BOOTHS IN SOUTH AFRICA (1964 – 1969)

1964 was a very sad year as my dear friend Ruth Ormond died in Cape Town at the age of 19. I managed to pass the LTCL singing exam and Webster and Anne starred in Noel Coward’s Tonight at 8.30 in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth in June and July. I continued accompanying for Webster when he returned from PE.

1964 was a very sad year as my dear friend Ruth Ormond died in Cape Town at the age of 19. I managed to pass the LTCL singing exam and Webster and Anne starred in Noel Coward’s Tonight at 8.30 in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth in June and July. I continued accompanying for Webster when he returned from PE.

10 April 1964 The New Moon at The Springs Operatic Society. Anne directs the show.
29 March 1964 The Crucifixion.
March/April – accompanying for the Booth’s pupils at the National Eisteddfod. – “G” rather than “J” Campbell!
May 1964, My best friend, Ruth Ormond died suddenly in Cape Town. I was heart-broken.
29 June 1964 Cape Town, The play went to other cities in the province.
8 July 1964 from Sea Point, Cape Town.
Anne and Webster stayed at Hotel Elizabeth, Sea Point.
Anne and Webster stayed at the Grand Hotel in Port Elizabeth when they were appearing in Tonight at 8.30.
10 July 1964 from Port Elizabeth. I had managed to pass my Licentiate singing exam!
19 September 1964 Pietermaritzburg. The Creation.
1 February 1965 – Reference for Kingsmead College.
A photo from an article written in 1965. Anne, Webster and Lemon. I started teaching at Kingsmead College, Rosebank but continued with my singing lessons and taught in their studio every Wednesday.
Another photo from the 1965 article.
Webster played the small part of British Ambassador in King Hendrik.
The British Ambassador – complete with monocle. On the night he was filming this small scene I was in Nabucco. Anne attended the performance with Dudley Holmes’ mother and a friend. They returned to Anne’s for drinks after the show. I was dropped off at Kingsmead College. I decided to go to the UK after that incident.

Anne directed The Merry Widow in Bloemfontein. I think this was her leading lady. (circa October 1965) I went to the UK in January of 1966.
15 January 1966 I went to the UK with this reference.
Guests of honour at The Merry Widow in Irené, produced by Doris Boulton and starring Doris as the Merry Widow.
Doris Boulton as the Merry Widow in Irené production.
2 October 1966 Johannesburg 80th birthday concert.
2 October 1966 Programme for concert.
10 October 1966 Artice about forthcoming productions – with Lemon and Silva.
Opened on 22 October 1966 – it was not a success.
Webster as the Circus Barker in The Bartered Bride – a non-singing role.
14 December 1966.
7 April 1967 in Parktown North
April 1967 SABC programmes. Webster had told me about them in one of the last letters I received from him before he went to Knysna.
May 1967.
2 September 1967. The Rococo Canada LP briefly reviewed!

11 July 1968
15 September 1967. The first concert in Knysna 15 September 1967.
11 July 1968
Knysna 1967/68
24 August 1968 I found this edition of the paper in the shop on the SA Oranje when I was returning to South Africa from the UK in August 1968. It was surprising to see that they were trying to sell their house not very long after they had settled in Knysna.
Anne with Silva and Lemon. Was she in a Cox and Box costume? Photo: Dudley Holmes.
Webster and Lemon. Photo: Dudley Holmes.


Anne and Dudley Holmes, Knysna. Photo: Webster Booth.

Anne and Silva. Photo: Dudley Holmes.
Anne and Webster in Knysna (Photo: Dudley Holmes)
Anne and Silva. Photo: Dudley Holmes
Webster and Lemon in the garden in Knysna. Photo: Dudley Holmes.
On the beach at Knoetzie with Silva. Photo: Dudley Holmes.
Anne. Photo: Dudley Holmes
Excerpts from Messiah and Elijah 1969.
Elijah (1969)
1969 Knysna
Ena van den Vyver and Anne – two principal boys in the Knysna Pantomime!
Anne and Webster in Knysna.

WEBSTER BOOTH IN ORATORIO

Webster Booth and oratorioAlthough Webster Booth is remembered today as a romantic duettist in partnership with his third wife, Anne Ziegler, he told me that oratorio had given him the greatest satisfaction in his singing career. He was certainly a renowned oratorio singer in his day but this has been forgotten by most people who know more about him singing We’ll Gather Lilacs than tenor solos in various oratorios.

Webster Booth and oratorio

Although Webster Booth is remembered today as a romantic duettist in partnership with his third wife, Anne Ziegler, he told me that oratorio had given him the greatest satisfaction in his singing career. He was certainly a renowned oratorio singer in his day but this has been forgotten by most people who know more about him singing We’ll Gather Lilacs than tenor solos in various oratorios.

