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.

BOOTHS IN SOUTH AFRICA (1958 – 1959)

October 1958 –
Wedding Anniversary – Merrie motoring. Our charming stage
celebrities, Anne Ziegler and her husband, Webster Booth, will spend the night of their 20th wedding anniversary, which takes place early next month, rehearsing until 1 am for Merrie
England for the Johannesburg Operatic and Dramatic Society. It opens in the Reps Theatre with a gala performance in aid of Santa on November 12.
When the Booths
came to see me recently about this they were worried about their car parking situation. “Double parked – oh, dear – we must be
quick,” they said.
Cars loom large in
the lives of the couple. Anne’s husband said, “I once followed
her in my car from Maritzburg to Durban. I won’t tell you the speed
at which she was travelling.”
Mr Booth may have
endorsed the remark, but the driving licence remains unendorsed!

21 January 1958 – At Home with Anne. Anne presented this series on Springbok Radio. The programme was still running in July 1959.

A poor newspaper cutting photocopied by microfiche. 1 February 1958.

1 February 1958 – Jennifer Vyvyan recital

A photograph of the Booths appeared in the Rand Daily Mail. They had attended the recital given by English soprano Jennifer Vyvyan in the Selborne Hall. Webster had appeared with Jennifer Vyvyan in performances of Hiawatha and Messiah in 1955 before he left the UK.

7 March 1958 with Harry Stanton.

7 March 1958. Outdoor theatre at Joubert Park.

14 March 1958. Little Theatre, Springs.

17 May 1958 Elijah at the City Hall.
20 May 1958.

31 May 1958 – Springs Operatic Society – May Time

31 May 1958 – Springs Operatic Society – May Time
31 May 1958
16 June 1958
16 June 1958

Merrie England 16 June 1958 with Mabel Fenney, Jimmy Nicholas and Pam Emslie
Anne and Webster in Merrie England, East London 1958.
Anne and Webster in Cape Town.
1 August 1958 Vagabond King, Durban.
22 July 1958.
July 1958

October 1958 – Wedding Anniversary – Merrie motoring.

Our charming stage celebrities, Anne Ziegler and her husband, Webster Booth, will spend the night of their 20th wedding anniversary, which takes place early next month, rehearsing until 1 am for Merrie England for the Johannesburg Operatic and Dramatic Society. It opens in the Reps Theatre with a gala performance in aid of Santa on November 12.

When the Booths came to see me recently about this they were worried about their car parking situation. “Double parked – oh, dear – we must be quick,” they said.

Cars loom large in the lives of the couple. Anne’s husband said, “I once followed her in my car from Maritzburg to Durban. I won’t tell you the speed at which she was travelling.”

Mr Booth may have endorsed the remark, but the driving licence remains unendorsed!

November 1958 JODS

l January 1959

8 January, 12 March 1959 Variety under the stars.
17 February 1959.
February 1959.
7 March 1959 – A bed for Zandile.
12 March 1959 Merrie England – Dora Sowden.
11 April 1959 SABC Pavilion Rand Easter Show.
May 1959.
Waltz Time, East London 18 May 1959.
Anne and Lemon. Anne opens flower show at the City Hall. 1959.

At the old Carlton Hotel – the Press Club party for the All Blacks.
At home in Craighall Park.

With Lemon and Spinach.

With Lemon.

Advertising Lourenco Marques Radio.

Anne and Webster launch their Afrikaans LP – Net Maar ‘n Roos.

The Glass Slipper December 1959.

Anne plays the Fairy Godmother.

Jean Collen 30 April 2019.

MOVING TO SOUTH AFRICA

A great fuss was made of them when they came to settle in Johannesburg. They stayed for several months at Dawson’s Hotel in Johannesburg while they looked for a suitable place to live. They eventually found a pleasant flat at Waverley, just off Louis Botha Avenue in Highlands North, where they lived until they bought their first house in Craighall Park several years later. They were lucky to obtain the services of Hilda, who hailed from the island of St Helena, to be their housekeeper. Hilda remained with them during their eleven years in Johannesburg.

1 Early days in Johannesburg

Anne and Webster had toured the Cape towards the end of 1955 with the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra and returned to the UK so that Webster could fulfil oratorio engagements over Christmas.8 November 1955 - Rand Daily Mail.8 November 1955 8 November 19552

12 Dec 1955
The Booths arrive back in the UK from their South African tour on 12 December 1955.

Towards the end of January 1956, they were back in South Africa to appear in major cities in the Transvaal, Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban, and Pietermaritzburg, before doing a tour of the country districts of the Transvaal. In this second tour, they were accompanied by Arthur Tatler on the piano. There was even a notice in The Rand Daily Mail advising people of the time of their plane’s arrival at 5.50 pm on Saturday afternoon 28 January. 10 January 1956 2

They were entertained by the Mayor, Leslie Hurd, in the mayoral parlour. The Mayor spoke to the assembled gathering of local celebrities about the fact that he shared a Christian name with Webster.

