THE ANNE ZIEGLER AND WEBSTER BOOTH STORY – PART ONE.

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.

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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.

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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 ZIEGLER (1910 – 2003)


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.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 7-september-1938-with-twinkle.jpgThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 7-september-1938-azwb-pier-music-pavilion..png

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.

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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.

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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.
 

 
Join: The Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler Appreciation Group on Facebook.
 

Paddy Prior and Webster
Anne and Webster (1957)

WEBSTER BOOTH AND GILBERT AND SULLIVAN.

In 1926 Doctor Malcolm Sargent (as he was then) took over as conductor for the London season at the Prince’s Theatre and Leslie considered that period to be one of his happiest and most fulfilling times with the company. It was then when he asked Sargent to listen to his voice and tell him whether he thought he could make it as an opera singer. Sargent told him that if he did not have a private income he should forget about singing in opera as the pay was very poor.

Webster Booth and Gilbert and Sullivan.

As a young man, Webster Booth was serving articles as an accountant in Birmingham and taking singing lessons in his spare time at the Midland Institute with Dr Richard Wassell, the organist, and choirmaster at St Martin’s Church in the Bull Ring, Birmingham. He was a tenor soloist in the church and fulfilling engagements as tenor soloist in regional oratorio performances as far apart as Wales and Scotland.

Midland Institute where Webster had lessons with Dr Richard Wassell.

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Interior of St Martin’s Church, the Bullring, Birmingham

St Martin's

In 1923 the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company came to Birmingham and he managed to obtain an audition with New Zealander, Harry Norris, the D’Oyly Carte conductor. Harry Norris was impressed with Webster’s voice and on his recommendation, he was summoned to see Rupert D’Oyly Carte in London. He was meant to audit a firm’s books in South Wales. Instead, he decided to throw caution to the wind and went to London for the audition instead. He sang five or six songs to an unreceptive D’Oyly Carte and his general manager, Richard Collett.

‘I became increasingly anxious. It was like singing to two mummies…
”I think he’ll do,” Mr D’Oyly Carte said in a rather pained voice, thinking, no doubt, that here was yet another name one the pay-list.
“I should think so, sir,” was the reply.
‘Thus unenthusiastically was I welcomed into the Profession of the Stage.’ (Duet, p. 34)

Although he had been doing well in accountancy, he abandoned his job with little regret to become a professional singer, making his debut with the company as one of the Yeomen in The Yeomen of the Guard at the Theatre Royal, Brighton on 9 September 1923.

In 1924 he married Winifred Keey, the daughter of Edgar Keey, his former headmaster at Aston Commercial School. Winifred borrowed £100 from a relative, with no intention of repaying it, and used the money to follow Leslie to London against her parents’ wishes, or possibly, even without their knowledge. They might have approved of the match had Leslie remained a respectable accountant like his elder brother, Norman, but they were against her taking up with a chorus boy in the D’Oyly Carte. Her family had no more to do with her, partly because of her defiance of their wishes and partly because she had borrowed such a large sum of money under false pretences from a member of the family. Because they disowned her they never knew that she and Leslie had married or that she gave birth to a son, and, thinking the worst of her, imagined that she and Leslie were living together in sin.

Winifred and Leslie’s son, Keith was born the year after their marriage on 12 June 1925, and his birth was registered in Birmingham North.

6 August 1925 – Borough, Stratford. Interest remains unabated in the D’Oyly Carte company, now in the second of their two weeks’ engagement at this theatre. On Tuesday The Yeomen of the Guard was staged, and met with the usual enthusiastic reception from an audience who obviously enjoyed every number. Encores were frequent. The entrance of Mr Henry A Lytton as Jack Point was naturally the signal for an outburst of applause, which was fully justified by his consistently fine work in this well-written role. His apt mingling of humour and pathos is amongst the best things he has ever done. As the other strolling singer Miss Winifred Lawson made a distinct success, singing and acting with real talent. Happily cast also were Mr Leo Sheffield as the grim gaoler and Miss Aileen Davies as Phoebe. Miss Bertha Lewis made a capital Dame Carruthers, whose chief song was rendered artistically; and Miss Irene Hill scored as Kate. Mr Sydney Pointer’s agreeable voice helped him to make Colonel Fairfax a prominent figure, and Mr Darrell Fancourt was a strong Sergeant Meryll. Others who shared in the success were Mr Joseph Griffin as Sir Richard, Mr Herbert Aitken as Leonard, and Mr Leslie W. Booth as the First Yeoman. The stage director is still Mr J.M. Gordon and Mr Harry Norris is the touring musical director.
In 1926 Doctor Malcolm Sargent (as he was then) took over as conductor for the London season at the Prince’s Theatre and Leslie considered that period to be one of his happiest and most fulfilling times with the company. It was then when he asked Sargent to listen to his voice and tell him whether he thought he could make it as an opera singer. Sargent told him that if he did not have a private income he should forget about singing in opera as the pay was very poor.

18 November 1926 – D’Oyly Carte Canadian Visit. It has been arranged for the D’Oyly Carte principal company to visit Canada at the end of the season at the Princes on December 19. The company will embark for Canada in the steamship Metagama on the 24th. The tour will open in Montreal on January 4. Mr Richard Collett, the general manager of the company, will be in charge of the tour.

After a stay of two weeks in Montreal, the company will proceed to Toronto and thence to Winnipeg, staying in each of these cities for a fortnight. There will also be visits to Lethbridge, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, and Victoria, the capital of Vancouver Island. The tour will end at Montreal in the middle of May. The Mikado, The Gondoliers, The Yeomen of the Guard, and HMS Pinafore will form the repertory. The leading principals, with the exception of Miss Elsie Griffin, will take part in the tour. Miss Griffin’s place will be filled by Miss Irene Hill. Misses Bertha Lewis, Winifred Lawson, Aileen Davies, Messrs Henry A Lytton, Darrell Fancourt, Leo Sheffield, and Charles Goulding are included in the company.
Webster Booth sang Your Tiny Hand is Frozen at the ship’s concert, so impressing principal soprano Winifred Lawson that she was not at all surprised when he soon rose to fame after he left the company. He was particularly impressed when the chorus sang Hail Poetry in the open air when the company visited Chief Big Crow and Chief Starlight in the Sarcee Reserve, Calgary.

Passenger list on return to Liverpool 

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SS Megantic (White Star) return to Liverpool from Canada, May 1927.

He stayed with the company for four and a half years but made no great advancement from singing in the chorus, small parts and understudying the tenor principal roles. In Duet, his joint autobiography, with Anne Ziegler, he complained that the only way he would advance in the company was to wait patiently to fill “dead men’s shoes”. Despite this observation, he was one of the few singers allowed to record individual songs from the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire without prior approval of the D’Oyly Carte family.
His recordings of Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes and A Wand’ring Minstrel under the baton of gifted conductor, a fellow native of Birmingham, Leslie Heward, who died tragically young, remain unsurpassed and are now available on CD.

