 1956:

“When the two appeared in the City Hall on Thursday night the crowd was screaming to stamping stage with enthusiasm even though the artists had been most generous in their encores.

Miss Ziegler wore one of the lovely crinolines which she always chooses for stage appearances. This one had a black velvet bodice and a skirt of gold and black tissue brocade. With her diamond jewellery she was a scintillating figure under the lights.”

They had made up their minds to settle in the country and returned to the UK merely to sort out their affairs and make arrangements to have their belongings shipped to South Africa.  They travelled onboard the Pretoria Castle to Cape Town in July 1956. Before they went to Johannesburg they appeared in Spring Quartet in Cape Town under the direction of Leonard Schach.

Dawson's Hotel 1972
Dawson’s Hotel 1972. Thanks to Frans Erasmus for allowing me to use this photo

A great fuss was made of them when they came to settle in Johannesburg. They stayed for several months at Dawson’s Hotel in Johannesburg while they looked for a suitable place to live. They eventually found a pleasant flat at Waverley, just off Louis Botha Avenue in Highlands North, where they lived until they bought their first house in Craighall Park several years later. They were lucky to obtain the services of Hilda, who hailed from the island of St Helena, to be their housekeeper. Hilda remained with them during their eleven years in Johannesburg.

Waverley, Highlands North
Anne and Webster in the Hillman Convertible outside their flat in Waverley, Highlands North (1956).

They had an engagement to star in A Night in Venice with the Johannesburg Operatic Society in November, and Webster was asked to sing the tenor solo in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at a Symphony concert. The work was presented as part of the Johannesburg Festival to celebrate Johannesburg’s seventieth birthday. Sir Malcolm Sargent, who had conducted Webster at several concerts in London the previous year, conducted the concert, while the other soloists were Webster’s old friend, Betsy de la Porte (contralto), whom he remembered from his early days singing at Masonic dinners, Frederick Dalberg (bass) and the young coloratura soprano, Mimi Coertse, who was beginning to make a name for herself  in Vienna.

1956 Night in Venice3
Anne and Webster in “A Night in Venice” for the Johannesburg Operatic Society”.

Rather incongruously Webster took the Tommy Handley part in a series of ITMA scripts acquired by Springbok Radio, the commercial station of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (the SABC). This thirteen-week series was entitled Light up and Laugh, sponsored by Gold Flake Cigarettes, and produced by the Herrick-Merrill production house.

Although Anne had driven a car in her youth she had allowed her British driving licence to lapse after she married Webster. The Booths had two cars at their disposal in Johannesburg: a sea-green Zephyr and a pale blue Hillman convertible. Anne had to do a South African driving test and was taught by an Afrikaans ex-traffic policeman. On her first lesson he made her drive along Louis Botha Avenue, the main road from Pretoria through the suburbs into Johannesburg. There was a bus boycott on at the time. Thousands of people were walking along Louis Botha Avenue from the townships of Alexandra and Sophiatown to their work places in the city centre. Anne was very nervous, fearing that she might knock somebody down. Despite the adverse circumstances of her first driving lessons she soon passed her test and proved to be an excellent driver. She went on driving until shortly before her death in 2003.

In the first year or two after their arrival in South Africa they were fêted by everyone, invited to all the society parties and offered all kinds of engagements. Anne took her first non-singing part in Angels in Love, the story of Little Lord Fauntleroy and his mother, Dearest, played by Anne. They replayed their parts in A Night in Venice to Durban audiences. They even went to East London to sing at the city’s Hobby Exhibition, and were heard often on the radio. Not only did they do frequent broadcasts but their records were played constantly by other presenters, who marvelled that such a famous couple had chosen to settle in South Africa.

In 1957 they opened their School of Singing and Stagecraft at their studio on the eighth floor of Polliack’s Corner. They held a party to celebrate the opening of the studio and invited musical and society glitterati, who eagerly crammed into the studio for the occasion and were suitably impressed by the array of pictures of Anne and Webster, taken with internationally famous friends and colleagues, adorning one of the studio walls.

Polliack's Corner
Polliack’s Corner, Pritchard Street – the building to the right with balconies. The studio was on the eighth floor.

The original plan was that Webster would teach singing, while Anne would teach stagecraft, but in the end they both taught singing, and Anne acted as accompanist to the students. At first there were not many students as their fees per month were much higher than those of local singing teachers. Eventually they reduced the fees in order to attract more students. I began having singing lessons with them at the end of 1960 after I had finished school. The fee was £4-4-0 a month.

Anne Ziegler studio fees

In 1963 Anne told me that all the local Johannesburg celebrities and socialites who had tried to cultivate them when they first arrived in South Africa, soon left them alone once they realised that they were not as wealthy as they had imagined, and actually had to work for a living, and were not free to attend the races and other such “society” activities.

Jean Collen 7 July 2018

WEBSTER BOOTH AND ANNE ZIEGLER IN SOUTH AFRICA (1956 – 1978) photographs

Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler immigrate to South Africa (July 1956)


The Hillman Minx outside their flat in Waverley, Highlands North, Johannesburg (1956)

Night in Venice (1956)

“Night in Venice” (Strauss) with Johannesburg Operatic Society, 1956

Durban Whysall Studios (1957)

 

Merrie England in East London and Johannesburg (1958)

Waltz Time, East London 1959

Anne with Dame Flora Robson at rehearsal for “Lock Up Your Daughters” (1961)

“The Amorous Prawn” (1961) with Joan Blake, Simon Swindell. Victor Melleney (producer) extreme right.

“Goodnight Mrs Puffin” with Jane Fenn at Alexander Theatre, Johannesburg (1963)

Webster as Mr Fordyce and Jane Fenn as Mrs Puffin in “Goodnight Mrs Puffin” (January 1963)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Colonel Fairfax” in “Yeomen of the Guard” at Alexander Theatre, 1963 (Johannesburg Operatic Society)

At the wedding of actress Margaret Inglis (1962/63)

In the studio, Pritchard Street (1963)

“The Bartered Bride” (PACT) 1966

Move to Knysna in 1967.

                                              Silva and Spinach on the couch at Knysna (1970) Photo: Dudley Holmes

In the garden in Knysna (1968) Photo: Dudley Holmes.

At the beach at Knoetzie (near Knysna) Photo: Dudley Holmes.

Directing “The Mikado” in East London, Border (1973

Move to Somerset West, Cape (1975)

House in Picardy Avenue, Somerset West. Photo: Dudley Holmes

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.