BOOTHS IN SOUTH AFRICA – (1960 – 1961)

Someone asked me recently whether I went to study with Anne and Webster because of their duet singing, but it had nothing to do with that at all. It was entirely due to Mabel Fenney that decided me to study singing with Anne and Webster and to make music my career.

3 February 1960 – Mabel Fenney

When I was in my final year at Jeppe High School for Girls in 1960, the permanent music mistress, Miss Diane Heller, went on long leave, and Mrs Mabel Fenney took her place for a term. Mabel was born Mabel Greenwood on Shakespeare’s birthday in Lytham St Anne’s, Lancashire in 1919. Her mother was a true contralto and had sung in several professional productions. The Greenwoods moved to East London in the Eastern Cape when Mabel was quite young.

She showed singing talent from an early age and did her initial singing diplomas in East London, trained by a gentleman she referred to as “Pop Lee”, and sang and acted in many local musicals, plays and recitals. Her favourite role was as Elsie Maynard in The Yeomen of the Guard. She married fellow Lancastrian, Eric Fenney, and instead of pursuing a singing career, she helped him run his plumbing business in East London. 

 When the Dramatic Society of East London invited Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler to star in the 1958 production of Merrie England, she and Eric stood surety for their salaries.  It was in this production where she first met them, playing their roles of Bessie Throckmorton and Sir Walter Raleigh. She played the part of Jill-All-Alone in the production. The following year the society put on Waltz Time, again with Anne and Webster in the leading roles, but, for some reason, she did not take part in this production. Instead she went to Johannesburg to have lessons with Anne and Webster in preparation for several advanced diploma singing examinations. By the time she arrived at Jeppe High School for Girls she had already won the University of South Africa’s overseas teaching bursary and was due to leave for Berlin to study at the Hochschule there for two years.

We schoolgirls looked on Mabel as a very glamorous figure in comparison with some of our staid academic teachers. She was lively and enthusiastic and took us on various outings to the opera.

 Towards the end of her term at Jeppe, Mabel gave a memorable recital in the school hall one afternoon. The event had not been widely publicised, so there were not many people present, but I was there with singing school friends, Margaret Plevin (née Masterton) and Valerie Vogt (née Figgins). We were impressed by her performance. The Booths had decided that she was a mezzo soprano rather than soprano, so she had sung a mezzo repertoire for her diploma exams. I will always remember her singing of the Habanera and Seguidilla from Carmen.

At the end of one of the arias she threw a rose coquettishly to her schoolgirl audience. We were completely captivated. Someone asked me recently whether I went to study with Anne and Webster because of their duet singing, but it had nothing to do with that at all. It was entirely due to Mabel Fenney that decided me to study singing with Anne and Webster and to make music my career.

Mabel Fenney (later Perkin) Photo taken in 1960 before she went to Berlin to study at the Hochschule there.
February 1960.
2 March 1960. Webster’s reference for Mabel.

27, 28 May 1960 – Grand Variety Show, Methodist Church Hall, Roberts Avenue, Kensington. Anne and Webster and other artistes. Anne and Webster sang just before the interval. I (aged sixteen) asked them for their autographs before they left, the only one to do so.

27 May 1960.
Kensington Methodist Church as it is today (2019) In 1960 there was no wall surrounding it.
Variety Concert at Methodist Church, Roberts Avenue, Kensington 1960.
Kensington Methodist Church – as it is today.
Anne appears in various adverts!

24 November 1960 – A Country Girl. Springs Civic Theatre. Anne produced this show for the Springs Operatic Society.

24 November 1960

1960 – Mikado, Bloemfontein. I am not sure whether Webster sang in it, directed it, or both.

Webster in Bloemfontein to do The Mikado.

1, 2, December 3 1960 – Christmas Capers, Civic Theatre, Bloemfontein. Anne and Webster and local artistes in a variety show presented by Rotary Club.

December, 1960 – The Christmas Oratorio, Kimberley. Webster sang the tenor solos, although he was not as fond of Bach as he was of Handel.