Leslie was away on tour for fifty weeks of the year and Winifred, left alone with her small son, was estranged from her parents although living in the suburb of Moseley in the same city. Leslie had suspicions that all was not well at home when he arrived home from a tour with D’Oyly Carte to find Keith sitting by himself on the doorstep. Winifred had left her small son to his own devices while she went dancing. Several years later, she suddenly deserted Leslie and his son.

Leslie searched for Winifred in every town where he happened to be singing, but despite desperate attempts to trace her, he never found her, and eventually divorced her in 1931, citing Trevor Davey as co-respondent. Leslie was granted custody of Keith, who decided on his sixth birthday that he never wanted to see his mother again.

After the stability of a regular – if small – salary from D’Oyly Carte, he was now a freelance performer with a small son to support and no regular money to his name. In the D’Oyly Carte Company he was known as Leslie W. Booth, but now he adopted his middle name and became known as Webster Booth on stage, although his family and close friends continued to call him Leslie for the rest of his life. One of his boyhood nicknames was Jammy, and he once signed a photograph “Yours sincerely, Kingy”!

LWB -01

26 May 1939 – Gilbert and Sullivan The scheme of the London Music Festival is designed to embrace all the chief musical activities of the metropolis and it was proper that the popular concerts given by Mr Ernest Makower at the London Museum should have their place in it. The concert given on Wednesday evening was an unusual one, though Mr Makower never keeps to any beaten path in his selection of music for performance. It was felt that no English festival would be really complete if Gilbert and Sullivan was not represented in it. So, with the permission of Mr D’Oyly Carte, Dr Sargent arranged a programme of selections from the famous comic operas. In a preliminary talk, Dr Sargent apologised for going against Sullivan’s expressed wish that his operatic music should not be performed in concert form.

But no excuse was necessary to justify the admirable singing of the extracts by Miss Irene Eisinger, Mr Webster Booth, and Mr George Baker. We do not often hear Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes so well sung in a theatre. Miss Eisinger’s songs reminded us that Sullivan’s heroines descended at no great distance from Mozart’s soubrettes, whom we are accustomed to hearing her sing so delightfully. It was good too to hear the music played by the Boyd Neel orchestra, whose contributions included the delightful patchwork overture, Un Ballo and the Iolanthe overture. There was, as usual, a large and enthusiastic audience.

1953 – The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan (film). Robert Morley, Ian Wallace, Owen Brannigan, Harold Williams and voices of Webster Booth, Elsie Morrison, John Cameron.
Webster was annoyed at the billing he was given in this film. He did not appear in it but his voice was dubbed for Colonel Fairfax in the scene from The Yeomen of the Guard and in the final section singing an echoing version of A Wand’ring Minstrel.
The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan 

January 1962 When the copyright on Gilbert’s words was lifted at the end of 1961 Webster was asked to present a Gilbert and Sullivan series of programmes on the English Service of the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

1962 WB radio

1963 Only a few weeks before The Johannesburg Operatic Society was due to open with The Yeomen of the Guard the committee decided that they needed a stronger Colonel Fairfax than the person originally cast in the role. Webster (aged 61) was asked to take over what is essentially the juvenile lead. He was a great success in the role.

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14 June 1963 (from my 5-year diary)

14 jUNE 1963

4 to 14 April 1973 – The Mikado, Guild Theatre, East London, The East London Light Operatic Society, Pamela Emslie, Colin Carney, Bernie Lee, Leigh Evans, Irene McCarthy, Jim Hagerty and Jimmy Nicholas, produced by Webster Booth. The musical director was Jean Fowler.

I had moved to East London at the beginning of 1973 and joined the show at the last minute. I had a very happy reunion with Webster after seven years apart.

Jean Collen 23 August 2018.

 

Mikado, Guild Theatre, East London 1973

FANS

They attracted a legion of adoring fans. Many followed them ardently from one engagement to another and listened to all their broadcasts on the radio. One of their fans was Gladys Reed, seen below with Anne at the stage door of the London Palladium in 1942. You can see how delighted she was to have her photo taken with her idol! Anne wrote a letter to Gladys telling her to give their regards to the “gang” – probably referring to the devoted fans who followed them around from one engagement to the other.

2019-05-25_101919Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler were very popular and attracted a legion of fans who followed them for a variety of reasons.

Before he began working with Anne, Webster attracted many female fans who admired him, not only for his beautiful voice, but for his smouldering good looks. He told me that he often singled out the most attractive girl in the audience and sang for her alone. Invariably she would be waiting at the stage door after the show, either to ask shyly for his autograph, hoping for a few kind words from her hero, or hoping, better still, that he would ask her out for a drink! He had attractive photos made to hand out to his fans, such as this one, signed at Shanklin in 1931, and the same photo later signed to Elaine in 1933.

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His practised seduction technique led directly to his second marriage with soubrette, Paddy Prior. He had been singing at a Monday evening concert at the Concert Artistes Association when he noticed an attractive young woman sitting in the audience obviously enjoying his singing. When he sang One Alone he directed his attention to her alone. After the concert, he was introduced to her and they were married after his divorce from his first wife, Winifred Keey, was finalised. Sadly, his marriage to Paddy did not last very long after he met Anne Ziegler during the filming of the Faust Fantasy at the end of 1934.

In July 1934, Madeleine wrote a note to her friends, Lily and Phil, from Shanklin on the Isle of Wight where Webster was appearing in the Sunshine summer show there.

1934 WBHe valued his fans and treated them with kindness and consideration.He answered fan mail himself, such as in these letters, dated September and December 1936:

1936 letters

During the 1990s Anne wrote to me and told me that her very first fan had visited her recently in Penrhyn Bay. The girl had been fifteen years of age in 1935 and saw Anne in a summer show in Ryde when Anne herself was only twenty-five years of age. She had been a fan of Anne’s ever since and kept in touch with her over the years.

Even before Webster’s divorce to Paddy Prior was finalised, he and Anne began singing together on the concert platform. They were an instant success. Both were very attractive with charming personalities. He wore an evening suit with a gardenia in his lapel; Anne was beautifully dressed. As their popularity grew, she had crinoline gowns designed for her, some by the Queen Mother’s dress-designer, Norman Hartnell.

They attracted a legion of adoring fans. Many followed them ardently from one engagement to another and listened to all their broadcasts on the radio. One of their fans was Gladys Reed, seen below with Anne at the stage door of the London Palladium in 1942. You can see how delighted she was to have her photo taken with her idol! Anne wrote a letter to Gladys telling her to give their regards to the “gang” – probably referring to the devoted fans who followed them around from one engagement to the other.

