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.

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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.
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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.

BROADCASTING IN SOUTH AFRICA (1956 – 1975)

 

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BROADCASTING IN SOUTH AFRICA. 

Anne and Webster settled in South Africa in mid-July 1956. I compiled the following list from newspapers, magazines and personal diaries. Contact me if you can add more information to this list.

MOBILGAS MELODY WORLD 16 February 1956/57? Springbok Radio, 
Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth in a programme compèred by Michael Drinn.

LIGHT UP AND LAUGH – ITMA, December1956. Thirteen-week series on Springbok Radio, recorded at the Brooke Theatre. Webster (rather incongruously!) took Tommy Handley’s part in South African presentation of ITMA scripts.

ELDORADO, (Ralph Trewhela) 1957. Anne and Webster took the leading roles in this musical, directed by Frank Douglass, SABC Theatre Orchestra, conducted by Jeremy Schulman. Work commissioned by SABC for 21st anniversary programme.

AT HOME WITH ANNE, commenced on 21 January 1958. Anne presented this series on Springbok Radio. The programme was still running in July 1959.

DO YOU REMEMBER? 1959 to 24 April 1960, Anne and Webster presented weekly music programme on Springbok Radio on Sunday afternoon. They spoke about their illustrious careers and the people with whom they had worked. I have asked numerous times whether there are any copies of this programme still in the archives of Springbok Radio. Sadly, I have had no response to my query.+

Anne in a recording of a broadcast at SABC, 1963

CONCERT HOUR 1960 – English service of the SABC. SABC Concert Orchestra, Rita Roberts, Webster Booth, Asaf and Philharmonic Choirs, conducted by Anton Hartman. 

DOUGLAS LAWS Record show, 4 October 1960. Anne and Webster appeared as guest artistes.

MESSIAH 8 December 1960. Webster sang tenor solos in the Port Elizabeth Oratorio Festival, conducted by Robert Selley.

TEST YOURSELF 1960. Anne and Webster presented this quiz show together on Springbok Radio.

OPERA, ORATORIO AND OPERETTA (ON WINGS OF SONG) Wednesdays at 8.30 pm, later Thursday, 9.20 pm, 1961. Webster presented a weekly programme of recordings (including some of their own) on the English Service.

DREAM OF GERONTIUS, MESSIAH, 27 November 1961. Port Elizabeth Oratorio Festival broadcast Monday and Wednesday at 8.00 pm. Webster had appeared in the first performance of the Dream of Gerontius in South Africa in Cape Town in 1957. Webster, with Emelie Hooke, Joyce Scotcher, Harold Hart, Port Elizabeth Orchestra, directed by Robert Selley.

GILBERT AND SULLIVAN 1962, 1963. When the copyright on Gilbert’s words ended, Webster presented a weekly programme on the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas on the English Service. During his illness in 1962, Paddy O’Byrne read the scripts of this programme.

DRAWING ROOM, April 1962. Webster presented a short series of drawing room concerts before a studio audience on the English Service. He and Anne sang in this series, and a number of guest artistes took part. He also sang duets with the bass, Graham Burns. The guest artistes were Doris Brasch, Rita Roberts, Gert Potgieter, Gé Korsten, Graham Burns, Jean Gluckman, Kathleen Allister and Walter Mony The accompanist was Anna Bender.

1962 Drawing room-02

Here is a recording from The Drawing Room. Webster is accompanied by Anna Bender.

FRIEND O’ MINE (1962)

MUSIC FOR ROMANCE, August 1962. Anne presented a series of programmes in which she presented recordings and reminisced about her life and career in England.

PORT ELIZABETH ORATORIO FESTIVAL, November 1962. Elijah and Messiah. 
Webster, Monica Hunter, Joyce Scotcher, and Graham Burns, conducted by Robert Selley. 
The complete oratorios were broadcast locally in the Eastern Cape. Excerpts were broadcast nationally later, but strangely, none of Webster’s recordings were used in the national broadcast.

RECITAL WITH ORCHESTRA 8 April1963. Anne and Webster sang a programme of duets, with orchestra conducted by Edgar Cree, on the English service.

BALLADS OLD AND NEW, October 1963. Webster presented this short series on the English Service towards the end of 1963.

SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE PALACE, November 1963. A short series, which attempted to recreate the atmosphere of the Music Hall on the English Service. Anne and Webster were guest artistes on this programme. 

Webster, Anne, Jeanette James and Bruce Anderson sing a quartet in the programme
GREAT VOICES, 1963-1964. Webster presented this series on the English Service. He was unkindly criticised by the critic Jon Sylvester of The Star for including some of his own recordings on the programme, yet most people expected to hear Webster Booth the singer, as well as Webster Booth, lately-turned broadcaster. If one listens to recordings of Webster Booth, one will realise that he had a very great voice indeed and should be remembered today as a great singer, rather than as a romantic duettist. I sent a letter of protest to Jon Silvester under the pseudonym of Pooh Bah.

