BACK HOME AGAIN (1980 – 1984)

The early 1980s were still busy years for the Booths. They appeared in several TV talk shows. The studio audiences were made up of many of their old fans who were delighted to see their favourites still looking very glamorous indeed. Anne turned 70 in 1980, while Webster was 78. It looked as though they were as much in love then as the day they married in 1938. In late 1981 Webster’s health began to fail. He had to wait until January before he could have surgery done at the Royal Liverpool Hospital on 15 January 1982. He was not looking forward to spending his eightieth birthday in hospital.

The early 1980s were still busy years for the Booths. They appeared in several TV talk shows. The studio audiences were made up of many of their old fans who were delighted to see their favourites still looking very glamorous indeed. Anne turned 70 in 1980, while Webster was 78. It looked as though they were as much in love then as the day they married in 1938. In late 1981 Webster’s health began to fail. He had to wait until January before he could have surgery done at the Royal Liverpool Hospital on 15 January 1982. He was not looking forward to spending his eightieth birthday in hospital.

At home. 1980.
10 February 1980 – with Jess Yates and his girlfriend, Katie Brooks.
May 1980
3 to 10 May 1980. 35th anniversary of Victory in Europe.
30 June 1980. Report by Gordon Irving in South African newspapers.
This was a popular presentation which Anne and Webster presented around the country. Each took a turn to tell their individual life story and sang a few songs together to round the evening off.
19 September 1980 – Anne and Webster had coached Peter and Jackie while they were appearing in a summer show in Llandudno.
September 1980
29 January 1981 on the Russell Harty show. Webster had just had his 78th birthday a week earlier.
Some of the elderly fans in the studio audience.
6 February 1981 – Report from Gordon Irving in South African newspapers.
8 January 1982. In a letter to me, Webster referred to the article by Gordon Irving.
5 March 1981 – another appearance on Russell Harty’s TV show.
29 May 1981. Royal Variety Performance, Blackpool.
After the performance. Webster can be seen in the far left of the photo. When they were presented to Prince Charles he asked whether they were married!
13 August 1981. The Time of Your Life.
At the twenty-fifth wedding anniversary party for Jean and Maurice Buckley – 1981. I used this photo for the cover of my book, Sweethearts of Song.
Webster at the Buckley’s Silver Anniversary party, North Wales.
September 1981
1982 – review of a reissue of The Gondoliers from 1932.
1983 Border Television
Only a Rose TV interview 1983 Penrhyn Bay and Llandudno.
1983 Only a Rose TV interview
With the Firmanis – Only a Rose TV interview 1983.
Visiting the Buckleys. 1983.

Early on 22 June, Anne’s seventy-fourth birthday I received a call from Janet Swart, whom I had first encountered as Janet Goldsborough, singing in Mrs MacDonald-Rouse’s concert party. She was a regular listener to BBC World Service and knew of my association with Anne and Webster. She was thoughtful enough to let me know that it had been announced on News about Britain that morning that Webster had died in the early hours of the 21 June. I will always be grateful to Janet for making that call to me, as I would have been completely devastated to have heard such news in the media. I had been expecting him to die sooner or later, but it was still a great shock and deep sadness to me to hear the sad news of his death.

Webster had been at home for five or six weeks when he tripped on the doorstep as he was hurrying to get into the car with Anne to drive to the local park to take Bonnie for a walk. He suffered a severe blow to his head and was bleeding profusely. Anne struggled to get him into the car to take him to hospital, where he was treated in Casualty and sent home again, much to Anne’s consternation as she thought he should have been admitted to hospital after his fall.


During the night he developed pneumonia. She phoned the doctor who refused to make a night call to see him, so it was only in the morning that he was indeed admitted into hospital, as he should have been on the previous day. Anne stayed with him throughout the day. When she left in the evening she asked the staff to let her know at once if he was deteriorating so that she could return to the hospital right away. Sadly nobody phoned her when his condition deteriorated. She had spent a sleepless night, and phoned the hospital herself in the early hours of the morning, only to be told that his condition had worsened and he would probably not last until she reached the hospital.

