PADDY PRIOR – WEBSTER BOOTH’S SECOND WIFE

On 22 April 1948 she and Bettie Bucknelle sailed for Australia, where they intended to make a new life. Paddy’s brother had settled there some time earlier. It must have been upsetting for Paddy to see Webster and Anne as established stars while, despite her considerable talent, she had not made a big and lasting name for herself.

Paddy Prior in Newquay
Paddy Prior at the Old Vicarage, Newquay after World War 2

Webster Booth married his second wife, Dorothy Annie Alice Prior (stage name Paddy Prior) on 10 October 1932 at the Fulham Registry Office. He had married Winifred Keey there eight years earlier but had divorced her in 1931 after she deserted him and their small son, Keith, several years before.

Marriage Henderson Prior

Marriage certificate of Hubert Edward Prior and Annie Jane Henderson on 25 October 1902.

Paddy Prior, was born in December 1904, the daughter of Fulham ironmonger, Hubert and his wife, Annie Henderson. Paddy began her professional stage career while still a teenager. She was a talented soubrette, comedienne and dancer, and possessed a pleasant mezzo soprano voice into the bargain.

Paddy’s parents lived at Disbrowe Road when they were first married.

Disbrowe Road
Disbrowe Road, Fulham (today)

Paddy’s birthplace in Fulham. Her baptism on 29 January 1905 at St Peter, Fulham.

Baptismal certificate.
Baptismal certificate – Dorothy Annie Alice Prior.

1911 Census

1911 census Paddy Prior
1911 census

George William Henderson was a relative of Annie Jane Prior (nee Henderson).

In 1924, at the age of nineteen, Paddy spent nearly a year as a member of the travelling Rogues concert party from April to January 1925. In various reviews Paddy was praised for her comedy talent and her speciality dancing with comedian Fred Roper. They were appearing at Leas Pavilion, Folkestone in January 1925, but by the 5 February Paddy had left the Rogues to join the Gamblers and Their Tipster concert party at the same venue. This party also toured extensively, so before she was twenty-one, Paddy had seen much of the country and gained valuable professional experience into the bargain.

24 December 1924

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Whitehall Court, Fulham – Paddy’s home in the 1920s.

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In November 1925 Paddy appeared at the Taunton Lyceum in Little Miss Muffet as Dolly Dimple. The pantomime toured various towns until early 1926.

Little Miss Muffet (1925)
Little Miss Muffet – Paddy played Little Dolly Dimple.

By April Paddy was out of work and obliged to put an advertisement in The Stage as follows:

8 April 1926 PADDY PRIOR, SOUBRETTE AND DANCER, VACANT: First class offers for CP, Revue, and Musical Comedy. PA 37 Arundel Mansions, Fulham SW6

By July Paddy was working again, this time with Leslie Fuller’s Whitby Pedlars, and a review pointed out that, “Paddy Prior is a charming and dainty soubrette, who uses her mezzo voice effectively.”

The pattern of Paddy’s stage career was set: concert party, after-dinner entertainment, pantomime and musical comedy. Towards the end of the twenties she was also on television at Daventry, first in De Courville’s Hour in 1929.

Albert de Courville.

Albert de Courville

then in the early thirties in Philip Ridgeway’s series entitled The Ridgeway Parade, which included Janet Lind, Dorothy Dampier and Hermione Gingold in the cast. She starred in the Cicely Courtneidge role on a Scottish tour of Lido Lady in 1929.

31 January 1929 – Advertisement in The Stage. PADDY PRIOR – Playing Lead LIDO LADY Co. This week, Theatre Royal, Inverness, next His Majesty’s, Aberdeen

Selection from LIDO LADY

Stage adverts
Stage adverts

Cast of Ridgeway ParadeDress Rehearsal

The Ridgeway Parade – Regional Programme London, 7 October 1931 21.15 (New Series. No. I) Sweep Night – A Song and Dance Show Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical Arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN
Devised and Produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY
FRED CURTIS , BERTHA WILLMOTT, IRENE VERE, HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, SINCLAIR COLE, BERT MEREDITH, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON, LOLA GORDON, BEATRICE GALLEWAY, JACK HODGES, JOHN CHARLTON, PADDY PRIOR, ARTHUR JAY, WALLACE NORFORD. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA. PHILIP RIDGEWAY.

THE FIRST OF THE NEW SERIES OF RIDGEWAY PARADES – National Programme Daventry, 9 October 1931 20.00 SWEEP NIGHT – A song and dance show, written by Holt Marvell and Philip Ridgeway. Musical arrangements by Dorothy Hogben. Devised and produced by Philip Ridgeway. Fred Curtis, Bertha Wilmott, Irene Vere, Hermione Gingold, Gerald Osborne, Dorothy Dampier, Anna Day, Sinclair Cole, Bert Meredith, Douglas Pemberton, Lola Gordon, Beatrice Galleway, Jack Hodges, John Charlton, Paddy Prior, Arthur Jay, Wallace Norford, Dorothy Hogben and her Orchestra. Philip Ridgeway.

Singing, dancing, burlesque-and Mr. Ridgeway. The producer is the life and soul of his own shows. It is Philip Ridgeway who designed costumes for his Paraders to wear in the Studio, who makes his whole company dance furiously for a minute before the red light goes on in order that they should start their broadcast warmed up, who created and impersonated Joe Ramsbotham of Rawthenstall, of the unsteady Lancashire accent. These Parades, of which the present series is the third, are among the most generally popular light entertainments ever broadcast. They may lack the subtlety and satire of the revues of Gordon McConnel, John Watt, Denis Freeman; their aim is otherwise—broad humour, popular songs, vitality, rather than finesse. Many of the members of former Parade companies are taking part in the present series. Mr. Ridgeway’s musical director, Dorothy Hogben, is again in charge of the orchestra. Philip Ridgeway is well qualified to possess an acquaintance with the popular taste in entertainment. Still in his thirties, he has been connected with the theatre since he was a boy, as actor, author, producer and manager in turn. It is typical of his lively versatility that the two most widely acclaimed achievements of his career have been his introduction of Chekhov to London, at the Barnes Theatre, several years ago, and the invention last autumn of the Ridgeway Parades. Tonight he will be beside the microphone as usual, the inevitable flower in his buttonhole, waving his company on, a cross between Sir Henry Wood, Francois Descamps and Grock. So on with the show. We’re a lot of little songs to chase the blues, Dancing shoes to amuse. We’re the lightest and the brightest of revues, We’re the Ridgeway Parade.