8 December 1960 I had an interview with Anne Ziegler at the studio on the eighth floor of Polliack’s Corner, Pritchard Street and started lessons with Anne and Webster two weeks later. Webster was singing at the Port Elizabeth Oratorio when I had my audition. Anne was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter when I went for my first lesson. Here is the photo taken at that interview.

Lock Up Your Daughters – December 1960. Anne plays Mrs Squeezum!
Anne and Valerie Miller in Lock Up Your Daughters. The play was not a success.

March 1961 – advertising Skol Beer.

April 1961 SABC Bulletin – Wednesday at 8.30 pm. Webster Booth, who presents a programme of Opera, Operetta and Oratorio at 8.30 on Wednesday nights, began singing at the age of seven. That makes his career 52 years “and I hope it goes on a little further, but not too long,” he told announcer Robert Kirby in an interview.

This is how the conversation continued:

If you started singing when you were seven, how did you manage to fit in your education? – Well, I began in Lincoln Cathedral as a choir boy and was educated at the cathedral school. This was run by the Dean and Chapter. That took me up to the Oxford and Cambridge junior examination which was roughly equivalent to our Junior Certificate. After that I had to stop musical training as my voice was breaking and completed my schooling at a commercial school studying accountancy.

Broaadcasting at the SABC.

I know your fields of endeavour have been in Opera, Oratorio and Operetta. Do you have any preferences among these three? – Oratorio, definitely!

Why? – I suppose it was my first love and I certainly get much more satisfaction from singing in Oratorio, musically that is; I am trying to say that to do it properly and to do it well you have to work at it so hard that the feeling of achievement is that much greater. With Opera and Operetta one has stage clothing, and scenery and movement to register to an audience, whereas in Oratorio one has nothing except one’s own interpretation as a medium of reaching the audience.

Do you prefer working “live” with an audience, recording or broadcasting? – I certainly prefer working without an audience. In front of one that is. Usually in a broadcast one has a much larger audience but because they are unseen one can concentrate much more, also because of their quantity it makes me want to give much more than I would on a stage. If it would be possible to sing before an audience of perhaps fifty thousand people it would be much more awe-inspiring than singing to them via a microphone. I can always have a broadcast recorded and that is invaluable to me as I am my own greatest critic. One can always learn from one’s mistakes.

Do you suffer from stage fright? – Yes. The older I get the worse I get. I think the reason being that one always wants to be that one per cent better than the last time. The suffering comes from the fear of being one per cent worse. Stage fright should only happen before a performance. To go on being frightened during the performance is fatal.

Do you find that one person alone in an audience can affect you? – Very much so. Someone who is restive will invariably catch your eye and distract you. None of us are perfect and if one knows the position in the audience of a somewhat severe critic one is apt to wonder what he or she may be thinking and this can be most disturbing.

How do you react to severe criticism? – If you mean destructive criticism I am like anyone else. I react very unfavourably. But if it is constructive criticism then I try to swallow my pride and read into the criticism something from which I should benefit.

What was the worst critique you ever had? – I deliberately forget the bad ones. The best? – The finest write up I ever received, from my point of view, was for a show that only ran for two and a half weeks. “Here is the answer to a producer’s prayer.’

Which would you call the most fulfilling moment of your career? – The first night of the 1938 Covent Garden Festival of Opera. I sang the tenor role in Rosenkavelier with Erich Kleiber conducting and Lotte Lehmann as the soprano lead. To see a pre-war full house at Covent Garden from the stage with evening dress and tiaras is a sight one could never forget.

Which role was your favourite? – Definitely Francois Villon in The Vagabond King. It has everything an artist could wish for. Comedy, romance, glorious costumes, pathos and good solid music to sing.

Are you satisfied with what you have achieved? – Yes. If I had my life over again I doubt whether I would change much of it. I have been very lucky. I was given a voice, a figure, and my marriage with Anne Ziegler – something which has been successful and happy, and I have adopted what I think to be about the finest country in the world.