13 November 1942 bPalladium

Letter to Gladys 1943

North British Station Hotel

Imagine how Anne and Webster’s fairytale act must have lightened the lives of their fans during the difficult war years. No wonder they attracted so many people at that time.

In 1943, Jean Buckley (née Newman) was thirteen years of age, living in wartime Manchester and she and her mother spending many nights in an air raid shelter with bombs dropping around them, keeping them from sleep. She and her mother attended many of their concerts and broadcasts in the city for Jean was enchanted by their act. She and her mother always went backstage to see the couple and Jean saved her pocket money and collected coupons so that she could buy gifts to present to Anne whenever they went backstage after a show. Anne and Webster saw Jean so often that they often sent her complimentary tickets for their shows.

Jean was very upset when they decided to move to South Africa in 1956 but they kept in touch and she sent them copies of The Stage while they were living there. When they returned to the UK in 1978 they lived near Jean and her husband Maurice and spent a lot of time with them. Jean said that Webster enjoyed watching cricket on TV with Maurice.

When Webster became ill and was admitted to a nursing home, Jean visited him in the afternoon when she finished work and took him out occasionally to give him a break from the dull routine of the nursing home. After his death, Jean did a great deal for Anne in one way and another. She and Maurice raised money to inaugurate a prize in Webster’s name at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Jean was very hurt when Anne’s friend, Babs Wilson Hill condescendingly introduced her as “Anne’s greatest fan.” Jean replied, “I think I might be considered Anne’s greatest friend.” Sadly, Anne and Jean fell out over a trivial matter several years before Anne’s death and they were never reconciled. I corresponded with Jean for over ten years and I am sad that she has lost her sight and is now living in a frail care home at the age of eighty-seven.

Anne and Jean in Penrhyn Bay before going to the Royal Northern College, Manchester for prize winners’ concert for the Webster Booth prize.

Before attending  the RNCM concert (1990s)

Another fan was Pamela Davies (née James). She mentioned in her book Do You Remember Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth? that she and her fellow teaching students gathered round the radio to listen to the Victory Royal Command Performance in November 1945 to hear Anne and Webster singing. She made extensive notes of all their radio appearances.

When Anne and Webster returned to the UK in 1978 she wrote to them to say how pleased she was that they had returned to the country. Thus began a regular correspondence which resulted in Pam and her husband Walter taking Anne out to lunch whenever they went to North Wales.

Anne and Webster went on an extensive concert tour of New Zealand and Australia in 1948. Anne wrote in Duet: “I had an admirer in Christchurch who brought me flowers every day we were there. They were freesias, of the beautiful big New Zealand variety. Her name was Margaret Richardson, and she has since come over to England and obtained a job in New Zealand House.”

Margaret Richardson returned to New Zealand and she and Anne kept in touch over the years. Unfortunately, Margaret died shortly before Anne, so she did not receive the photos Anne had allocated to her in her will.

John Bull 1952

I wonder where these children are now and what they thought of their mother’s choice of names for them!

When they returned to the UK in 1978, aged 68 and 76, they expected to lead a quiet life in semi-retirement. They had been doing very little work in South Africa for years so it came as a surprise to them to find that they were in great demand in the UK. Many of their fans from the good old days were still alive. Soon they were travelling around the country, singing in concerts, giving talks, appearing on TV and presenting radio programmes. In 1975 they had given a farewell concert in Somerset West and they had not intended to sing again, but they gave in to public demand when they went back to the UK. Anne was still in fairly good voice but Webster’s voice had deteriorated and I thought it was very sad that he should have had to sing in public again when he was past his best. But they needed the money and their performances continued longer than they should have done. I don’t think their elderly fans were very critical – they were only too happy to see their favourites on stage once again.

On TV 1980

Joan Tapper, a piano teacher, had been a life-long fan of the couple and when they sang in Mold, North Wales, she presented them with a gift after the concert. This led to a friendship which lasted until Anne’s death in 2003.

Anne and her fan and friend, the late Joan Tapper.

Webster’s health deteriorated and after a disastrous performance in Bridlington when he forgot the words of one of their most popular duets, Anne realised that this had been their swansong and they would never be able to sing together again.

Webster died in 1984, and Anne lived alone in the bungalow in Penrhyn Bay, North Wales for another nineteen years. The bungalow was owned by Babs Wilson Hill, who had been Anne’s friend and admirer since they appeared in pantomime together in Liverpool in 1935, although by the end of their lives they were not as close as they had been in earlier times. They died within a few weeks of one another.

Happier times – Jean, Anne and Babs

Jean Collen © 22 June 2017

WEBSTER BOOTH (1902 – 1984) EARLY DAYS

Christening of Leslie Webster Booth at St James’ Church, Handsworth. The date is 15 April 1912, but I wonder if this is a misprint and that it actually took place in April 1902.
 

WEBSTER BOOTH (1902 – 1984)  – EARLY DAYS

The song on the clyp is:  Sylvia by Oley Speaks.

Extract from SWEETHEARTS OF SONG: A PERSONAL MEMOIR OF ANNE ZIEGLER AND WEBSTER BOOTH (JEAN COLLEN)

EARLY DAYS IN BIRMINGHAM AND LINCOLN

Leslie Webster Booth was born on 21 January 1902 in a three storey home above his father’s ladies hairdressing business at 157 Soho Road, Handsworth, Birmingham. He was the youngest son of Edwin Booth and his wife Sarah (née Webster) in a family of three sons and three daughters. Edwin was a hairdresser, who had served in the Royal Staffordshire Regiment as a Barber Surgeon. Sarah was from Chilvers Coton, Nuneaton, where her parents and later she and her sister, Hannah, had been handloom silk weavers. Her brother, William Thomas Webster was a partner in Foster and Webster, a successful gentlemen’s outfitters with branches throughout the Midlands. Sarah’s brother eventually left the firm, but it continues to this day under the name of Foster Brothers.

Leslie was the youngest of six children and his eldest sister, Doris, (known as Nellie), played as big a part in his upbringing as his mother. All three sisters doted on their young brother, who, from an early age, possessed a singing voice of outstanding quality. The family held musical evenings at home and delighted in their father’s robust rendition of The Veteran’s Song, while his mother and sisters were moved to tears when young Leslie sang the mournful ballad, Valé in his beautiful treble voice.

Webster sang in the choir at St James as a young boy.