The Ridgeway Parade – National Programme Daventry, 22 October 1931 20.00 (New Series-No. II) Sweetheart Night – A Song and Dance Show Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical Arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN. Devised and Produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY. DOROTHY DAMPIER, HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, FRED CURTIS, SINCLAIR COLE, BERT MEREDITH, LOLA GORDON, JOHN CHARLTON, PADDY PRIOR, JACK HODGES , DORIS YORKE, ALEXANDER HENDERSON, WALLACE MORFORD, BEATRICE GALLEWAY, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA.  PHILIP RIDGEWAY

The Ridgeway Parade – Regional Programme London, 4 November 1931 20.30 (New Series-No. Ill) – Old Soldiers’ Night – A Song and Dance Show Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical Arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN. Devised and Produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY. HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, BERT MEREDITH, SINCLAIR COLE, JOHN CHARLTON, FRED CURTIS, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON, LOLA GORDON, PADDY PRIOR, JACK HODGES, WALLACE MORFORD, DORIS YORKE, ALEXANDER HENDERSON, BEATRICE GALLEWAY.BL_0000381_19321224_010_0001

Ridgeway Parade2
Ridgeway Parade

The Ridgeway Parade— V Regional Programme London, 2 December 1931 20.00 (New Series) Typists’, Brunettes’, and Dukes’ Night – A Song and Dance Show Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP Ridgeway.  HERMIONEGINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, BERT MEREDITH, SINCLAIR COLE, JOHN CHARLTON, FRED CURTIS, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON, LOLA GORDON, BEATRlCE GALLEWAY,  ALEXANDER HENDERSON, PADDY PRIOR, JACK HODGES, WALLACE MORFORD, DORIS YORKE. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA, PHILIP RIDGEWAY.

The Ridgeway Parade – Regional Programme London, 16 December 1931 20.00 (New Series-No. VI) HAPPY NIGHT. A SONG AND DANCE SHOW Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN. Devised and produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY.  HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, BERT MEREDITH, SINCLAIR COLE, JOHN CHARLTON. FRED CURTIS, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, ALEXANDER HENDERSON , DORIS YORKE, WALLACE MORFORD, JACK HODGES, PADDY PRIOR, BEATRICE GALLEWAY, LOLA GORDON, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA. PHILIP RIDGEWAY

MURRAY ASHFORD’S ENTERTAINERS – Regional Programme Midland, 17 June 1932 18.30 From THE PAVILION, JEPHSON GARDENS, LEAMINGTON SPA. WINIFRED SCOTT-BAXTER (Soprano), EDWARD WARD, (Baritone), CLIFFORD WARREN (Entertainer), PADDY PRIOR (Soubrette), MARIE GROS (Comedienne), DOROTHY BRADSHAW (at the Piano), FRANK RYDON (Light Comedian), WILBY LUNN and CONNIE HART (Living Marionettes).

MANY interesting personalities are associated with Murray Ashford’s Entertainers. Paddy Prior is familiar to admirers of the Ridgeway Parade, Marie Gros is the niece of the late Marie Lloyd and sings many of her songs, while Edward Ward has appeared in several Drury Lane successes.

Webster Booth divorced his first wife, Winifred Keey, in 1931.

DIVORCE NOTICE
Between Leslie Webster Booth (Petitioner) and Winifred Dorothy Booth (Respondent) and Trevor Davey (Co-respondent)

TAKE NOTICE that a Petition has been filed in this Division endorsed with Notice to you to appear and answer the charges in the Petition of Leslie Webster Booth of 151 Biggin Hill, Upper Norwood, in the County of London, praying for a dissolution of marriage. In default of your so appearing, you will not be allowed to address the Court, and the Court will proceed and hear the said Petition proved and pronounce sentence. AND TAKE FURTHER NOTICE THAT for the purpose of the aforesaid within one month after the date of this Publication an appearance must be entered at the Divorce Registry, Somerset in respect thereof AND TAKE FURTHER NOTICE THAT House, Strand, London. W INDERWICK, Registrar, Solicitors for the Petitioner:-W H Speed & Co., 18 Sackville Street, London, W1

Like Webster, Paddy was a member of the Concert Artistes’ Association, and it was there that she first heard Webster sing. In an interview with W.S. Meadmore in Gramophone in November 1935, Webster described his meeting with Paddy. He was singing One Alone from The Desert Song when his attention was drawn to her seated in the audience, obviously enjoying his singing. They were introduced after the concert and married on 10 October 1932.  They spent their honeymoon in Newquay, Cornwall.

Webster Booth and Paddy Prior appeared together at the Bellingham Club 5 months prior to their marriage.
Clacton Entertainers present Paddy with a wedding gift at the end of September 1932.

10 October 1932 – Marriage. Webster married Dorothy Annie Alice Prior on 10 October 1932 at Fulham Registry Office, the same registry office where he had married Winifred Keey in 1924.

While married to Dorothy (Paddy) Prior, the couple lived at 5 Crescent Court, Golders Green Crescent, NW11. They were listed separately in the telephone book as Webster Booth, tenor, Speedwell 6608; and Paddy Prior, soubrette-entertainer, Speedwell 6608

Although Webster was living with Anne at her flat in Lauderdale Mansions in 1937, Paddy and Webster remained listed in the telephone book at the same address until their divorce was made final in October 1938.

13 October 1932 – Wedding Bells. Paddy Prior and Webster Booth were married at the Fulham Register Office last Monday. A reception followed before the bride and bridegroom left for a honeymoon at Newquay, and several professional friends were in attendance to toast the happy couple.

One Alone

5 Crescent Court
5 Crescent Court, Golders Green Crescent, Golders Green

Paddy and Webster lived at Crescent Court, Golders Green Crescent, Golders Green during their marriage (pictured above).

May 1933 – Piccadilly Revels. Murray Ashford and Wilby Lunn’s Piccadilly Revels will open a fortnight’s engagement at the Pavilion, Bournemouth, next Monday, with a visit to the Argyle, Birkenhead, to follow. The company will start their long resident season at the Floral Hall, Scarborough, on Whit Saturday. The Western Brothers, Ena Broughton, Webster Booth, Paddy Prior, Violet Stevens, Edgar Sawyer, Andrée Conti, Isolde, Alexis and Carlo, and the Euphan Maclaren Girls form the cast.

Piccadilly Revels, Scarborough 1933

1933 Piccadilly Revelsa

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Piccadilly Revels. Webster is seated in middle row with Paddy to the left.