Two of my most cherished possessions are Webster’s Messiah and Elijah scores. The Messiah score had belonged to his father, Edwin Booth, whose name is written in the score, followed by Webster’s own name.

Webster’s Messiah score

Elijah cover

In the two front pages, he listed some of his Messiah dates from 1928 when he sang at the Birmingham Town Hall on 3 November 1928 with the Choral and Orchestral Union, to performances of various oratorios in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa with Robert Selley at the Oratorio Festivals there in 1961. The list includes a performance at the Royal Lodge Chapel on 15 February 1948 with Anne Ziegler in the presence of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, performances with the Huddersfield Choral Society, the Royal Choral Society and the Hallé Concert Society. Several Good Friday Messiahs at the Albert Hall are listed, where the entire work is performed without any cuts.

His first Good Friday Messiah was on the 10 April 1936 when he was 34 years of age. The Royal Choral Society concerts were usually with his champion, Malcolm Sargent as conductor, but he also sang with Sir Thomas Beecham at the Queens Hall on 17 December 1938.

21 December 1938 Messiah

He sang in many performances of Elijah, The Creation, Joshua, Judas Maccabeus, The Creation and Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. It was after an afternoon performance of this last work at the Queen’s Hall on 10 May 1941 that this beautiful hall, Webster’s favourite concert hall, was destroyed by an incendiary bomb that night. Webster preferred Handel to Bach, but I see that he did sing in a performance of the latter’s Christmas Oratorio in South Africa in 1960.

December 1938 Messiah

Another Good Friday Messiah in April 1943

I think it is sad that he did not make a recording of the Dream of Gerontius as he was renowned for his performance in this work. Neither did he take part in complete recordings of Messiah or Elijah. When I was studying with him and Anne Ziegler I learnt the part of the Angel in The Dream of Gerontius and he sang the tenor part with me – how I wish I had a recording of it now! He sang in the first performance in South Africa of the work with the young Keith Jewell, Cape Town’s city organist (then aged 27) in 1957, the year after the Booths arrived in South Africa.

People in South Africa were inclined to think that the Booths had been out of favour in the UK and that was the reason why they moved to South Africa in 1956. This was far from the case. Admittedly their recording contract with HMV had been cancelled in 1951 and I have never been able to work out why the contract was cancelled as they were both in excellent voice at the time. But they had plenty of theatre, television, radio and concert engagements in the 1950s. Webster sang his last Messiahs with the Huddersfield Choral Society in December 1955 and January 1956. They moved to South Africa because of increasing problems with the Inland Revenue rather than because they were not as popular as before.

Anne Ziegler sang in exactly one first class performance of Messiah in Blackpool in January of 1944. Doctor Malcolm Sargent (as he was at that time) conducted the performance with the Huddersfield Choral Society.

1944 Blackpool Messiah

As a thirteen-year-old girl, I heard Webster and Anne sing in a performance of Messiah at St James’ Presbyterian Church which was then situated in Mars Street Malvern. The advertisement below (from 1956)  shows the same soloists and choir at St George’s Presbyterian Church (the main Presbyterian Church in Johannesburg) which appeared a year later  at St James. Even at that young age, I was aware that it must have been a come-down for Webster to be singing this work in a suburban church in South Africa after he had been singing at the Albert Hall not very long before. While Anne sang in the performance at St James under the musical director of the main Presbyterian Church in Johannesburg, Drummond Bell, she was not asked to sing in more important oratorio performances, such as the one at the Johannesburg City Hall a month later, or with Robert Selley at the Port Elizabeth Oratorio Festival.

In 1957 the first South African performance of The Dream of Gerontius (Elgar) was presented at the City Hall in Cape Town with Webster in the main role, conducted by Keith Jewell (aged 27).

The Dream of Gerontius was also presented in Port Elizabeth at the Oratorio Festival conducted by Robert Selley, where Webster was a soloist from 1957 to 1962.

27 November 1961 – SABC bulletin.

In 1963 Webster was invited to sing in a performance of Elijah with the combined choirs of Michaelhouse and St Anne’s in Natal, conducted by the young Barry Smith who was musical director at Michaelhouse at the time.

The following year he sang in a performance of Creation with the same singers. This time Ronald Charles was the musical director at Michaelhouse.

By that time Webster was 64 years of age. When he moved to Knysna he presented excerpts of various oratorios with the Knysna Choral Society and (in his late sixties) sang several bass solos in Elijah in 1968, something he had always wanted to do as he had a very wide range and a resonant lower register.