Webster Booth, one of Britain’s finest tenors, died alone in his hospital bed in the early hours of 21 June 1984. Anne was devastated at his death, and furious at the poor medical treatment he had received during his last illness. The only thing that kept her going in the dark days after his death was Bonnie, the beloved Yorkshire terrier who had to be fed and walked each day.

22 June 1984.
25 June 1984. Obituary. Times
25 June 1984 – Rand Daily Mail.
28 June 1984 The Stage.
Write-up in the North Wales Weekly news – 28 June 1984, mentioning Jean Buckley who, at that time was a close friend and had done a great deal to help Anne during Webster’s final illness.

Babs Wilson-Hill was abroad at the time of Webster’s death so Anne delayed the cremation service until she arrived home. This placed an extra strain on Anne as she waited for the funeral to take place. Obituaries appeared in the national newspapers and once again there were mountains of post, this time with letters of condolence from friends and fans who remembered Webster with affection. There were far too many letters to answer personally so Anne had a letter of thanks printed to be sent to everyone who had written and it was Jean and Maurice who helped her to address all these letters

Peter Firmani, a tenor from Rotherham whom they had coached, sang I’ll Walk Beside You at the cremation service. Webster’s son Keith was heartbroken at his father’s death and found the service very harrowing. Jean and Maurice Buckley held a reception at their home for those who had attended the funeral.

The Star – 29 June 1984 – Gordon Irving, the UK correspondent for the Star Tonight wrote the obituary. He had it wrong about Webster being divorced by his first wife. In fact, he was divorced by his second wife with the stage name of Paddy Prior, whose name was indeed Dorothy Annie Alice Prior. He had divorced his first wife, mother of his son, Keith, Winifred Keey, in 1931 due to her adultery.
21 July 1984 – Only a Rose repeated.
Memorial Service. St Paul’s Covent Garden.
30 October 1984 – Memorial Service, St Paul’s -Anne and Evelyn Laye.
30 October 1984 – Memorial Service, St Paul’s -Anne and Evelyn Laye.

A memorial service was arranged for Webster at noon on 20 October 1984 at St Paul’s Church, the Actors’ Church in Covent Garden. Evelyn Laye read the lesson; David Welsby a BBC producer from Pebble Mill, Birmingham, with whom they had worked, did the Appreciation; Peter Firmani sang I’ll Walk Beside You once again. Despite Jean and Maurice’s kindness to Anne and Webster, they were not invited to this service.

The Reverend John Arrowsmith officiated at the service, assisted by the Precentor of Lincoln Cathedral, Canon David Rutter, who represented the choir school where Webster had spent his youth as a chorister. Webster’s ashes were buried in the ground of the Garden of Remembrance at St Paul’s. Keith, who had been so upset at the cremation service, decided not to attend the Memorial Service as he could not bear to go through another harrowing farewell to his father. Pictures of Anne and Evelyn Laye appeared in several national newspapers. Anne said that it was only when Webster’s ashes were buried in the grounds of the Churchyard that she finally realised that he was indeed dead and would never return.

Anne and Webster’s names had been linked for nearly fifty years. They had been married for forty-five years and, unlike most married couples who worked in different places, they had hardly spent any time apart. There were no children from the marriage. Anne was to live on her own in the bungalow in Penrhyn Bay for another nineteen years.

Jean Collen 27 May 2019.

All extracts in this post are taken from my book, Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth.

Updated by Jean Collen on 26 July 2019.

MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR WEBSTER BOOTH AT ST PAUL’S COVENT GARDEN

 
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Photo: Whysall Studios, Durban
 
A memorial service was held at St Paul’s Covent Garden for Webster Booth
in October 1984. Before the service his ashes were buried in the grounds
and a memorial plaque erected in commemoration to him. In 1991 Pamela
Davies, who collaborated with me in writing one of the books on Anne
Ziegler and Webster Booth, visited the churchyard in the early 1990s and
found Webster’s memorial plaque under a hawthorn tree. The plaque was
made of brass and in the seven years since it had been erected it was
tarnished and blackened, although she could still read the plain
inscription: 


LESLIE

WEBSTER BOOTH
1902-1984

 St Paul’s, Covent Garden – All photographs by Charles S. P. Jenkins (November 2010)

 South side of St Paul’s churchyard

Anne with Evelyn Laye at Webster’s memorial service, October 1984.