Paddy Prior (middle row left), Webster Booth (seated next to her)

In 1934 they were members of Powis Pinder’s Sunshine concert party at the Sunshine Theatre, Shanklin. Arthur Askey and Bernard Lee were also in this company.

Paddy Prior (extreme left) Webster Booth (standing behind Arthur Askey) Sunshine Concert Party, Shanklin 1934

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Sunshine, Shanklin.

At the end of 1934 Webster was chosen to play Faust in the film, The Faust Fantasy and Anne Ziegler was chosen to play Marguerite. Filming began in December and, according to Anne and Webster’s joint autobiography Duet, they fell in love almost at first sight. Paddy’s marriage to Webster was about to end before it had properly begun.

Filming Faust (1934/1935)

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Webster and Anne meet during the filming of Faust

1935 – Fred Hartley’s wedding. Mrs Webster Booth (Paddy) is mentioned as being one of the wedding guests present.

https://clyp.it/ovf2ai2i Roses of Picardy. Click on the link and listen to Webster singing this song with Fred Hartley’s quintet.

Fred Hartley's wedding 1935Mention of Mrs Webster Booth as one of the guests at the wedding.

In May 1935 Webster and Paddy did an extensive broadcast from Daventry entitled A Musical Comedy Pot-Pourri. Harry Bidgood and Sydney Jerome accompanied them on two pianos and played several piano duets. Paddy and Webster sang several duets together.

Webster Booth and Paddy Prior Daventry broadcast
Webster Booth and Paddy Prior Daventry broadcast – May 1935
So this is love
So this is love – Paddy and Webster sang Just Suppose as their first duet.

Two of the duets which Webster and Paddy sang in the broadcast were: Fancy Me Meeting You (Hit the Deck by Yeomans) sung here by Binnie Hale. Click on the link to listen.

Who? (Sunny by Jerome Kern) sung here by Binnie Hale and Jack Buchanan. Click on the link to listen.


As Binnie Hale is the archetypal soubrette, I dare say that Paddy’s mezzo soprano voice was similar to Binnie’s.

In October of the same year, Webster sang in an early broadcast with Anne Ziegler, several years before Paddy divorced him – the programme was called Musical Comedy Moments.

Broadcast from Daventry - Webster and Anne Ziegler
Broadcast from Daventry – Webster and Anne Ziegler

Webster and Paddy continued to work together for several years after his meeting with Anne. Their last  professional appearance was on 30 April 1936 when they performed together at the City Musical Union’s 84th Annual Dinner at the Holborn Restaurant. At the end of May they were guests at the wedding of their friends, Violet Stevens and Bryan Courage.

30 May 1936 Hastings and St Leonards pp
Special Concert in 1936

But in July 1937 Anne and Webster sailed for New York together, where Anne had been engaged to play in the musical, Virginia at the Center Theater. She had changed her name to Anne Booth for this production, after being advised that Americans disliked German-sounding names at that time also anticipating her eventual marriage to Webster. Webster returned to Southampton onboard the MV Georgic and gave his address as 74 Lauderdale Mansions, Maida Vale (Anne’s flat), although he was still listed in the telephone directory as living in Crescent Court, Golders Green, where he and Paddy had spent their short married life.

From the beginning of 1938 Anne and Webster began taking engagements together, while Paddy filed for divorce on 29 March 1938 “on the grounds of his adultery in April 1937, with Miss Irene Eastwood, otherwise Miss Anne Zeigler (sic), singer…”

29 March 1938 Decree nisi (1)
Decree nisi March 1938

In September 1938 before Webster’s divorce from Paddy had been finalised, Anne was featured on the cover of Radio Pictorial sporting an opulent diamond solitaire engagement ring:

Radio Pictorial

and on 7 October 1938 the absolute decree was granted to Paddy Prior against Webster Booth. Anne was named as the co-respondent in the divorce.

After the divorce Paddy moved to 14 Muswell Hill Road, sharing her new home with a young Welsh singer, Bettie Bucknelle, who had sung on the radio show, Band Waggon, which starred Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch. In January 1939 Bettie was featured in a show with Charlie Kunz and Denny Dennis.

Bettie Bucknelle
Bettie Bucknelle was singing with Denny Denis in a Charlie Kunz show on Radio Luxembourg and Radio Normandy in early 1939.

Bettie Bucknelle and Paddy Prior in Newquay shortly before they Bucknelle left for Australia.

Anne and Webster were married on 5 November 1938 and went on to even greater success as romantic duettists on the variety stage during the war. I always felt very sorry for Paddy having to watch Anne and Webster obtaining great fame in the theatre while she never achieved great fame despite being a talented and hard working performer.

Witcock and Rutherford’s WEST-END VANITIES  – Regional Programme London, 21 December 1938 16.30 Helen Hill, Paddy Prior, Jean Forbes-Macintyre, Lucas Bassett, Bradley Harris, Derek Moreland, Frank Wilcock, Tubby Harold. Introduced by Harry S. Pepper.

The Folkestone Bouquets. Paddy Prior, middle row  (2nd from the right) 1939.

Bouquets' concert party Paddy Prior

ROUND THE CONCERT PARTIES, No. – Regional Programme London, 28 July 1939 20.30 A composite programme of excerpts from three concert parties –DAZZLE Presented by Eric Ross from Pierrot Land, Bognor Regis – Ida Williams, John Lovering, Barbara Wells, Fred Gibson, Eric Ross, Ted Andrews, The Dazzle Girls, Joan Pendleton, Violet Shute, Beryl Pryer and Phyllis Revell.

SUMMER FOLLIES Presented by Will Catlin, Devised and produced by Harry Bright from the Arcadia Theatre, Llandudno. Phil Strickland, The Carlyle Cousins, Terry and Doris Kendall, Ross Eaves, Marion Francis, Sydney Snape, Vera Kitchen, Leslie Moorhouse, Joan Cowley, The Mayfair Dancers,Wagstaff’s Zelo Orchestra.

1939 FOLKESTONE BOUQUETS Presented by Wilby Lunn from the Marine Gardens Pavilion, Folkestone. Betty Pugh Bruce Clark, Dorothy Bradshaw, Harold Stead, Paddy Prior, Stock Wynn, George Carden, The Mariajanos, Marguerite Lome, Eileen Lome, Hylda Burdon, Ruby Savage, Wilby Lunn and Connie Hart.  The programme presented by Harry S. Pepper

A show in 1941.