Webster’s oratorio recordings include the arias from Handel’s Messiah, Judas Maccabeus, Samson, and Acis and Galatea, Mendelssohn’s Elijah and St Paul, and Haydn’s Creation.

Jean Collen

12 July 2017.

Revised and enlarged on 13 March 2019.

 

SOUTH AFRICA (2)

Later years in Johannesburg

Anne and Webster had never taught singing before. They had been far too busy performing in the UK to have had the time or even the inclination to teach, although an advert had appeared in the Musical Times in the middle of 1955 indicating that Webster was considering accepting a few selected pupils. As far as I know, he did not teach anyone in the UK as they decided to settle in South Africa shortly afterwards.

Musical Times 24 February 1955 Singing lessons.

Neither had formal music teaching qualifications but Anne was a competent pianist, and they adopted common sense methods of teaching singing. Above all, they had far more experience of singing professionally at the highest level than anyone else in South Africa who boasted teaching diplomas.

Anne always said that singing was merely an advanced form of speech. They concentrated on good breathing habits and on using correct vowel sounds. The basis of “straight” singing was that one sang through the vowels and tacked consonants to the beginning and end of the vowels to create good diction. There were five vowels: ah, eh, ee, oo and oh and from these vowels all words could be sung. Diphthongs in words such as “I”, were created by a combination of two basic vowels – in this case – ah and ee.

They were very particular about dropping the jaw as notes went higher in pitch. One of their exercises to master this technique was based on the sounds “rah, fah, lah, fah”. It was also essential to keep the tongue flat in the floor of the mouth just behind the teeth, and an exercise on a repeated “cah” sound was good for training the tongue to remain flat and not rise in the mouth to bottle up the vocal sound. The “mee” sound was produced as one would sing “moo”, so that the vowel was covered and focussed. The jaw had to be dropped on all the vowels in the upper register, including the “ee” and “oo” vowels, which one is inclined to sing with a closed mouth. They also emphasized that words like “near” and “dear” should be sung on a pure “ee” vowel, rather than rounding off the word so that it sounded like “nee-ahr” or “dee-ahr”.

The voice had to be placed in a forward position, “in the mask” as Anne always said, so that it resonated in the sinus cavities. They did not dwell on the different vocal registers unless they detected a distinctive “change of gear” from one register to the other.

Webster continued his oratorio singing in South Africa. Drummond Bell, who had conducted the JODS’ production of A Night in Venice the year before, was the organist and choirmaster at St George’s Presbyterian Church in Noord Street. Anne and Webster sang in Messiah at various Presbyterian Churches for Drummond Bell in November 1956 and 1957. It was at the 1957 performance of Messiah at St James Presbyterian Church, then in Mars Street, Malvern, when I, as a thirteen-year-old, heard them sing for the first time. Webster had sung in The Crucifixion at Easter 1957 for Drummond Bell. He also sang in The Dream of Gerontius in Cape Town later that year. The conductor was the young organist Keith Jewell (then aged 27). It was the first time that the work was performed in South Africa. Webster always held Keith Jewell in very high regard, and he was to appear as guest artiste in Anne and Webster’s “farewell” concert in Somerset West in 1975.  

Webster adjudicated at the Scottish eisteddfod in November 1957. Astutely, he awarded the young Anne Hamblin 95 percent for her singing. She was to do well in her singing career in Johannesburg and is still remembered for her part in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris in the nineteen-seventies. Webster sang regularly in various oratorios at the annual Port Elizabeth Oratorio Festival, conducted by Robert Selley, and did Elijah at Pietermaritzburg for Barry Smith, director of music at Michaelhouse School in 1963 and The Creation for Ronald Charles, who took the position of  director of music for Michaelhouse in 1964.

Anne and Webster appeared frequently in various advertisements on screen and in the newspapers. Early in Anne’s career she had modelled for an advertisement for Craven A cigarettes. She had learnt a valuable lesson at this assignment when the photographer told her that the photograph would mean nothing unless she smiled at the camera with complete sincerity, despite her never having smoked a cigarette in her life. They had also endorsed Ronson cigarette lighters in the late nineteen-forties.

In late 1957 they were in an advert for Lloyd’s Adrenaline cream. According to the advertisement, this cream had given Webster relief to excruciating sciatic pain he had suffered on their fleeting visit to Calgary to appear in Merrie England. Apparently, Anne used the cream whenever she had an attack of fibrositis. Anne also endorsed Stork margarine, a hair preparation for middle-aged women and a floor polish. Webster appeared on film as a French boulevard roué in an ad for a product I have now forgotten, and they were featured in advertisements listening avidly to Lourenco Marques radio, and celebrating a special occasion with a glass of Skol beer. For this last ad Webster was obliged to grow a beard!