The critics were rather severe in their judgement of their recital, viewing them as ballad singers rather than operatic singers, although both Dora Sowden from The Rand Daily Mail and Oliver Walker from The Star agreed that Anne and Webster knew how to charm their audiences. The writers of the “women’s’ pages” were much more enthusiastic about them. Amelia from the Women’s Journal in The Star gave a fulsome report of one of their concerts on 20 February 1956:

“When the two appeared in the City Hall on Thursday night the crowd was screaming to stamping stage with enthusiasm even though the artists had been most generous in their encores.

Miss Ziegler wore one of the lovely crinolines which she always chooses for stage appearances. This one had a black velvet bodice and a skirt of gold and black tissue brocade. With her diamond jewellery she was a scintillating figure under the lights.”

They had made up their minds to settle in the country and returned to the UK merely to sort out their affairs and make arrangements to have their belongings shipped to South Africa.  They travelled onboard the Pretoria Castle to Cape Town in July 1956. Before they went to Johannesburg they appeared in Spring Quartet in Cape Town under the direction of Leonard Schach.

Dawson's Hotel 1972
Dawson’s Hotel 1972. Thanks to Frans Erasmus for allowing me to use this photo

A great fuss was made of them when they came to settle in Johannesburg. They stayed for several months at Dawson’s Hotel in Johannesburg while they looked for a suitable place to live. They eventually found a pleasant flat at Waverley, just off Louis Botha Avenue in Highlands North, where they lived until they bought their first house in Craighall Park several years later. They were lucky to obtain the services of Hilda, who hailed from the island of St Helena, to be their housekeeper. Hilda remained with them during their eleven years in Johannesburg.

Waverley, Highlands North
Anne and Webster in the Hillman Convertible outside their flat in Waverley, Highlands North (1956).

They had an engagement to star in A Night in Venice with the Johannesburg Operatic Society in November, and Webster was asked to sing the tenor solo in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at a Symphony concert. The work was presented as part of the Johannesburg Festival to celebrate Johannesburg’s seventieth birthday. Sir Malcolm Sargent, who had conducted Webster at several concerts in London the previous year, conducted the concert, while the other soloists were Webster’s old friend, Betsy de la Porte (contralto), whom he remembered from his early days singing at Masonic dinners, Frederick Dalberg (bass) and the young coloratura soprano, Mimi Coertse, who was beginning to make a name for herself  in Vienna.

1956 Night in Venice3
Anne and Webster in “A Night in Venice” for the Johannesburg Operatic Society”.

Rather incongruously Webster took the Tommy Handley part in a series of ITMA scripts acquired by Springbok Radio, the commercial station of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (the SABC). This thirteen-week series was entitled Light up and Laugh, sponsored by Gold Flake Cigarettes, and produced by the Herrick-Merrill production house.

Although Anne had driven a car in her youth she had allowed her British driving licence to lapse after she married Webster. The Booths had two cars at their disposal in Johannesburg: a sea-green Zephyr and a pale blue Hillman convertible. Anne had to do a South African driving test and was taught by an Afrikaans ex-traffic policeman. On her first lesson he made her drive along Louis Botha Avenue, the main road from Pretoria through the suburbs into Johannesburg. There was a bus boycott on at the time. Thousands of people were walking along Louis Botha Avenue from the townships of Alexandra and Sophiatown to their work places in the city centre. Anne was very nervous, fearing that she might knock somebody down. Despite the adverse circumstances of her first driving lessons she soon passed her test and proved to be an excellent driver. She went on driving until shortly before her death in 2003.

In the first year or two after their arrival in South Africa they were fêted by everyone, invited to all the society parties and offered all kinds of engagements. Anne took her first non-singing part in Angels in Love, the story of Little Lord Fauntleroy and his mother, Dearest, played by Anne. They replayed their parts in A Night in Venice to Durban audiences. They even went to East London to sing at the city’s Hobby Exhibition, and were heard often on the radio. Not only did they do frequent broadcasts but their records were played constantly by other presenters, who marvelled that such a famous couple had chosen to settle in South Africa.

In 1957 they opened their School of Singing and Stagecraft at their studio on the eighth floor of Polliack’s Corner. They held a party to celebrate the opening of the studio and invited musical and society glitterati, who eagerly crammed into the studio for the occasion and were suitably impressed by the array of pictures of Anne and Webster, taken with internationally famous friends and colleagues, adorning one of the studio walls.

Polliack's Corner
Polliack’s Corner, Pritchard Street – the building to the right with balconies. The studio was on the eighth floor.

The original plan was that Webster would teach singing, while Anne would teach stagecraft, but in the end they both taught singing, and Anne acted as accompanist to the students. At first there were not many students as their fees per month were much higher than those of local singing teachers. Eventually they reduced the fees in order to attract more students. I began having singing lessons with them at the end of 1960 after I had finished school. The fee was £4-4-0 a month.

Anne Ziegler studio fees

In 1963 Anne told me that all the local Johannesburg celebrities and socialites who had tried to cultivate them when they first arrived in South Africa, soon left them alone once they realised that they were not as wealthy as they had imagined, and actually had to work for a living, and were not free to attend the races and other such “society” activities.

Jean Collen 7 July 2018