1941 show

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Variety concert (1941)

Paddy continued with her theatrical career and when war broke out she joined ENSA. Here is a photograph of Paddy entertaining the troops during World War 2.

Paddy Prior (2)
Paddy entertaining the troops during World War 2

Signatures of Paddy and other members of ENSA after entertaining at

Clare Hall, South Mimms in 1943.ENSA Canadian Legion, Bolton Camp

Ensa signatures
ENSA signatures

7 November 1946 PPBB

bettie-bucknelle
So Deep is the Night, with Bettie Bucknelle’s photo on the cover

20 November 1945. Only a few weeks after Anne and Webster had sung at the Victory Royal Variety Performance, Paddy was the hostess at the CAA and Bettie Bucknelle was one of the performers at this concert. One could hardly blame Paddy for feeling rather bitter about Anne and Webster’s great success while she was doing much the same thing as always.

November 1946.

Paddy and Bettie Bucknelle entertained British forces in the Middle East and returned to England in 1946. In 1947 she did a summer season with the Oval Entertainers, Margate, where a reviewer described her as “a gay young lady with a sparkling sense of humour as fresh as Margate’s famous sea breezes.”.

1947 2012.04.16_22h35m44s_043

On 22 April 1948 she and Bettie Bucknelle sailed for Australia, where they intended to make a new life. Paddy’s brother had settled there some time earlier. It must have been upsetting for Paddy to see Webster and Anne as established stars while, despite her considerable talent, she had not made a big and lasting name for herself.

Bettie Bucknelle and Paddy Prior in Newquay shortly before they Bucknelle left for Australia.

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Extract from passenger list to Australia.

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Passenger list to Australia – April 1948. Bucknell and Booth

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A  newspaper photo regarding their arrival in Australia in 1948.

Later that year Anne and Webster made an extensive and triumphant concert tour of New Zealand and Australia. They heard that Paddy and Bettie had booked seats in the front row for one of their concerts in Sydney. Webster feared that they might be planning an unpleasant demonstration against them at this concert. He was asked whether he could recommend Paddy as understudy to Cicely Courtneidge in the play, Under the Counter, which meant she would have to leave for New Zealand to rehearse the understudy role. Paddy had played the lead in a Scottish tour of Lido Lady in the late twenties, the same role in which Cicely had starred in London a few years earlier. He had no hesitation in making this recommendation, so Paddy was not able to attend the concert as she had to go to New Zealand right away to begin understudy rehearsals.

There is evidence of Bettie Bucknelle singing in a number of broadcasts, including broadcasts with the famous bandleader Jay Wilbur, but I could not find out anything about Paddy’s Australian theatrical career. In a 1949 electoral register, she is listed as a housewife!

20-february-1949-bettie-bucknelle

Shortly after Anne and Webster returned to the UK from South Africa in 1978, a letter arrived for Webster from Paddy who was still living in Australia. She said he would be welcome to visit her if he ever decided to go out there. Anne did not show this letter to Webster!

I was pleased to hear from Paddy’s niece, Beverley June McLachlan (née Prior) and her daughter, Paddy’s great-niece, Cheryl Willits recently. Paddy married Harold Bradshaw and the couple lived in Hobart, Tasmania where Paddy continued to entertain at their bowling club, singing and doing comedy skits. Cheryl mentioned that Paddy had sung on the radio with Ross Higgins,

Ross Higgins
Ross Higgins, the well-known Australian actor and entertainer who died at the age of 86 in October 2016. I am happy to know that Paddy’s subsequent life in Australia was a happy one.

Comments from Cheryl Willits and Beverley McLachlan which appeared in the original post on my Jean Collen website.

Cheryl Willits, in reply to me: Hey there, My mother might be able to help you on this as she is Paddy’s niece. I am her great niece. If you would like any info feel free to email me and I could put you in touch with my mother. Reading the article has been a delight, Regards, Cheryl.

Beverley McLachlan: Paddy Prior did marry Harold Bradshaw. She was my aunt. My Father was Paddy’s brother. Paddy and Brad lived in Tasmania and still entertained at their bowling club, singing and comedy skits in Hobart, Tasmania.

Sadly, I did not hear any more from Beverly or Cheryl.

Jean Collen

April, 2016.

Updated: 24 August 2019

TOM HOWELL’S OPIEROS

Tom Howell was then running a concert party called the Opieros – because they sang excerpts from operas on piers, as well as giving a fine selection of the usual song-and-dance turns. I decided to follow Henry’s advice. Then, during our four weeks’ leave from the D’Oyly Carte Company, Tom Howell’s tenor went down with shingles and, knowing I was ready to move, Tom wired me from Glasgow, where his Company were playing the park pavilions. I took the first train North, got an engagement, and wired D’Oyly Carte asking for my release. This was granted, and I signed on with Tom at the substantially increased salary of £6.10s a week.

tom-howell-back-wearing-boater-and-family-membersAn early photo of Tom Howell (wearing a boater) and family members.

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Tom (left) in back row, his wife Hilda with baby daughter Myfanwy and other family members

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Tom Howell and his wife Hilda September 1911.

In the nineteen-twenties there were Pierrot shows and concert parties at nearly every British seaside resort during the summer season from May to September. These shows had started in the late nineteenth century when a small troupe of male minstrels took up a pitch on the beach front, and the only payment they received after entertaining the gathered crowd was the money collected by a bottler, who went round the crowd to make a collection. These early minstrels were usually “blacked up” men in the style of the famous George Eliot, but by the turn of the century entertainers abandoned the practice of blacking up, were clad in Pierrot costumes and there were women included in some of the troupes of Pierrots.

By the twenties, the Pierrots had given way to the seaside concert party, and some of these performers even wore evening dress rather than traditional Pierrot costume. Some entertained the holiday crowds on a pitch on the beach, while others frequented pier pavilions and theatres. Bigger seaside resorts, like Blackpool, offered a variety of entertainment with top performers from the Music Hall circuit and by the thirties, this line-up included popular radio and screen personalities. At smaller resorts entertainment was more modest.

A concert party, usually run by a performing manager, would consist of a pianist, a comedian, a dancer, a soubrette and several straight singers. These performers were competent professionals who spent the colder months of the year at company, livery and Masonic dinners, in cabaret at large restaurants to the accompaniment of clattering plates and loud conversation, and, as Christmas approached, in provincial pantomimes. Most of them were unknown to the wider UK public, but became firm local favourites with holiday-makers who spent their week or fortnight’s annual holiday at the same resort, year after year. Straight singers would sing popular ballads and songs of the day and sometimes take part in skits with the comedian and other members of their party.