At nine years of age Leslie’s voice elevated him from St James’ Church choir in Edwardian Handsworth to the choir stalls of Lincoln Cathedral as a chorister under the direction of Dr George Bennett. Dr Bennett was a fine musician, but a stern taskmaster, who insisted that choristers sang with flat tongues: he was not averse to flattening an errant tongue with his ever-ready broken baton. Just as today’s Cathedral choristers are disciplined hard-working musicians of the highest order, so they were in the first decades of the twentieth century also. Christmas holidays for the choristers commenced only after they had completed the Christmas Eve services to Dr Bennett’s satisfaction.

Lincoln Cathedral. Webster was a chorister there from the age of 9 until his voice broke.

Lincoln was a good training ground for young Leslie Booth. Although he did not make great progress on the piano and thus did not advance to learning the organ, an instrument he longed to play. The Willis organ at Lincoln Cathedral had been opened in 1898, eleven years before Leslie went to Lincoln, and is still considered as one of the finest organs in England. Leslie did, however, learn to sight-read vocal lines with ease. This ability stood him in good stead as a professional singer, especially at recording sessions.

When he went to HMV studios for a recording session he would be given six to eight songs to record at a time. These he would sight-read and record in one or two takes. After the session the songs would soon be forgotten: a different approach to recording from today’s pop singers who seem to spend months recording their new “album”! Years later, people often appeared before him clutching one of his old records, assuring him of their great attachment to the particular song, but he often had no recollection of making it in the first place.

After his voice broke at the age of thirteen, he returned to the family home in Birmingham to study accountancy at Aston Commercial School. He was set for the steady job of accountant like Uncle Jim, his father’s brother, but at fifteen, when his voice had settled, he began his vocal studies as a tenor with Dr Richard Wassall, the musical director at the Midland Institute in Birmingham. Leslie was an avid supporter of West Bromwich Albion football team and was goalie in the Aston Commercial School team. He was a promising enough goalie to be offered a place with the Aston Villa Colts, but this idea did not meet with his headmaster’s approval. Despite his accountancy studies, he secretly dreamed of the more glamorous callings of football and singing. Luckily for the world, singing eventually won.

The headmaster was Edgar Keey, father of his first wife, Winifred.

With his great natural vocal gifts, his striking good looks and winning personality, performing came easily to him. He sang duets with Uncle Jim’s daughter, his cousin Lily Booth, a promising mezzo-soprano, and soon he was also singing at concerts and oratorio performances all over the Midlands and Wales. By this time he was a tall, imposing young man, who realised that appearance and stage presence were nearly as important to a professional singer as an exceptional voice. Although he had perfect diction in song, he felt it necessary to take elocution lessons with the Shakespearian actor Sir Robert Atkins, the founder of the Open Air Theatre at Regents Park, to smooth the Brummy intonation from his speech.

His adult voice was a distinctive lyric tenor, with an exceptionally wide range and a baritonal quality on the lower notes. His diction was clear and lacked the idiosyncratic pronunciation and bleating quality of many of his contemporaries, which marked them as refined English singers, not quite able to compete with their more virile Italian and German counterparts. In my opinion, Heddle Nash and David Lloyd were the only two British tenors of Webster Booth’s generation who had comparable voices.

At twenty-one, Leslie auditioned for the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company and was immediately accepted after a London audition. Although he had been doing well in accountancy, he abandoned his job with little regret to become a professional singer, making his debut with the company in The Yeomen of the Guard at the Theatre Royal, Brighton on 9 September 1923. He stayed with the company for four years, but made no great advancement from the chorus and small parts. In Duet, his joint autobiography, with Anne Ziegler, he complained that the only way one could advance in the company was to wait to fill “dead men’s shoes”. Despite this observation, he was one of the few singers allowed to record individual songs from the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire without the prior approval of the D’Oyly Carte family.

His recordings of Take a pair of sparkling eyes and A Wand’ring Minstrel under the baton of the gifted conductor Leslie Heward, who died tragically young, remain unsurpassed and are now available on CD. He went with the D’Oyly Carte Company on a memorable and successful tour of Canada. Winifred Lawson, the principal soprano, heard him singing Your Tiny Hand is Frozen from La Bohème at the ship’s concert and was deeply impressed with the beauty of his voice. She was not surprised when he left the company soon after its return to England, to eventually become a deserved success in his own right.

In 1924 he had married Winifred Keey, the daughter of Edgar Keey, his headmaster at Aston Commercial School. Winifred borrowed £100 from a relative, with no intention of repaying it, and used the money to follow Leslie to London against her parents’ wishes, or possibly without their knowledge. They might have approved of the match had Leslie remained a respectable accountant like his elder brother, Norman, but they were against her taking up with a chorus boy in the D’Oyly Carte. Her family would have no more to do with her, annoyed at her, partly because of her defiance of their wishes and partly because she had borrowed such a large sum of money under false pretences from a member of the family. Because they disowned her they never knew that she and Leslie had married or that she gave birth to a son and imagined that she and Leslie were living together in sin.

Winifred and Leslie’s son, Keith was born the year after their marriage on 12 June 1925, and his birth was registered in Birmingham North. Leslie was on tour for fifty weeks of the year and Winifred, left alone with her small son, was estranged from her parents although living in the suburb of Moseley in the same city. After several years she suddenly deserted Leslie and his son. He had suspicions that all was not well at home when he came home from a tour with D’Oyly Carte to find Keith sitting by himself on the doorstep. Winifred had left her small son to his own devices while she went dancing.

Leslie searched for Winifred in every town where he was singing, but despite his desperate attempts to trace her, he never found her, and eventually divorced her in 1931, citing Trevor Davey as co-respondent. Leslie was granted custody of Keith, who never saw his mother again after his sixth birthday.

After the stability of a regular – if small – salary from D’Oyly Carte, he was now a freelance performer with a small son to support and no regular money to his name. In the D’Oyly Carte Company he was known as Leslie W. Booth, but now he adopted his middle name, and became Webster Booth on stage, although his family and close friends continued to call him Leslie for the rest of his life. One of his boyhood nicknames was Jammy and he once signed a photograph “Yours sincerely, Kingy“!

During this precarious period of his life before he achieved fame and stability in the profession, Webster joined Tom Howell’s Opieros, a concert party with a difference, as some of its members sang operatic excerpts while others were comedians and light entertainers found in the usual concert party. Tom Howell was a baritone from Swansea and he and Webster often sang duets together in the shows. For several years Webster toured all over the country with the Opieros during the summer season, performing on piers and in municipal parks. H Baynton-Power was the Opieros’ excellent accompanist.

In winter Webster sang in cabaret at various large Lyons’ restaurants and cafés, at many Masonic concerts and staff dinners, often with the pianist Gladys Vernon as his accompanist. Gladys Vernon was to marry another well-known tenor, Walter Midgeley.