Webster’s programme is extended and is now called On Wings of Song, with the duet by Anne and Webster as the introductory music.
1 May 1961 Opening night of La Traviata at Empire Theatre.
Old Folks’ concert Durban May 1961

June 1961. Webster adjudicated at the Salisbury eisteddfod.

5 July 1961 – Concert in Salisbury.

5 July 1961 – Concert.8.15 pm Allan Wilson School, Beit Hall, Salisbury, Rhodesia – Anne and Webster appeared in a concert after Webster had adjudicated at the Vocal Festival for the Rhodesia Institute of Allied Arts.

17 July 1961 – Advert for pupils.

Advert for pupils. 17 July 1961 – Star.

August/September 1961. Mabel Fenney back in SA for holiday.

5 September to October 30 1961 –The Amorous Prawn,Alexander Theatre (previously the Reps Theatre); National Theatre, Pretoria, 31 October to November 12; Alhambra Theatre, Durban, November.

Webster was the Prawn, with Simon Swindell, Gabriel Bayman, Diane Wilson, Joe Stewardson, Ronald Wallace and Joan Blake, directed by Victor Melleney.

Anne and Leslie Green Opening night of The Amorous Prawn 1961
A reference for my first job in the bank! 6 October 1961.

November 1961 – The Stage. Johannesburg Theatre by Evelyn Leveson. The evening attraction at the Alexander – acclaimed with delight by both critics and public – was The Amorous Prawn, directed by Victor Melleney and starring Joan Blake, one of our most versatile actresses, who, for the past two years, has been touring the country in Adam Leslie’s witty intimate revue Two’s Company.

Excellent notices were also received by Webster Booth who, with his wife Anne Ziegler, has been living here for the past five years. As the Prawn, Mr Booth is appearing on the South African stage in his first non-singing role.

1 November 1961 (from my teenage diary)
1 November 1961 (from diary)
1 November 1961 (diary)
November 1961 Durban.
Anne as Mrs Siddons 31 October 1961.
1 November 1961 from diary – the story continues in the diary itself (1961)
27 November 1961 Dream of Gerontius.

BOOTHS IN SOUTH AFRICA (1956 – 1957)

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

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

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

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


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

NIGHT IN VENICE

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

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

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

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

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

July 1957 – Keith Jewell and The Dream of Gerontius

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

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

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

20 November 1957 – Scots Eisteddfod.

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

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

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

We arrived in Johannesburg in October of 1957. My father had been offered a job in the same firm as a former Scottish colleague from ISCOR in Vanderbijl Park and we were living in the Valmeidere Hotel in Roberts Avenue, Kensington until we found a suitable flat. We witnessed the lights of Sputnik flying over our heads at night and wondered whether this was a sign that we had made the right move to the big city.

  The boarding house proprietors were fellow Scots, Mr and Mrs Jimmy Murdoch. They were friendly with a couple called Mr and Mrs McDonald-Rouse. Mrs McDonald-Rouse ran a flourishing amateur concert party and was the accompanist to all the singers in the group. Her daughter Heather, a theatrical costumier, had recently married and sometimes dined with her parents and her new husband at the Valmeidere. In due course we were introduced to the McDonald-Rouses, Heather and her husband.

Through her work, Heather had met Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth shortly after their arrival in South Africa the year before and had become very friendly with them. Through the grapevine, we heard that Webster had sung the aria from Mendelssohn’s oratorio, St Paul at Heather’s wedding, entitled Be Thou Faithful unto Death. Later I learnt that this aria was one of his favourite choices when requested to sing a solo at a wedding. Another of his wedding favourites was the ballad, My Prayer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROGRAMMES AND ADVERTS – 1953 – AUGUST 1956

Unlike the accepted view that Anne and Webster were losing popularity because of the rise of American entertainers and rock ‘n roll, they still had plenty of work from 1953 to 1956. Through no fault of their own they were struggling with the Inland Revenue so decided to move to South Africa in July of 1956.

18 February 1953 Ash Wednesday.
Elected Joint presidents of Concert Artistes’ Association.

Webster Booth was the guest of Roy Plomley on Desert Island Discs on the BBC Home Service on 3 April 1953.