ANITA EDWARDS WITH THE OPIEROS

Professor Kenneth Morgan of Swansea contacted me recently to let me know that he had photographs of the Opieros Concert Party and individual photographs of Anita Edwards, the daughter of his great-grandmother’s sister, who had been a member of the Opieros in the nineteen-twenties. I was delighted to receive copies of these photographs, unfortunately, taken before Webster Booth joined the party in 1927, but Anita is featured in each one. It seems that she joined the Opieros in 1925 and remained with them until 1927.

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Anita Edwards

Opieros with Anita Edwards. May, June 1925.

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Tom Howell’s Opieros was different from the majority of concert parties for although he employed light entertainers, he combined his strong baritone voice with a good tenor, contralto and soprano to present scenes from the opera, hence the name of his group – Opieros – a hitherto unlikely combination of opera and pier. The group also appeared in municipal parks providing entertainment for those who had not ventured to the coast.

Like the leader of the Opieros, Tom Howell from Swansea, and tenor Lucas Bassett from Pontypridd, Anita Edwards was also Welsh, born in Llanelli on 14 November 1900. Anita Edwards was a soprano, who trained at the Royal Academy of Music with Dr Charles Phillips. While she was a student she won many prizes, including the Rutson Memorial Prize and the Westmoreland Prize. While at the Academy she sang the principal roles of Manon in Massenet’s Manon opposite Welsh tenor, Manuel Jones and Nedda in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.

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Opieros – Tom is in the centre, Anita Edwards(top right).

 In 1924 she sang at a concert on Mumbles Pier, which also featured Frank Mullings, one of the foremost tenors of the day, and Idris Daniels of Pencader,  a popular baritone. Critics praised Anita particularly for her fine singing of One Fine Day from Madame Butterfly by Puccini. On Christmas night 1925, while on holiday from her tour with the Opieros, she sang in a concert at the Llewellyn Hall, Swansea. This concert comprised selections from various oratorios and featured Frank Mullings and the distinguished Australian baritone, Harold Williams, who was considered to be one of the greatest exponents of Elijah in Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah.

During her time with the Opieros Concert Party, she sang soprano solos and featured in the various operatic ensembles presented by the Opieros.  So far we have not found out what Anita Edwards did after she left the Opieros. She married Lionel Beaumont in Wandsworth, Surrey in 1949, and died in Carmarthen in mid-1986.

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Webster Booth

Webster Booth had worked with Tom Howell’s brother, Henry (stage name, Henry Blain) in the D’Oyly Carte company from 1923 – 1927. When Henry heard that Webster was planning to leave D’Oyly Carte, fearing that he might remain in the chorus forever, waiting vainly to fill “dead men’s shoes”, he suggested that Webster should contact Tom, whose tenor had been taken ill. Tom employed Webster as a replacement and he remained with the Opieros until 1930, and also appeared in two Brixton pantomimes with Tom in 1927 and 1928.

Webster’s first appearance with the Opieros was in the Glasgow park pavilions where his salary in 1927 was £6.10s a week. Judging by notices in The Stage the party was very popular and the performers and their excellent accompanist, H Baynton-Power always received good notices. Peggy Rhodes, a promising contralto, was a member of the party for some time, as well as Walter Badham the humorist and Doris Godfrey, a child mimic.

Tom Howell died in the early nineteen-fifties. If anyone can tell me more about any members of the Opieros, please contact me.

Recently I heard from Tom Howell’s great-niece, Sarah Tongue, who was kind enough to send me family photos of the Howell family and give me some information about the family. Their surname was originally Howells, but the “s” was dropped later on. The siblings of Tom Howell were Henry Howell, born in 1895. He was a bass-baritone and sang with the D’Oyly Carte Company under the name of Henry Blain, David,  who died from wounds at the end of World War One, Arthur who served in the navy in World War One, Emlyn, the youngest brother emigrated to Australia, Jack, and their only sister Maud, and William Howell who was her grandfather. They had moved from Wales to Bournville in Birmingham where some members of the family worked at the Cadbury factory before World War One.

I am including a selection of the photos sent to me by Sarah, including some “mystery” ones which are, nevertheless, most interesting.

Sarah as a baby with her mother who was the daughter of William Howell, Tom’s youngest brother.

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Among the photos in this collection is one of the Asaf and Powell’s Harlequinaders (below). Felix Powell, a Welshman, was the composer of the World War One hit, Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kitbag. 

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Another photo in the Howells’ collection is this charming one of Ernest Lord’s Excelsior Concert party dating from the early years of the twentieth century Agnes Singleton appeared with this group:

A contralto and elocutionist in Ernest Lord’s Excelsior Concert party in the early years of the twentieth century

Alice Singleton appeared with the Excelsiors as a contralto and an elocutionist in the early years of the twentieth century.

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Tom and sister Maud and others while they were working for Cadbury’s, Bournville.

Tom served in the Navy during the First World War. Unlike David, he survived the war and was able to continue his theatrical career when the war ended.

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An autographed photo of handsome David Howell who died from wounds sustained at the end of World War One.

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Tom Howell in the navy during World War 1

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Arthur Howell served in the Royal Navy during World War 1 and after the war became a painter and decorator. He was married to Maggie and died in the 1970s, some time after Tom, who died in 1952.

17 May 1918 Warlingham For the YMCA Hut Fund

Tom Howell’s sister, Sarah married the singer, Alf Jones. Sadly, she died of Spanish ‘flu at the early age of 34. Sarah was the great aunt of Sarah Tongue who kindly sent me these photographs. She was named after her great aunt Sarah.

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Sarah Howell with brother Tom and unknown man
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Alf Jones, husband of Sarah Howell. He too was a singer and signed this photo in 1917.
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Sarah Jones with her baby, Reg. Sarah must have died in 1918 or 1919 after contracting the Spanish ‘flu.
               Palace Theatre, Reading. 27 October 1918.                                                                                 1919 Fundraising concert for the Middlesex Hospital with George Robey, The Gresham Singers, Edmund Gwenn, Tom Howell, Lily Langtry… 

 Tom was associated with the Redios before he started the Opieros. This party was under the direction of Wilby Lunn who did an interesting double act in the show with Connie Hart. The tenor Leonard Lovesey was in the party and no doubt he and Tom sang duets together, as Tom did later with Webster in the Opieros.  