Pamela returned to the churchyard in 2005 only to find that the hawthorn tree
had been cut down and Webster’s plaque could no longer be seen. She
wrote to make enquiries as to what had happened to the plaque. I quote
from our book, Do You Remember Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth?

The administrator, in the rector’s absence, kindly instituted another
search, equally fruitless. He suggested it could be hidden under a large
plant or simply have disintegrated in the adverse weather, as had
happened to the plaque to the actor Michael Williams, which had been in
place only four years.
In my letter I had enquired also about the possibility of a plaque to
Webster Booth’s wife, the singer Anne Ziegler, but I was informed that
no more plaques are being accepted. The only answer would be an
inscribed garden bench, or obtaining permission for a name in a memorial
book in the church….

Evelyn Laye had read the lesson at Webster’s memorial service. Her life is
commemorated by an inscription on a garden bench in the churchyard:
 

 

It seems a shame that this plaque, which marked the burial place of
Webster’s  ashes, and was erected in memory of a great British  tenor
who was also dearly beloved by his family, friends and fans, should have
vanished without trace. As one can see from the above photographs, the
churchyard is very overgrown, so many other plaques are probably
obscured or hidden in the undergrowth. 
Apparently no record is kept of those whose memorial services are held at the church. 

If the plaques commemorating theatrical musical and theatrical
personalities have disintegrated or disappeared in the thick undergrowth
within such a short time, valuable pieces of theatrical history are
lost forever to future generations.

UPDATE – 19 FEBRUARY 2011

I received an e-mail from St Paul’s Covent Garden yesterday and I will
outline what was said, below, and also part of my reply. I fear that the
matter now rests there as far as I am concerned.


The main problem for those of us administrating this church now is that
burial in all central London graveyards was stopped by Act of Parliament
in the mid 19th century. Therefore burial of ashes with plaque, of
anyone since then, has been illegal. However discreet internment without
ceremony, plaque or shrub can be considered. 

A number of plaques are placed in the garden illegally but these can
disintegrate, disappear, or even, get stolen and in foliage can simply
wither. 
The Parochial Church Council was instructed by the Diocese to stop
putting Memorial Plaques on the church’s interior walls. Since then the
PCC have accepted inscribed benches for use in the burial ground at
£1000 each. A name inscribed in the Actors’ Church Union Book of
Remembrance costs £100. The PCC has recently decided to consider plaques
on the interior wainscotting again, for those artistes honoured by Her
Majesty, at a premium of £3000. The proposal to be made by the nearest
member of the family.
My reply was as follows:
 
Thank you for responding so promptly to my query and for explaining the
situation to me. As far as I know the ashes of Webster Booth were
interned in the Churchyard prior to the memorial service. I know that
his widow, the late Anne Ziegler, who was living in Llandudno, North
Wales, did not return to the Church after this service, so I’m not sure
at what juncture the plaque was placed in the Churchyard. 

I shall pass on the information you have given me to Webster Booth’s next of kin….

I omitted the name of the person who wrote and also the name of Webster’s
next of kin. I would add that there would have been no question of Anne
arranging to have an illegal plaque placed in the Churchyard! If you
look at the photographs again, you will see that there are many plaques
there, erected many years after the mid-nineteenth century. I think that
it is a rather snobbish practice to consider placing plaques in the
central wainscotting only for artistes honoured by Her Majesty

A few years after Webster Booth’s death, Anne Ziegler was granted a
special pension by the Queen in recognition of Anne and Webster’s
contribution to music in the United Kingdom – a very much more practical
“honour” than an OBE. 

 
Jean Collen
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