During the winter seasons of 1927 and 1928, he and Tom Howell appeared in Fred Melville pantomimes at Brixton. The first pantomime in 1927 was St George and the Dragon. St George was played by principal boy, Vera Wright, while Webster played King Arthur. 1928’s pantomime at the Brixton Theatre was a freely adapted version of Babes in the Wood. Once again Vera Wright played principal boy, this time in the role of Robin Hood.

Webster made his West End debut as the Duke of Buckingham in Rudolph Friml’s The Three Musketeers at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1930. The leading role of D’Artagnan was taken by Dennis King, an actor and singer Webster greatly admired for his great energy. Other distinguished cast members were Lilian Davies, Marie Ney, Adrienne Brune and Raymond Newell. Unfortunately, Webster could only appear in this show for three months as he had already signed a contract for a Blackpool summer show for Ernest Butcher. Despite Sir Alfred Butt’s best efforts to get him released from this contract, Ernest Butcher would not budge. Webster’s part was taken over by the well-known Yorkshire tenor, Robert Naylor. When Webster set off sadly and reluctantly to fulfill his engagement on the Central Pier, Blackpool, his one consolation was that he could continue singing Queen of My Heart, one of the hits from The Three Musketeers with which he had scored such a success on the West End.

With Lilian Davies in “The Three Musketeers”.

Webster met his second wife, Dorothy Annie Alice Prior (stage name Paddy Prior) in the early nineteen-thirties. He was singing One Alone at a Concert Artistes Association concert and happened to notice her sitting in the audience. Paddy Prior was born in Fulham in 1905, the daughter of Hubert Prior, an ironmonger, and his wife, Annie Jane (née Henderson). Paddy went on the professional stage while still in her teens. She was a light comedienne, dancer, and a soubrette with a charming mezzo-soprano voice and appeared on television in its early days in The Ridgeway Revue with Philip Ridgeway and Hermione Gingold. By the time she met Webster she was a veteran of many concert parties, musicals and pantomimes, and always received good reviews for her work. Despite her talent she had periods of unemployment and placed occasional advertisements in The Stage, such as this one in April 1926, which read as follows:

In 1931 Webster divorced Winifred, citing her affair with Trevor Davey and on 10 October 1932, he married Paddy at Fulham Registry Office, where he had married Winifred Keey in 1924. Around the same time, Winifred married James L. Haig at the Lambeth Registry Office. Webster and Paddy went to Newquay for their honeymoon.

Webster sang for several seasons in Papa Pinder’s Sunshine concert party at the Sunshine Theatre, Shanklin on the Isle of Wight.

In 1933 he and Paddy appeared together for the summer season in The Piccadilly Revels Concert Party at Scarborough. The following year, Webster managed to arrange for Paddy to obtain an engagement with him in the Sunshine show. Appearing on the same bill with them was Arthur Askey, and he and Webster became great friends. After hearing Webster sing To Anthea by J L Hatton at one of the shows, the Askeys decided to name their baby daughter Anthea…

See more in my bookstore at: JEAN COLLEN’S BOOKSTORE

 

Jean Collen

21 June 2016.

PADDY PRIOR – WEBSTER BOOTH’S SECOND WIFE

On 22 April 1948 she and Bettie Bucknelle sailed for Australia, where they intended to make a new life. Paddy’s brother had settled there some time earlier. It must have been upsetting for Paddy to see Webster and Anne as established stars while, despite her considerable talent, she had not made a big and lasting name for herself.

Paddy Prior in Newquay
Paddy Prior at the Old Vicarage, Newquay after World War 2

Webster Booth married his second wife, Dorothy Annie Alice Prior (stage name Paddy Prior) on 10 October 1932 at the Fulham Registry Office. He had married Winifred Keey there eight years earlier but had divorced her in 1931 after she deserted him and their small son, Keith, several years before.

Marriage Henderson Prior

Marriage certificate of Hubert Edward Prior and Annie Jane Henderson on 25 October 1902.

Paddy Prior, was born in December 1904, the daughter of Fulham ironmonger, Hubert and his wife, Annie Henderson. Paddy began her professional stage career while still a teenager. She was a talented soubrette, comedienne and dancer, and possessed a pleasant mezzo soprano voice into the bargain.

Paddy’s parents lived at Disbrowe Road when they were first married.

Disbrowe Road
Disbrowe Road, Fulham (today)

Paddy’s birthplace in Fulham. Her baptism on 29 January 1905 at St Peter, Fulham.

Baptismal certificate.
Baptismal certificate – Dorothy Annie Alice Prior.

1911 Census

1911 census Paddy Prior
1911 census

George William Henderson was a relative of Annie Jane Prior (nee Henderson).

In 1924, at the age of nineteen, Paddy spent nearly a year as a member of the travelling Rogues concert party from April to January 1925. In various reviews Paddy was praised for her comedy talent and her speciality dancing with comedian Fred Roper. They were appearing at Leas Pavilion, Folkestone in January 1925, but by the 5 February Paddy had left the Rogues to join the Gamblers and Their Tipster concert party at the same venue. This party also toured extensively, so before she was twenty-one, Paddy had seen much of the country and gained valuable professional experience into the bargain.

24 December 1924

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Whitehall Court, Fulham – Paddy’s home in the 1920s.

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In November 1925 Paddy appeared at the Taunton Lyceum in Little Miss Muffet as Dolly Dimple. The pantomime toured various towns until early 1926.

Little Miss Muffet (1925)
Little Miss Muffet – Paddy played Little Dolly Dimple.

By April Paddy was out of work and obliged to put an advertisement in The Stage as follows:

8 April 1926 PADDY PRIOR, SOUBRETTE AND DANCER, VACANT: First class offers for CP, Revue, and Musical Comedy. PA 37 Arundel Mansions, Fulham SW6

By July Paddy was working again, this time with Leslie Fuller’s Whitby Pedlars, and a review pointed out that, “Paddy Prior is a charming and dainty soubrette, who uses her mezzo voice effectively.”

The pattern of Paddy’s stage career was set: concert party, after-dinner entertainment, pantomime and musical comedy. Towards the end of the twenties she was also on television at Daventry, first in De Courville’s Hour in 1929.

Albert de Courville.

Albert de Courville

then in the early thirties in Philip Ridgeway’s series entitled The Ridgeway Parade, which included Janet Lind, Dorothy Dampier and Hermione Gingold in the cast. She starred in the Cicely Courtneidge role on a Scottish tour of Lido Lady in 1929.