The Redios (1924)

In 1922, the Opieros presented Tom Howell with a beautiful silver cigarette case with the names of the company engraved around the side of the case. I’m afraid only the names on the left side are visible: Chas Bailey, Billy Hunn? A.A. Cash…cigarette-case-from-cast-to-tom-img211

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Tom Howell in Pierrot costume
Tom Howell, leader of the Opieros in Pierrot costume.

Leas Pavilion – 19th and 26th October 1925.

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Tom Howell's Opieros

8 May 1924 – The Opieros. A capital entertainment is given this week at the Penarth Pier Pavilion by The Opieros; the vocal talent being remarkably good. A leading item of a fine programme is the Prison Scene from Faust, which is given with considerable ability by Agnes Hirst as Marguerite, Lucas Bassett as Faust and Tom Howell as Mephistopheles… Peggy Rhodes and Hylda Romney add to the evening’s enjoyment.

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Alice Singleton (second from left) and Anita Edwards (right). I do not know the names of the other two women. The one in costume on the left performed with Tom in the Opieros. Alice Singleton was a contralto and elocutionist and was a member of Ernest Lord’s concert party, the Excelsiors.

Webster Booth joined D’Oyly Carte Company in 1923, aged 21. He and Henry Blain are listed in this programme for the London season at the Princes Theatre in 1924.

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myffanwyTom and Hilda’s daughter, Myfanwy.

Below: Hilda, Tom’s wife.hilda2

Extract from Duet by Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler (1951)

Webster Booth wrote as follows:

One of my friends in the D’Oyly Carte Company was a baritone, Henry Blain, a Welshman, whose real name was Henry Howell. When I was looking round for a new opening in the spring of 1927, after returning from Canada, Henry said: “Why don’t you go and see my brother Tom? He wants a new tenor, I think.”

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Henry Blain (Howell) Henry Blain was born in 1895 in Wales as Henry Howell.Henry was a bass-baritone chorister with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company from May 1920 until June 1931. He went on the first D’Oyly Carte tour to the United States in 1929.

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 During this time he played the smaller roles of Second Yeoman in The Yeomen of the Guard, Guron in Princess Ida, Samuel in The Pirates of Penzance, and Luiz in The Gondoliers. He was married to Clarice, the D’Oyly Carte wardrobe mistress.henry-and-clarice-wedding-img177

Henry and Clarice’s wedding photo

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Henry and his wife, Clarice

 He died in November 1955 at the early age of 60 and was buried in the Family Grave at Yardley Cemetery, Birmingham.

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Grand Smoking concert, 21 October 1926, the year before Webster joined the Opieros.

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Cannon Street Hotel. The Communist party was founded there in 1920. It was destroyed during the London blitz in World War Two.

Webster continued:

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Tom Howell.

Tom Howell was then running a concert party called the Opieros – because they sang excerpts from operas on piers, as well as giving a fine selection of the usual song-and-dance turns. I decided to follow Henry’s advice. Then, during our four weeks’ leave from the D’Oyly Carte Company, Tom Howell’s tenor went down with shingles and, knowing I was ready to move, Tom wired me from Glasgow, where his Company were playing the park pavilions. I took the first train North, got an engagement, and wired D’Oyly Carte asking for my release. This was granted, and I signed on with Tom at the substantially increased salary of £6.10s a week.

It was grand experience, and taught me a very great deal. Singing extracts from operas, and travelling each Sunday to seaside places, I learned how to hang stage curtains, make stages, work out intricate journeys by train, boat and lorry in some cases, how to pack unwielding stage props and curtains, and above all how to check the money in a “house” without counting the tickets! It matters, believe me! I very soon knew by glancing through the curtain peephole whether a “house” was below £20 or above £50. I was swept into the extraordinary camaraderie of the concert party, which is one of the nicest states on earth – but only if the troupe is well managed! I learned how to avoid causing professional jealousies, how to make the most of my turn without giving offence, how to hold a restive audience of casual holidaymakers worrying about the next boarding-house meal or whether little Tommy (left in charge of someone else) has yet met with a fatal accident.

That was a happy summer, a summer of sunshine and laughter, boy-and-girl light heartedness, a lot of swimming and strolling and fun. When it was over we came to London. I had most of my last week’s salary in my pockets, and nothing else in them except my hands! I had never heard then, of such things as Masonic banquets and Sunday League Concerts, and I was suddenly awfully worried about what to do next. Tom knew this, and took me to his home. Each evening he had such a booking he would take me along with him. Often, when he had sung his first group of songs, he would introduce “a new young singer who will sing a duet with me”.After a time, this resulted in my obtaining some winter bookings of my own, and so I was able to pay back what I owed and make my financial way. I don’t know what I should have done without Tom Howell’s kindness and generosity at that time.

1927-1930 – Tom Howell’s Opieros concert party. The concert party presented operatic excerpts at park pavilions and piers. Webster’s first appearance with them was in Glasgow in the summer of 1927.

By this time Webster Booth was living in Tom Howell’s former apartment, at 103A Streatham Hills, SW2, Streatham 7989. Tom Howell’s new address was: 1 Daysbrook Road, SW2. Telephone: Streatham 1380 .

That winter he introduced me to Fred Melville, the famous “pantomime king” of the period, and somehow persuaded him to book the two of us in his pantomime at the Brixton Theatre, St George and the Dragon. I was to be King Arthur and Tom was Sir Mordred de Killingsbury, the villain of the piece. It was my first venture into the strange world of pantomime, and I loved it! The whole secret is that the players make a sort of party of it, in which the children (and their parents!) are guests who join in all the songs and play a great part in everything themselves. The show was a great success. I remember a banquet scene when, after a few very fiery words between us, Tom and I stepped out and sang (for no reason at all) the famous old duet Love and War. This always gained enormous applause, and is still remembered by a lot of Brixtonians.

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30 December 1927 – The Stage. Saint George and the Dragon, The Brixton. On Monday, December 26 1927, Mr Frederick Melville presented here his twentieth annual pantomime, written and produced by him, the music composed and arranged by F. Gilmour Smith.