1961 Advertising Skol beer

Listening to LM Radio

1957 and 1958 were very busy years for the Booths in South Africa. In 1958, for example, they went from one production to another in as many months: Waltz Time in Springs; Merrie England in East London; Vagabond King in Durban; and Merrie England again in Johannesburg. Anne was also principal boy in pantomime in East London at the end of that year.

But 1959 was not quite as busy. They were asked to appear in East London again, this time in Waltz Time, and Anne was the Fairy Godmother in The Glass Slipper for Children’s Theatre towards the end of the year.

From then on they built up their teaching practice and began directing musicals for amateur societies in various parts of the country. In 1959 they did an interesting Sunday afternoon programme on Springbok Radio entitled Do You Remember? in which they told the story of their lives, based on their autobiography, Duet.

By the nineteen-sixties, they were no longer appearing regularly in musicals although Anne took the part of Mrs Squeezum in Lock Up Your Daughters, a restoration musical by Lionel Bart at the end of 1960. Her big song in the show was entitled When Does the Ravishing Begin? A very far cry from We’ll Gather Lilacs. In 1963, aged 61, Webster took over the role of Colonel Fairfax – the juvenile lead – in The Yeomen of the Guard for the Johannesburg Operatic Society at short notice. He had not been JODS’ original choice, but was asked to take over the part when the society decided that the singer in the role could not cope with it. In 1964 Webster and Anne appeared in a Cape Performing Art’s Board (CAPAB) production of Noel Coward’s Family Album, a one-act play in Tonight at 8.30. It could hardly be called a musical although there was some singing in it.

They appeared in a number of straight plays in the nineteen-sixties. Webster was the Prawn in The Amorous Prawn and took the small part of the Doctor in a very long and serious play called The Andersonville Trial in 1962. They played Mr and Mrs Fordyce in the comedy, Goodnight Mrs Puffin at the beginning of 1963 and, just before they left Johannesburg for Knysna, Webster was the Circus Barker in the Performing Art’s Company of the Transvaal’s (PACT’s) production of The Bartered Bride, while Anne played the wife of a circus performer in The Love Potion for the same company at the same time.

They remained in Johannesburg until the middle of 1967. Anne was suffering from hay fever, which grew acuter the longer she remained in Johannesburg. There were times, especially at night, when she could hardly breathe. Anne had a number of allergy tests done, but these did not pinpoint the exact cause of her hay fever. They decided to move to the coast in the hope that Anne’s hay fever would ease, and in the hope of a more peaceful life as they grew older.

At the beginning of 1967, they went on a coastal holiday. They thought Port St Johns in the (then) Transkei was very attractive but slightly too remote for them. The village of Knysna on the Garden Route was more to their taste. They bought a house in Paradise, Knysna and returned to Johannesburg to put their affairs in order and plan their move to the coast.

3 Knysna and Somerset West

It must have given them a sense of déjá vu to receive such a great welcome in Knysna. Anne’s hay fever vanished within a few weeks and she concluded that the dust from the mine dumps in Johannesburg had been the cause of it.

They were soon as busy as ever, with concerts, ranging from oratorio with the Knysna and District Choral Society, to variety concerts with local artistes, and pantomimes, in which Anne not only played the principal boy once again but wrote the scripts into the bargain. They started teaching in Knysna and trained several talented singers, in particular the soprano, Ena van der Vyver, who sang in many performances with them.

Anne was asked to produce several shows for the Port Elizabeth Musical and Dramatic Society, and Webster produced The Mikado in East London in 1973. 

Mikado rehearsal East London 1973 Photo Pearl Harris

Anne’s life-long friend Babs Wilson-Hill (Marie Thompson) visited them in Knysna from the UK, and Anne went to Portugal and the UK to spend a holiday with her and to appear in a British TV show at the same time. Anne and Webster were getting older and Anne, in particular, longed to return home to the UK.

In 1975 they moved to Somerset West, believing that the cost of living there was lower than in upmarket Knysna. They bought a cottage in Picardy Avenue with a beautiful view of the mountain, but despite being nearer to Cape Town they were not offered much radio work and did not find many singing students. Webster ran the Somerset West and District Choral Society and presented several oratorios, but he was not even paid for his work with this society.

In 1976 there was civil unrest in South Africa, particularly in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Babs realised that Anne and Webster were keen to return to the UK, but could not afford to buy or rent accommodation there. She kindly offered to buy a property for them where they could live rent-free for the rest of their lives. The offer was too good to refuse. At the beginning of 1978 they returned to the UK and, to their surprise, soon embarked on their “third” career.

Jean Collen 9 July 2018.