31 January 1929 – Advertisement in The Stage. PADDY PRIOR – Playing Lead LIDO LADY Co. This week, Theatre Royal, Inverness, next His Majesty’s, Aberdeen

Selection from LIDO LADY

Stage adverts
Stage adverts

Cast of Ridgeway ParadeDress Rehearsal

The Ridgeway Parade – Regional Programme London, 7 October 1931 21.15 (New Series. No. I) Sweep Night – A Song and Dance Show Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical Arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN
Devised and Produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY
FRED CURTIS , BERTHA WILLMOTT, IRENE VERE, HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, SINCLAIR COLE, BERT MEREDITH, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON, LOLA GORDON, BEATRICE GALLEWAY, JACK HODGES, JOHN CHARLTON, PADDY PRIOR, ARTHUR JAY, WALLACE NORFORD. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA. PHILIP RIDGEWAY.

THE FIRST OF THE NEW SERIES OF RIDGEWAY PARADES – National Programme Daventry, 9 October 1931 20.00 SWEEP NIGHT – A song and dance show, written by Holt Marvell and Philip Ridgeway. Musical arrangements by Dorothy Hogben. Devised and produced by Philip Ridgeway. Fred Curtis, Bertha Wilmott, Irene Vere, Hermione Gingold, Gerald Osborne, Dorothy Dampier, Anna Day, Sinclair Cole, Bert Meredith, Douglas Pemberton, Lola Gordon, Beatrice Galleway, Jack Hodges, John Charlton, Paddy Prior, Arthur Jay, Wallace Norford, Dorothy Hogben and her Orchestra. Philip Ridgeway.

Singing, dancing, burlesque-and Mr. Ridgeway. The producer is the life and soul of his own shows. It is Philip Ridgeway who designed costumes for his Paraders to wear in the Studio, who makes his whole company dance furiously for a minute before the red light goes on in order that they should start their broadcast warmed up, who created and impersonated Joe Ramsbotham of Rawthenstall, of the unsteady Lancashire accent. These Parades, of which the present series is the third, are among the most generally popular light entertainments ever broadcast. They may lack the subtlety and satire of the revues of Gordon McConnel, John Watt, Denis Freeman; their aim is otherwise—broad humour, popular songs, vitality, rather than finesse. Many of the members of former Parade companies are taking part in the present series. Mr. Ridgeway’s musical director, Dorothy Hogben, is again in charge of the orchestra. Philip Ridgeway is well qualified to possess an acquaintance with the popular taste in entertainment. Still in his thirties, he has been connected with the theatre since he was a boy, as actor, author, producer and manager in turn. It is typical of his lively versatility that the two most widely acclaimed achievements of his career have been his introduction of Chekhov to London, at the Barnes Theatre, several years ago, and the invention last autumn of the Ridgeway Parades. Tonight he will be beside the microphone as usual, the inevitable flower in his buttonhole, waving his company on, a cross between Sir Henry Wood, Francois Descamps and Grock. So on with the show. We’re a lot of little songs to chase the blues, Dancing shoes to amuse. We’re the lightest and the brightest of revues, We’re the Ridgeway Parade.

The Ridgeway Parade – National Programme Daventry, 22 October 1931 20.00 (New Series-No. II) Sweetheart Night – A Song and Dance Show Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical Arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN. Devised and Produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY. DOROTHY DAMPIER, HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, FRED CURTIS, SINCLAIR COLE, BERT MEREDITH, LOLA GORDON, JOHN CHARLTON, PADDY PRIOR, JACK HODGES , DORIS YORKE, ALEXANDER HENDERSON, WALLACE MORFORD, BEATRICE GALLEWAY, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA.  PHILIP RIDGEWAY

The Ridgeway Parade – Regional Programme London, 4 November 1931 20.30 (New Series-No. Ill) – Old Soldiers’ Night – A Song and Dance Show Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical Arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN. Devised and Produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY. HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, BERT MEREDITH, SINCLAIR COLE, JOHN CHARLTON, FRED CURTIS, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON, LOLA GORDON, PADDY PRIOR, JACK HODGES, WALLACE MORFORD, DORIS YORKE, ALEXANDER HENDERSON, BEATRICE GALLEWAY.BL_0000381_19321224_010_0001

Ridgeway Parade2
Ridgeway Parade

The Ridgeway Parade— V Regional Programme London, 2 December 1931 20.00 (New Series) Typists’, Brunettes’, and Dukes’ Night – A Song and Dance Show Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP Ridgeway.  HERMIONEGINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, BERT MEREDITH, SINCLAIR COLE, JOHN CHARLTON, FRED CURTIS, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON, LOLA GORDON, BEATRlCE GALLEWAY,  ALEXANDER HENDERSON, PADDY PRIOR, JACK HODGES, WALLACE MORFORD, DORIS YORKE. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA, PHILIP RIDGEWAY.

The Ridgeway Parade – Regional Programme London, 16 December 1931 20.00 (New Series-No. VI) HAPPY NIGHT. A SONG AND DANCE SHOW Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN. Devised and produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY.  HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, BERT MEREDITH, SINCLAIR COLE, JOHN CHARLTON. FRED CURTIS, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, ALEXANDER HENDERSON , DORIS YORKE, WALLACE MORFORD, JACK HODGES, PADDY PRIOR, BEATRICE GALLEWAY, LOLA GORDON, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA. PHILIP RIDGEWAY

MURRAY ASHFORD’S ENTERTAINERS – Regional Programme Midland, 17 June 1932 18.30 From THE PAVILION, JEPHSON GARDENS, LEAMINGTON SPA. WINIFRED SCOTT-BAXTER (Soprano), EDWARD WARD, (Baritone), CLIFFORD WARREN (Entertainer), PADDY PRIOR (Soubrette), MARIE GROS (Comedienne), DOROTHY BRADSHAW (at the Piano), FRANK RYDON (Light Comedian), WILBY LUNN and CONNIE HART (Living Marionettes).

MANY interesting personalities are associated with Murray Ashford’s Entertainers. Paddy Prior is familiar to admirers of the Ridgeway Parade, Marie Gros is the niece of the late Marie Lloyd and sings many of her songs, while Edward Ward has appeared in several Drury Lane successes.

Webster Booth divorced his first wife, Winifred Keey, in 1931.

DIVORCE NOTICE
Between Leslie Webster Booth (Petitioner) and Winifred Dorothy Booth (Respondent) and Trevor Davey (Co-respondent)

TAKE NOTICE that a Petition has been filed in this Division endorsed with Notice to you to appear and answer the charges in the Petition of Leslie Webster Booth of 151 Biggin Hill, Upper Norwood, in the County of London, praying for a dissolution of marriage. In default of your so appearing, you will not be allowed to address the Court, and the Court will proceed and hear the said Petition proved and pronounce sentence. AND TAKE FURTHER NOTICE THAT for the purpose of the aforesaid within one month after the date of this Publication an appearance must be entered at the Divorce Registry, Somerset in respect thereof AND TAKE FURTHER NOTICE THAT House, Strand, London. W INDERWICK, Registrar, Solicitors for the Petitioner:-W H Speed & Co., 18 Sackville Street, London, W1

Like Webster, Paddy was a member of the Concert Artistes’ Association, and it was there that she first heard Webster sing. In an interview with W.S. Meadmore in Gramophone in November 1935, Webster described his meeting with Paddy. He was singing One Alone from The Desert Song when his attention was drawn to her seated in the audience, obviously enjoying his singing. They were introduced after the concert and married on 10 October 1932.  They spent their honeymoon in Newquay, Cornwall.