St George of England: Miss Vera Wright,

St Patrick of Ireland: Miss Eileen O’Brian,

St Andréw of Scotland: Miss Maggie Wallace,

St David of Wales: Mr Lloyd Morgan,

St Denis of France: Miss Marie Fontaine,

St Anthony of Italy: Miss Lily Wood,

St Michael of Russia: Miss Agnes Moon,

King Arthur of England: Mr Webster Booth,

Sir Mordred de Killingsbury: Mr Tom Howell,

Stephen Stuffingley: Mr C Harcourt Brooke,

Tricky Dicky: Mr Willie Atom,

Princess Guinevere: Miss Doris Ashton,

Fairy Starlight: Miss Hilda Goodman,

Mary Fairly: Miss Marjorie Holmes,

Demon Ignorance: Mr Fred Moule,

Dame Agatha Lumpkin: Mr Leslie Paget,

Jerry Lumpkin: Mr Larry Kemble.

There is a fine patriotic flavour, to say nothing of sundry allusions to the need for keeping old England healthy, both bodily and mentally, by sweeping out the germs of disease and distrust, all worked in the usual deft Melvillean fashion in this year’s Brixton pantomime. Choosing the unusual subject of St George and the Dragon, Mr Melville has written a story at once original and arresting.

Mr Webster Booth adds stateliness and a pleasing tenor voice, heard in England, Mighty England and Tired Hands, and with Sir Mordred, Tenor and Baritone, to the part of the King. Mr Tom Howell’s Sir Mordred is a sound piece of character work, though he finds small scope in the part for his powerful baritone.

Pantomime and Tom Howell’s kindness saw me through that winter, and then came another summer of concerts on the piers. We had a clever humourist in Walter Badham and a fine child mimic in Doris Godfrey. One of the best singers we had, for whom we all expected a great career, was Peggy Rhodes. St Anne’s, Sheerness, Lowestoft, Yarmouth, Paignton, Broadstairs, Whitley Bay – I can shut my eyes today and see the sun on the rippling water, smell the dust in a dozen pier pavilions, hear the shuffle and chatter of the audience die away as the curtain swings up for our opening chorus, and recapture all the excitement, triumph and heartbreak, and taste for just a moment once again the lost elixir of youth.

19 January 1928 – Gallery First Nighters’ Club. Dinner to Mr Miles Malleson. The seating and eating capacity of the Comedy Restaurant was strained to its uttermost on Sunday evening, when that happy band of playgoers, the Gallery First-Nighters’ Club, had Mr Miles Malleson as their guest of honour at dinner… Mr Major, responding, paid a tribute to the artistes for the wonderful concert they had given them.

It was indeed a wonderful concert. The artistes included Miss Betty Chester, Miss Dora Maughan, Mr George Metaxa, Miss Dorrie Dene, Mr Ashmoor Burch, Misses Grace Ivell and Vivian Worth, Messrs Webster Booth and Tom Howell, Miss Winifred Howie, and Mr Algernon Moore, and Miss Elsa May, Miss Nora Drake was at the piano.

24 May 1928 – Cardiff – At Roath Park Pavilion Tom Howell presents his Opieros. The programme ranges from opera to modern burlesque. Webster Booth’s tenor numbers are very well rendered, and Doris Francis (soprano), Olive Turner, Dorothy Denny, Harry Williams, Tom Howell, and H Baynton-Power give enjoyable performances.

7 June 1928 – Tom Howell’s Opieros meet with their usual welcome at the Olympian Gardens, Rock Ferry, where their popularity increases with every visit. Doris Francis is a delightful singer of soprano songs, and Webster Booth’s tenor solos meet with appreciation. Harry Williams is a mirth-maker who never fails to keep his audience in merry mood. Olive Turner and Dorothy Denny are favourites, and their participation in the concerted sketches adds to the enjoyment. Tom Howell directs the programme with his usual skill.

30 August 1928 – The Opieros Tom Howell’s Opieros are at the Adelphi Gardens, Paignton. Good singing plays an unusually prominent part in the entertainment, and it is provided mainly by Tom Howell, a robust baritone, Doris Francis a soprano with a pure voice, and Webster Booth, a rich tenor. They score in excerpts from grand opera. Olive Turner gives some clever imitations and smart soubrette songs. Dorothy Denny wins much favour with her low comedy songs. Admirable phonofiddle playing and humorous contributions make Harry Williams popular. The Opieros owe a deal of their success to the talent of their pianist, H. Baynton-Power.

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William, Hilda and family. 

27 September 1928 – At the Summer Pavilion, Sheerness, Tom Howell is presenting his Opieros. This talented company attract large audiences and the show is well produced. The programmes include an excellent mixture of straight and comedy numbers, ranging from burlesque to grand opera. The high class vocal contributions by Tom Howell, Doris Francis and Webster Booth, all of whom are cultured singers, make a decided appeal to a delighted house. By way of contrast, Olive Turner entertains in several clever impersonations and sings a catchy song. Dorothy Denny is a comedienne of no mean ability, and has a style of her own. Harry Williams is the chief fun-maker of the party, and besides keeping everyone in a good humour with his patter and gags, he pleases the house as an instrumentalist, and coaxes melody from unlikely objects. H. Baynton-Power is a composer-pianist and artistically accompanies the performers and musically brightens the entertainment.

.20 December 1928 – Pantomime forecasts The Brixton. The Babes in the Wood, written by Frederick Melville. Principal boy, Vera Wright; principal girl, Teresa Watson; principal comedians, Tom Gumble and Jimmy Young; Fairy Queen, Gwen Stella, baritone Tom Howell; tenor Webster Booth. Specialities by Euphan Maclaren’s Operatic Dancers, Babette, Grar and Grar. Principal scenes: The Village, The Schoolroom, Ballet, Children’s Bedroom, Sherwood Forest, and Palace. Stage manager, Fred Moule. Produced by Frederick Melville on December 26, at 2pm, for run of about 7 weeks.

Webster continues:

The following Christmas we were booked again for Brixton, this time in Babes in the Wood. I was Will Scarlett and Tom was Little John. My big moment was in the wood scene when I entered in a blackout with a red glowing fire, and sang with heartrending passion Chloe. This always stopped the show, and an encore was demanded.

Broadcast – The Opieros

2ZY Manchester, 6 April 1929 19.50

Synopsis

TOM HOWELL’S CONCERT PARTY Relayed from the Central Pier, Blackpool

WALTER BADHAM (The popular Comedian)

H. BAYNTON-POWER (Pianist and accompanist)

Doris GODFREY (Comedienne)

OLIVE TURNER (Entertainer)

WEBSTER BOOTH (Tenor)

Doris FRANCIS (Soprano)

Tom HOWELL (Bass-Baritone)tom-hilda-miffanwy-and-grandchildren-2

Tom and Hilda with Myfanwy and grandchildren.