I met Webster in the street shortly after this cutting appeared in The Star and he asked me if I had written it. I asked him how he knew, and he replied that I was the only one who could have written it!

Pooh Bah
Me (as Pooh Bah) sent a letter of protest to Jon Silvester!

SUNDAY AT HOME 1963. English Service. Paddy O’Byrne conducted a fifteen minute interview with Anne and Webster at their home in Craighall Park. Click on the link to listen to the broadcast:  PADDY O’BYRNE PRESENTED SUNDAY AT HOME WITH ANNE ZIEGLER AND WEBSTER BOOTH (1963)

OPERA AND OPERETTA, July 1964, Monday, 7.35 pm. Webster returned to the English Service with this series.

IF THE SHOE FITS, Christmas 1964. Webster and Anne starred in this Christmas pantomime on the English Service.

CHILDREN’S PROGRAMME 1965. Anne and Webster presented a series of children’s programmes, directed by Kathleen Davydd.

TEN O’CLOCK AND ALL’S WELL, September 1966. Webster was guest presenter for a week in this short series on the English Service. Earlier in the year he had presented a “sort of housewives’ choice” programme early in the morning.

By that time I was living in the UK but Webster told me about TEN O’CLOCK AND ALL’S WELL in a letter dated 19 September 1966.September 7 66 LWB2


 

 

 

ORCHESTRAL CONCERT (FOR JOHANNESBURG EIGHTIETH BIRTHDAY)  
2 October 1966, CITY HALL, JOHANNESBURG. Anne and Webster were soloists, with the SABC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edgar Cree. 
O lovely night (Anne and Webster) 
Drink to me only with thine eyes (Anne)
Lehar medley (Anne and Webster) 
The Holy City (Webster) 
Love’s old sweet song (Anne and Webster) We’ll gather lilacs (Anne and Webster) 
Selection from Bitter Sweet (Anne and Webster)

MELODY MARKET, May 1967. Webster presented this programme in the early morning on the English Service.  “A sort of housewife’s choice,” was how he described it. It was the last programme for the SABC before he and Anne left Johannesburg for Knysna a month or so later. 

SOUTH AFRICA A TOUCH OF THE BRITISH, 29 May 1973. BBC TV. 
Documentary. Anne and Webster appeared in this documentary. Anne said that she had had enough of South Africa and wanted to go home to die. The programme ended with Anne and Webster singing We’ll gather lilacs

PETER BROOMFIELD’S OPEN HOUSE, 20 March 1975. English Service. 
Anne and Webster were guests of Peter Broomfield on his morning programme, broadcast from Cape Town, on the English Service. Anne’s friend, Babs Wilson-Hill (Marie Thompson) who was on a visit from the UK, and Anne and Webster’s singing dog, Silva were also present in the studio. Silva sang along to a Harry Lauder record! 

A MUSICIAN REMEMBERS, 19 and 26 October 1975. English Service. Webster reminisced about his career in the theatre. Click on the link to hear this programme: A MUSICIAN REMEMBERS 1

A MUSICIAN REMEMBERS, 2 and 9 November 1975. English Service. Anne reminisced about her career in the theatre. Click on the link to hear the programme: A MUSICIAN REMEMBERS 2

WOMENS’ WORLD, English Service,1975 – Pamela Deal, who had conducted the first interview with Anne and Webster when they stopped off briefly on their way to Australia in 1948, interviewed them again when they decided to stop singing in public. They had given a farewell concert in Somerset West towards the end of 1975. This decision was rescinded when they moved back to the UK in early 1978 and found that people remembered them and wanted to see and hear them once again.

 When Anne and Webster left South Africa their voices were rarely heard on South African radio. Ronald Charles, the broadcaster and musician who had been the musical director at Michaelhouse in the sixties, played several of Webster’s oratorio recordings from his personal collection on his classical request programme. As far as I know, most of the 78s in the SABC record library were discarded, but as time passed, a number of their recordings were released on CD. Occasionally a recording was played on Uit Vergange se Dae on Radio Pretoria. 

The late Paddy O’Byrne was always happy to play a recording when he was with the SABC and later at Radio Today, although his access to their recordings was extremely limited. Clare Marshall, on her Sunday morning programme, Morning Star on Radio Today 1485, was about the only broadcaster in South Africa to feature their recordings regularly. Sadly, her programme is no longer on the air as the station has changed direction recently. After I wrote my book Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth Clare invited me to be her guest on her Morning Star programme on 28 April 2013. Click on the link at: My interview with Clare Marshall on “Morning Star” (28 April 2013)



Compiled by Jean Collen. Updated in 2017.