Webster Booth and Paddy Prior appeared together at the Bellingham Club 5 months prior to their marriage.

Clacton Entertainers present Paddy with a wedding gift at the end of September 1932.

10 October 1932 – Marriage. Webster married Dorothy Annie Alice Prior on 10 October 1932 at Fulham Registry Office, the same registry office where he had married Winifred Keey in 1924.

While married to Dorothy (Paddy) Prior, the couple lived at 5 Crescent Court, Golders Green Crescent, NW11. They were listed separately in the telephone book as Webster Booth, tenor, Speedwell 6608; and Paddy Prior, soubrette-entertainer, Speedwell 6608

Although Webster was living with Anne at her flat in Lauderdale Mansions in 1937, Paddy and Webster remained listed in the telephone book at the same address until their divorce was made final in October 1938.

13 October 1932 – Wedding Bells. Paddy Prior and Webster Booth were married at the Fulham Register Office last Monday. A reception followed before the bride and bridegroom left for a honeymoon at Newquay, and several professional friends were in attendance to toast the happy couple.

One Alone

5 Crescent Court
5 Crescent Court, Golders Green Crescent, Golders Green

Paddy and Webster lived at Crescent Court, Golders Green Crescent, Golders Green during their marriage (pictured above).

May 1933 – Piccadilly Revels. Murray Ashford and Wilby Lunn’s Piccadilly Revels will open a fortnight’s engagement at the Pavilion, Bournemouth, next Monday, with a visit to the Argyle, Birkenhead, to follow. The company will start their long resident season at the Floral Hall, Scarborough, on Whit Saturday. The Western Brothers, Ena Broughton, Webster Booth, Paddy Prior, Violet Stevens, Edgar Sawyer, Andrée Conti, Isolde, Alexis and Carlo, and the Euphan Maclaren Girls form the cast.

Piccadilly Revels, Scarborough 1933

1933 Piccadilly Revelsa

Piccadilly Revels scan0004
Piccadilly Revels. Webster is seated in middle row with Paddy to the left.

Paddy Prior (middle row left), Webster Booth (seated next to her)

In 1934 they were members of Powis Pinder’s Sunshine concert party at the Sunshine Theatre, Shanklin. Arthur Askey and Bernard Lee were also in this company.

Paddy Prior (extreme left) Webster Booth (standing behind Arthur Askey) Sunshine Concert Party, Shanklin 1934

Sunshine Shanklin 03
Sunshine, Shanklin.

At the end of 1934 Webster was chosen to play Faust in the film, The Faust Fantasy and Anne Ziegler was chosen to play Marguerite. Filming began in December and, according to Anne and Webster’s joint autobiography Duet, they fell in love almost at first sight. Paddy’s marriage to Webster was about to end before it had properly begun.

Filming Faust (1934/1935)

2014-12-23_232120
Webster and Anne meet during the filming of Faust

1935 – Fred Hartley’s wedding. Mrs Webster Booth (Paddy) is mentioned as being one of the wedding guests present.

https://clyp.it/ovf2ai2i Roses of Picardy. Click on the link and listen to Webster singing this song with Fred Hartley’s quintet.

Fred Hartley's wedding 1935Mention of Mrs Webster Booth as one of the guests at the wedding.

In May 1935 Webster and Paddy did an extensive broadcast from Daventry entitled A Musical Comedy Pot-Pourri. Harry Bidgood and Sydney Jerome accompanied them on two pianos and played several piano duets. Paddy and Webster sang several duets together.

Webster Booth and Paddy Prior Daventry broadcast
Webster Booth and Paddy Prior Daventry broadcast – May 1935

So this is love
So this is love – Paddy and Webster sang Just Suppose as their first duet.

Two of the duets which Webster and Paddy sang in the broadcast were: Fancy Me Meeting You (Hit the Deck by Yeomans) sung here by Binnie Hale. Click on the link to listen.

Who? (Sunny by Jerome Kern) sung here by Binnie Hale and Jack Buchanan. Click on the link to listen.


As Binnie Hale is the archetypal soubrette, I dare say that Paddy’s mezzo soprano voice was similar to Binnie’s.

In October of the same year, Webster sang in an early broadcast with Anne Ziegler, several years before Paddy divorced him – the programme was called Musical Comedy Moments.

Broadcast from Daventry - Webster and Anne Ziegler
Broadcast from Daventry – Webster and Anne Ziegler

Webster and Paddy continued to work together for several years after his meeting with Anne. Their last  professional appearance was on 30 April 1936 when they performed together at the City Musical Union’s 84th Annual Dinner at the Holborn Restaurant. At the end of May they were guests at the wedding of their friends, Violet Stevens and Bryan Courage.

30 May 1936 Hastings and St Leonards pp
Special Concert in 1936

But in July 1937 Anne and Webster sailed for New York together, where Anne had been engaged to play in the musical, Virginia at the Center Theater. She had changed her name to Anne Booth for this production, after being advised that Americans disliked German-sounding names at that time also anticipating her eventual marriage to Webster. Webster returned to Southampton onboard the MV Georgic and gave his address as 74 Lauderdale Mansions, Maida Vale (Anne’s flat), although he was still listed in the telephone directory as living in Crescent Court, Golders Green, where he and Paddy had spent their short married life.

From the beginning of 1938 Anne and Webster began taking engagements together, while Paddy filed for divorce on 29 March 1938 “on the grounds of his adultery in April 1937, with Miss Irene Eastwood, otherwise Miss Anne Zeigler (sic), singer…”

29 March 1938 Decree nisi (1)
Decree nisi March 1938

In September 1938 before Webster’s divorce from Paddy had been finalised, Anne was featured on the cover of Radio Pictorial sporting an opulent diamond solitaire engagement ring:

Radio Pictorial

and on 7 October 1938 the absolute decree was granted to Paddy Prior against Webster Booth. Anne was named as the co-respondent in the divorce.

After the divorce Paddy moved to 14 Muswell Hill Road, sharing her new home with a young Welsh singer, Bettie Bucknelle, who had sung on the radio show, Band Waggon, which starred Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch. In January 1939 Bettie was featured in a show with Charlie Kunz and Denny Dennis.