 27 June 1929 – The Opieros At the Pergola Pavilion, Bexhill, are Tom Howell’s Opieros. Their entertainment is of high quality, and the programmes contain a series of operatic scenes, all well sung. Tom Howell is a melodious baritone, Webster Booth is a tenor of rare ability, and Doris Francis is a delightful soprano, and the work of these vocalists sets the high standard of the company’s serious work. Walter Badham is well known to Bexhill audiences, having formerly played a resident season there, and his Lancashire humour is more welcome than ever. Dorothy Denny is a piquant comedienne, and Doris Godfrey presents some kid numbers well. Jack Upson is at the piano. Will Tissington and Katharine Craig are the directors of the Pergola, and next week they will present their own Poppies for their seventeenth season.

5 September 1929 – The Opieros Tom Howell and his Opieros are fulfilling an engagement at the Adelphi Gardens, Paignton, this week. The company includes several artistes who have appeared with Mr Howell in previous years, and established themselves warm favourites. These are Doris Francis, a fine soprano; Webster Booth, who has a strong tenor of good quality; and Dorothy Denny, an excellent comedienne. Doris Godfrey gives clever child impressions and Walter Badham is a talented humorist. The piano is in charge of Jack Upson, who excels in syncopated music. Features of the programme include excerpts from grand opera, and duets by Webster Booth and Tom Howell, baritone.

19 September 1929 – The Opieros Tom Howell’s concert party, the Opieros, are playing to good houses this week at the Sheerness Pavilion. Webster Booth and Tom Howell combine pleasingly in tenor and baritone duets, and also score individually in vocal items. Doris Francis’ soprano solos are rendered with good effect and Doris Godfrey is a clever impersonator. In Dorothy Denny the party has a bright and popular comedienne. Jack Upson is the skilful accompanist. Walter Badham causes much amusement with his quaint and mirth-provoking numbers. The party also score in excerpts from opera, which make a strong appeal to the audiences.

I spent three summers with the Opieros, and enjoyed them enormously. I learned a good deal about stagecraft, touring and management. I was getting known to some extent in London and the provinces, and by this time I was making a fair amount of money from gramophone records.I had always had a great ambition to make them – somehow, in my early days, they seemed to me to be the mark of Fame with a capital letter.

Tom Howell introduced me to a director of Edison Bell Records, who arranged for me to make a test at their City Road studios. I was to ask for Mr Harry Hudson. Off I went, walking on air, met Mr Hudson and sang The English Rose from Merrie England. Out came Mr Hudson from the inside room. I wonder if he remembers what he told me!“I’m afraid your voice won’t record!” he said.

Now I had been inside a recording studio before, and I knew that through a small glass window was a room where the engineers put small round waxes on a turntable, and when a needle was lowered onto the wax it reproduced what went on in the studio. I felt sure no wax had been put on. I was young in the profession then. I do not know what anyone had against me, or had been told. I only knew that my voice had apparently not been tested.I walked out of the studio into the sordid squalor and noise of City Road, wondering furiously and miserable what it was all about. I had gone in such a short time before with such high and eager hope.

Shortly afterwards, Lawrence Wright (Horatio Nichols) wrote a song called My Inspiration is You. He told Tom that if I would sing it at the coming Sunday League Concert, he would come along and perhaps arrange a test session for me with the Columbia Graphophone Company. Chastened and uneasy this time, I awaited his arrival, and saw him drive up in an enormous white Rolls-Royce to the Empire Theatre, Croydon, where the concert was taking place. He stepped out, noticed me, and patted the car. He was wearing a magnificent fur coat.“All out of one song, me boy!” he said cheerfully.It was true – it had come from his Toy Town Parade. It sold over a million copies!

After three summers I left the Opieros and signed a contract to join Muriel George and Ernest Butcher in their concert party at the Central Pier, Blackpool. It was a change that cost me a pang, for Tom Howell had been very kind to me, and I had made some good friends in his Company. Tom is a Welshman from near Llanelli. He spent his early days in Cadbury’s at Bournville. He excelled in oratorio and Grand Opera, and had he stayed in Grand Opera he must have become a star. But, like me, he had to live by his voice, and Grand Opera needs some sort of independent income at first.

Tom became a Blackpool concert-party idol, and sang concerts in London and the provinces in the winter. He founded his Opieros Company in 1924, and it presented famous scenes from Faust, Bohème, Butterfly and the rest. Tom was a tough personality, and his voice was like steel. He was too generous to spot his enemies, who flocked round him when he had money or drink to dispense. He kept me in his home when I was more or less on my uppers, and he never begrudged a young singer advancement – indeed, he helped with absolute unselfishness in every way he could. I owe him a lot.I signed up with a fresh concert party because I was offered more money and a better place on the bill. Tom wished me the best of luck when I said good-bye. Webster Booth

Tom and unknown singer in the Opieros.tom-and-unknown-performer

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Tom and a Dalmatian in a rustic show.

In 1936 Tom spent a considerable time in hospital.

6 November 1936 – Tom Howell. Friends of Tom Howell, who was well known in concert and concert party circles, and has recently been appearing in musical plays in the West End, will be sorry to hear of his illness. He is a patient in Guy’s Hospital.

He was still in hospital at Christmas in 1937 when Hilda sent this charming Christmas card with a photograph of her and Tom with their lovely wire-haired fox terrier.

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 24 April 1952 – Tribute to Tom Howell. Our Great Yarmouth correspondent writes: The late Tom Howell was well remembered in Great Yarmouth, for it was at the Wellington Pavilion that he first presented his Opieros. They made their debut in June, 1922, playing a resident season, followed by a return in 1923. In the first company were Harold Wilde, Yarmouth-born Evelyn Ray, Lilian Rickard, Eric Howard, Violet Field, Donald Hatton, Charles Hayes and Tom Howell himself. The 1923 company had but two changes in its personnel, Peggy Rhodes and Kathleen Burchell replacing Miss Rickard and Miss Field… In subsequent seasons the Opieros were regular visitors to the Britannia Pavilion, which in those days was a popular venue for the leading touring concert parties.

Compiled by Jean Collen 20 February 2017

Updated 24 August 2019.

With thanks to Professor Kenneth Morgan and Sarah Tongue for sharing their photographs with me. I would love to be able to find a photo of Tom and Webster together.

Extract from Duet by Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler published in 1951, Stanley Paul.

My digitised copy of the book is available as a paperback and E-book at: Duet by Webster Booth and Anne Zieglerduet-cover2