Webster and Anne were guest stars in this charming film (1945)
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.
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.
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!
Jean Collen 30 April 2019.
They fell in love, although at the time he was married to his second wife, Paddy Prior and had a son, Keith, by his first marriage. Four years later, after his divorce from Paddy in times when divorce was not as common or acceptable as it is today, Anne and Webster were married on Bonfire Night in 1938.
Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth first met during the filming of The Faust Fantasy in 1934/35
Anne Ziegler, the widow and singing partner of Webster Booth, died in Llandudno, North Wales, on 13 October 2003, at the age of 93. Her death brought an end to an era in British entertainment before and after the Second World War. Her death brings an end to an era for me also.
I was seventeen when I first met them at the end of 1960. They were already middle-aged, in the same age group as my parents, their top-flight stage career in Britain behind them. I was too young to have seen them at the height of their fame, but even then I thought them a shining couple, as I still do over fifty-nine years later.
Although I was too young to have seen them on stage in the days of their great success in the forties and early fifties, I believe their success was due to the wonderful blend of the voices, creating a special, instantly recognisable sound, and their contrasting good looks, she beautifully gowned, he in full evening dress. Above all, they were instantly likeable with charming personalities, and possessed an elusive ability to make people adore them.
In their day, in the thirties, forties and fifties, Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth were stars of stage, screen, radio, concert halls and variety theatres, and made over a thousand 78 rpms, either as duets or solos. Webster was also in demand as tenor soloist in oratorio: Handel’s Messiah, Jephtha, Samson, Acis and Galatea, Judas Maccabbeus, and Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, to mention but a few. Before the Second World War, he had sung Coleridge Taylor’s Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast in full Native American costume, and in 1955 on the occasion of Sir Malcolm Sargent’s birthday concert, Sir Malcolm requested particularly that he should be the tenor soloist in the same work.
Webster became a Mason, and was a proud member of the Savage Club, where he often sang at their legendary Saturday night entertainments. These entertainments were arranged by Joe Batten, the eminent sound recordist and producer at Columbia Records. When Webster had something important to do he always wore his distinctive striped Savage Club tie to bring him luck. While still in his early thirties, Webster was made a Life Governor of the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead.
Webster was also in demand as tenor soloist in oratorio: Handel’s Messiah, Jephtha, Samson, Acis and Galatea, Judas Maccabbeus, and Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, to mention but a few. Before the Second World War, he had sung Coleridge Taylor’s Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast in full Native American costume, and in 1955 on the occasion of Sir Malcolm Sargent’s birthday concert, Sir Malcolm requested particularly that he should be the tenor soloist in the same work.
By the time he met Anne Ziegler during the filming of the colour film Faust in 1934, he was married to his second wife, Paddy Prior. He had divorced his first wife, Winifred Keey in 1931 after she had deserted him and their small son, and married Paddy Prior, a talented dancer, comedienne and soubrette in October 1932. The couple’s marriage was happy in the beginning and they appeared together in several concert parties, the Piccadilly Revels, Scarboroough in 1933 and Sunshine at Shanklin in 1934.
Shortly after he met Anne Ziegler he took the lead in an ill-fated production of Kurt Weill’s A Kingdom for a Cow at the Savoy Theatre. His leading lady was the well-known French singer Jacqueline Francel. In Anne and Webster’s joint autobiography, Duet, he said that the play was probably ahead of its time in its handling of complex social issues, which made it too heavy for audiences of the day, who expected lighter fare in musicals. Apart from the unusual subject matter, rehearsals were stormy and the direction contradictory, so despite Weill’s pleasing music and a strong cast, the play closed after just three weeks. The London Dramatic Critic from The Scotsman gave the piece a good review, and mentioned that “Mr Webster Booth as the hero also deserves praise for his fine singing”.
Webster and Paddy Prior, his second wife.
Sadly, his marriage did not last after he met Anne. Paddy divorced him, naming Anne as co-respondent. He and Anne were married on Bonfire Night in 1938. Webster Booth soon formed a duet partnership with his wife in addition to his extensive recording, film, oratorio and concert work.
Webster was contracted to HMV for over twenty years and recorded more than a thousand solos, duets, trios and quartets. His lighter recordings include selections from Ivor Novello musicals with Helen Hill, Olive Gilbert and Stuart Robertson; Theatreland at Coronation Time with South African soprano Garda Hall, and Sam Costa; excerpts from Snow White with Nora Savage, conducted by George Scott-Wood, the composer of Shy Serenade. He made many anonymous recordings as a member of the HMV Light Opera Company. He was the “with vocal refrain” on a series of records made with Carlos Santana and his Accordion Band on the Brunswick label, and on a record of Chappell Ballads with Jack Hylton’s band. Carlos Santana was one of the many aliases used by Harry Bidgood. His better known alias was Primo Scala, the leader of another accordion band, but he did many other things like conducting film music and arranging music and while he was still at school he had written the music for his school song.