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Opening of Desert Island Discs script. Sadly the recording is not available on the BBC webpage.
11 April 1953 – hardly something to commend him!

Anne as Mistress Knight and Webster as King Charles II in And So to Bed.

24 April 1953 – a poor crit for And so to Bed
in Coventry.
Diamond Wedding anniversary of Anne’s parents April 1953.
Anne and Webster went on an extensive tour of And So to Bed in the midst of many other commitments, particularly Merrie England in the Coronation Year.
Booths sing in concert version of Merrie England in Calgary on May 9 1953.
Merrie England at Luton Hoo with Douglas Fairbanks Junior

Merrie England at Luton Hoo.
CAA dinner 1953 Anne and Webster as presidents.
Advert – 1954

8 April 1954
15 April 1954

30 April 1954
16 May 1954

May 1954
Hiawatha concert had been cancelled for lack of interest. It was replaced by an extract from Aida.

21 September 1954 – Attack of Shingles. Far from “staying indoors for four or five days,” the pain troubled him periodically for many years to come.

28 October 1954
24 November 1954 – Victoria Congregational Church, Derby from Webster’s score.
15 December 1954

Webster’s score 10 December 1954
31 December 1954
I do not know whether Webster and Anne had any singing pupils in the UK.

27 May 1955 Gilbert and Sullivan concert.
29 April 1955 – Sir Malcolm Sargent’s birthday concert.
24 June 1955 – St Andrew’s Hall, Glasgow.
27 July 1955. Anne and Webster were presented to Princess Alexandra.

13 August 1955 Promenade Concert.
13 October 1955 Lady Audley’s Secret.
25 October 1955
November 1955 0n the way to South Africa for tour of Cape Province.

12 December 1955 – Arriving back in the UK again.

15 December 1955 Messiah, Huddersfield.

Huddersfield Town Hall

Return to South Africa for a further tour.

2 February 1956 Crit by Dora L. Sowden in Rand Daily Mail.

On “platteland tour”. Having tea in Bethal with accompanist, Arthur Tatler.
27 June 1956

Passenger List, Pretoria Castle – 12 July 1956.

On board the Pretoria Castle, 12 July 1956.

Signing the menu on board ship.
15 August 1956

PROGRAMMES AND ADVERTS – 1951 -1952

The Booth’s joint autobiography was published in 1951 and is now long out of print. I digitised the book several years ago and John Marwood was kind enough to proofread it for me. It is now available in paperback and as an epub at: https://www.lulu.com/duettists

30 March 1952 – Merely Players at Drury Lane
23 March 1951
April 1951
May 1951 from a talk on the BBC.
HIAWATHA – Croydon – 31 May 1951
11 July 1951
12 July 1951
3 August 1951, Webster and Anne with accompanist, Geoffrey Parsons. Unfortunately the photo is very poor but the only one I could find of them together. Geoffrey Parsons went on to be the natural successor to Gerald Moore.
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15 September 1951 – Blackburn
From Webster’s score – 20 October 1951

Duet – first published on `15 September 1951 by Stanley Paul.

The Booth’s joint autobiography was published in 1951 and is now long out of print. I digitised the book several years ago and John Marwood was kind enough to proofread it for me. It is now available in paperback and as an epub at: https://www.lulu.com/duettists

16 October 1951.

Webster’s voice was heard twice – dubbed in a scene from Yeomen of the Guard and at the end, singing an echoey version of A Wand’ring Minstrel. He was not very pleased with his billing in the film.

22 January 1952

Creation 29 April 1952 – Sir Malcolm’s birthday.
May 1952 – Anne and Webster featured in an article in the magazine.
Photo in the John Bull article. Anne and Webster with Smokey.
22 June 1952
Anne in Merrie England at Chichester.
21 August 1952
27 October 1952

26 December 1952 – Warwick Castle. Webster’s second cousin, Trevor Luckcuck and a friend cycled to the event from their home in Solihull.

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.