Bettie Bucknelle
Bettie Bucknelle was singing with Denny Denis in a Charlie Kunz show on Radio Luxembourg and Radio Normandy in early 1939.

Bettie Bucknelle and Paddy Prior in Newquay shortly before they Bucknelle left for Australia.

Anne and Webster were married on 5 November 1938 and went on to even greater success as romantic duettists on the variety stage during the war. I always felt very sorry for Paddy having to watch Anne and Webster obtaining great fame in the theatre while she never achieved great fame despite being a talented and hard working performer.

Witcock and Rutherford’s WEST-END VANITIES  – Regional Programme London, 21 December 1938 16.30 Helen Hill, Paddy Prior, Jean Forbes-Macintyre, Lucas Bassett, Bradley Harris, Derek Moreland, Frank Wilcock, Tubby Harold. Introduced by Harry S. Pepper.

The Folkestone Bouquets. Paddy Prior, middle row  (2nd from the right) 1939.

Bouquets' concert party Paddy Prior

ROUND THE CONCERT PARTIES, No. – Regional Programme London, 28 July 1939 20.30 A composite programme of excerpts from three concert parties –DAZZLE Presented by Eric Ross from Pierrot Land, Bognor Regis – Ida Williams, John Lovering, Barbara Wells, Fred Gibson, Eric Ross, Ted Andrews, The Dazzle Girls, Joan Pendleton, Violet Shute, Beryl Pryer and Phyllis Revell.

SUMMER FOLLIES Presented by Will Catlin, Devised and produced by Harry Bright from the Arcadia Theatre, Llandudno. Phil Strickland, The Carlyle Cousins, Terry and Doris Kendall, Ross Eaves, Marion Francis, Sydney Snape, Vera Kitchen, Leslie Moorhouse, Joan Cowley, The Mayfair Dancers,Wagstaff’s Zelo Orchestra.

1939 FOLKESTONE BOUQUETS Presented by Wilby Lunn from the Marine Gardens Pavilion, Folkestone. Betty Pugh Bruce Clark, Dorothy Bradshaw, Harold Stead, Paddy Prior, Stock Wynn, George Carden, The Mariajanos, Marguerite Lome, Eileen Lome, Hylda Burdon, Ruby Savage, Wilby Lunn and Connie Hart.  The programme presented by Harry S. Pepper

A show in 1941.

1941 show

23 August 1941 Hastings1jpg
Variety concert (1941)

Paddy continued with her theatrical career and when war broke out she joined ENSA. Here is a photograph of Paddy entertaining the troops during World War 2.

Paddy Prior (2)
Paddy entertaining the troops during World War 2

Signatures of Paddy and other members of ENSA after entertaining at

Clare Hall, South Mimms in 1943.ENSA Canadian Legion, Bolton Camp

Ensa signatures
ENSA signatures

7 November 1946 PPBB

bettie-bucknelle
So Deep is the Night, with Bettie Bucknelle’s photo on the cover

20 November 1945. Only a few weeks after Anne and Webster had sung at the Victory Royal Variety Performance, Paddy was the hostess at the CAA and Bettie Bucknelle was one of the performers at this concert. One could hardly blame Paddy for feeling rather bitter about Anne and Webster’s great success while she was doing much the same thing as always.

November 1946.

Paddy and Bettie Bucknelle entertained British forces in the Middle East and returned to England in 1946. In 1947 she did a summer season with the Oval Entertainers, Margate, where a reviewer described her as “a gay young lady with a sparkling sense of humour as fresh as Margate’s famous sea breezes.”.

1947 2012.04.16_22h35m44s_043

On 22 April 1948 she and Bettie Bucknelle sailed for Australia, where they intended to make a new life. Paddy’s brother had settled there some time earlier. It must have been upsetting for Paddy to see Webster and Anne as established stars while, despite her considerable talent, she had not made a big and lasting name for herself.

Bettie Bucknelle and Paddy Prior in Newquay shortly before they Bucknelle left for Australia.

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Extract from passenger list to Australia.

Dorothy Prior Betty bucknell
Passenger list to Australia – April 1948. Bucknell and Booth

25-may-1948-paddy-bettie

A  newspaper photo regarding their arrival in Australia in 1948.

Later that year Anne and Webster made an extensive and triumphant concert tour of New Zealand and Australia. They heard that Paddy and Bettie had booked seats in the front row for one of their concerts in Sydney. Webster feared that they might be planning an unpleasant demonstration against them at this concert. He was asked whether he could recommend Paddy as understudy to Cicely Courtneidge in the play, Under the Counter, which meant she would have to leave for New Zealand to rehearse the understudy role. Paddy had played the lead in a Scottish tour of Lido Lady in the late twenties, the same role in which Cicely had starred in London a few years earlier. He had no hesitation in making this recommendation, so Paddy was not able to attend the concert as she had to go to New Zealand right away to begin understudy rehearsals.

There is evidence of Bettie Bucknelle singing in a number of broadcasts, including broadcasts with the famous bandleader Jay Wilbur, but I could not find out anything about Paddy’s Australian theatrical career. In a 1949 electoral register, she is listed as a housewife!

20-february-1949-bettie-bucknelle

Shortly after Anne and Webster returned to the UK from South Africa in 1978, a letter arrived for Webster from Paddy who was still living in Australia. She said he would be welcome to visit her if he ever decided to go out there. Anne did not show this letter to Webster!

I was pleased to hear from Paddy’s niece, Beverley June McLachlan (née Prior) and her daughter, Paddy’s great-niece, Cheryl Willits recently. Paddy married Harold Bradshaw and the couple lived in Hobart, Tasmania where Paddy continued to entertain at their bowling club, singing and doing comedy skits. Cheryl mentioned that Paddy had sung on the radio with Ross Higgins,

Ross Higgins
Ross Higgins, the well-known Australian actor and entertainer who died at the age of 86 in October 2016. I am happy to know that Paddy’s subsequent life in Australia was a happy one.

Comments from Cheryl Willits and Beverley McLachlan which appeared in the original post on my Jean Collen website.

Cheryl Willits, in reply to me: Hey there, My mother might be able to help you on this as she is Paddy’s niece. I am her great niece. If you would like any info feel free to email me and I could put you in touch with my mother. Reading the article has been a delight, Regards, Cheryl.

Beverley McLachlan: Paddy Prior did marry Harold Bradshaw. She was my aunt. My Father was Paddy’s brother. Paddy and Brad lived in Tasmania and still entertained at their bowling club, singing and comedy skits in Hobart, Tasmania.

Sadly, I did not hear any more from Beverly or Cheryl.

Jean Collen

April, 2016.

Updated: 24 August 2019