His recordings of the late nineteen-thirties and nineteen-forties encompassed oratorio, opera and ballads, as well as duets with Anne. Webster’s more serious recordings were often under the baton of Malcolm Sargent, Lawrance Collingwood, Basil Cameron or rwick Braithwaite with the Hallé, the Liverpool Philharmonic or the Royal Philharmonic Orchestras. His recordings with piano accompaniment were nearly always with the eminent accompanist Gerald Moore.
Webster enjoyed telling the story of a particular recording session with Gerald Moore. They had one more song to record before the session ended. The song was Phil, the Fluter’s Ball, and Gerald Moore suggested that they should see how fast he could play it and how fast Webster could sing it with clear diction. This was no problem for the finest accompanist in the world and for a singer who had spent four years performing Gilbert and Sullivan with the D’Oyly Carte Company. His oratorio recordings are particularly fine. The solos in Samson from the moving recitative O loss of sight and the following aria,Total Eclipse, to the fiery Why does the God of Israel sleep?, with its unrelenting Handelian runs, demonstrate how easily he moved from one mood to another, always singing with flawless technique and clear diction.
He made recordings with other distinguished singers of the day in operatic ensembles, such as the quartet from Rigoletto, with Noel Edie, Arnold Matters and Edith Coates, to the trio from Faust with Joan Cross and Norman Walker. He sang duets with soprano Joan Cross and baritone Dennis Noble from La Bohème and the Miserere from Il Trovatore with Joan Cross. He recorded duets with the baritone Dennis Noble from the Victorian and Edwardian Excelsior and Watchman, what of the night? to the brilliant extended scene in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. He recorded the duet in Madame Butterfly with Australian soprano Joan Hammond.
When Joan Hammond first arrived in England from Australia, she had a sweet lyrical soprano voice. She sang her first Messiah in England with Webster as tenor soloist under the baton of Sir Thomas Beecham. But by the time they recorded the Madame Butterfly duet, several years later, Joan Hammond had become a dramatic soprano and her voice was very much bigger than it had been when she first arrived in England. Joan had to stand much further away from the microphone than Webster in order for the sound engineer to get the balance for the duet right. Webster also sang excerpts from Carmen with the Sadler’s Wells chorus and orchestra, with Dennis Noble, and with Nancy Evans, Anne’s old friend from Liverpool, as Carmen.
At the beginning of the Second World War, he recorded The Lost Chord at the Kingsway Hall in London, accompanied by the organist Herbert Dawson. As they were reaching the end of the song, the All Clear siren sounded, which meant they had to redo the recording to cut out the sound of the siren. There had been no air raids at that early stage of the war so presumably the sirens were being given a trial run. The blitz was yet to come and would destroy Webster’s beloved Queen’s Hall.
Anne was born Irené Frances Eastwood in Liverpool on 22 June 1910. From over two hundred other hopefuls she was chosen for the part of Marguerite for the film, the Faust Fantasy: no doubt her blonde good looks and charming personality counted for nearly as much as her attractive lyric soprano voice. It was in the making of this film, which commenced shooting in December 1934, that she met Webster Booth, playing opposite her as Faust.
During the making of the film they fell in love , although at the time he was married to his second wife, Paddy Prior, and had a son, Keith, by his first marriage to Winifred Keey. Four years later, after his divorce from Paddy in times when divorce was not as common or acceptable as it is today, Anne and Webster were married on Bonfire Night in 1938.
During those intervening four years, Anne was an overnight success on radio in The Chocolate Soldier, sang in a concert party in 1935 called Summer Smiles during the summer season at Ryde, an engagement she did not really enjoy much. There she acquired her first devoted fan, a girl aged 15, who kept in close touch with her for the rest of her life.
She played principal boy in her first pantomime, Mother Goose, at the Empire Theatre, Liverpool, which starred George Formby. In this pantomime she met Babs Wilson-Hill, the principal dancer in the show, who was to remain her closest friend for most of her life. During the 1936 pantomime season she and Babs appeared in another highly successful pantomime, Cinderella, in Edinburgh, this time with the Scottish comedian Will Fyffe as the star attraction.
Anne and Webster were both extremely popular and prolific broadcasters on the BBC, as well as the various European commercial broadcasting stations geared to the British market, such as Radio Lyons, Radio Luxembourg, Radio Normandy and Radio Eireann. Glancing through copies of The Radio Pictorial, commercial radio’s equivalent of The Radio Times, one sees frequent articles about them. Radio stars in the thirties obviously held the equivalent status of pop stars today.
Despite Anne’s success on stage and radio, recording companies had not shown any interest in putting her voice on record. She made a test recording of the Waltz Song from Merrie England in 1935, a recording which Webster managed to obtain from HMV. Eventually she did make a few solo recordings and sang in a Noel Coward medley with Joyce Grenfell and Graham Payn, but the bulk of her recordings were duets with Webster. My favourite solo recording of Anne’s is Raymond Loughborough’s A Song in the Night, which she sang on a Pathé film short in 1936.
Webster went to New York with her, hoping to find some stage work of his own, but, despite his great voice, he did not make any impact on the cut-throat American musical world. He attended various auditions in New York as an unknown, while in England he was already an established performer in oratorio, recording, films, and the West End stage. He returned to England, crestfallen at his lack of success, and resumed his numerous engagements. Anne, in the meantime, was hailed as a Broadway star and offered a film contract in Hollywood, with the idea that she would be the successor to Jeanette McDonald. The offer was tempting, but she turned it down to return to England and marry Webster Booth when his divorce from Paddy Prior was made final.
For most of her life Anne maintained that marriage to Webster meant more to her than any Hollywood contract, although in later years she sometimes reflected on what her life would have been like had she accepted the contract and become a Hollywood star.
Even before Webster’s divorce was made final they formed a duet partnership on stage, in addition to their solo work. From April 1938 they were singing together for Clarkson Rose. This is an advert from September of 1938, the month before Webster’s divorce was finalised.
Their first duet recording was made in the year after their marriage in 1939 – If You were the Only Girl in the World, with A Paradise for Two on the flip side. Before this official recording she had sung with him as an anonymous soprano voice in a radio series in 1937 called The Voice of Romance. In this series he too was anonymous, but by this time, most people would have recognised his distinctive voice.
In 1940 they accepted an offer from agent Julius Darewski to join the variety circuit. The money was good and they were well received on the variety halls, always doing their act without the aid of a microphone. If Webster Booth’s voice filled the Albert Hall when he sang the tenor part in Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha in Native American dress under the baton of Malcolm Sargent, the same voice, in harmony with his wife’s, filled the variety theatres from the London Palladium to all points of the United Kingdom.
They were the epitomé of glamour and romance. He was tall, dark and handsome. He was always in immaculate evening attire, she in a range of crinoline gowns, some designed by Norman Hartnell. Their act was interspersed with what seemed like off-the-cuff banter, but every word and move was meticulously planned, and the lighting plot carefully worked out for the most telling impact.
Apart from the usual operatic arias and musical comedy duets, Anne and Webster sang and recorded a number of ballads, arranged as duets, and an interesting and difficult arrangement of Chopin’s famous Nocturne in C sharp minor, arranged by Maurice Besley. As often as not Webster would arrange the duet part himself if none had been written.
Jean Collen COPYRIGHT 2005
Updated April 2019.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Sheet Music featuring (or associated with) Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth
Webster Booth sang Chalita (Victor Schertzinger) in the late twenties at various Lyons Cafés.
Webster Booth took the role of the Duke of Buckingham in The Three Musketeers (1930) at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He made his West End Debut in the production.
My Star (Bassett Silver) sung, recorded and broadcast by Webster in the 1930s.
Webster and Anne in The Faust Fantasy (1935)
Webster appeared in the film The Robber Symphony in 1935
Anne and Webster starred in a revival of The Vagabond King (Friml) at the Winter Garden Theatre, London in 1943. Their theme song Only a Rose is from the show.
They recorded Dearest of All (Vernon Lathom Sharp) in the late 1940s. Vernon Lathom Sharp lived in East London, South Africa until his death in the 1990s.
Here is Richard Tauber singing Dearest of All
They discovered Blue Smoke when they were touring New Zealand in 1948 and made a recording of it as a duet.
When they returned to the UK in 1978 and began singing again (although they had given their farewell concert in Somerset West, Cape in 1975), they often sang Ah yes, I remember it well from Gigi, the song made famous by Hermione Gingold and Maurice Chevalier in the film.
Pamela Davies, with whom I collaborated in writing a book entitled Do You Remember Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth? in 2005, 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 that decided me to study singing with Anne and Webster and to make music my career.