EXTRACTS FROM MY TEENAGE DIARIES – JULY 1962

I get rather a shock because Webster does not do the programme this evening. They say that unfortunately he is indisposed, so Paddy O’Byrne reads from his script. I feel like howling, honestly I do! It sounds absolutely ridiculous but it would be futile if I could never hear or see him again. I’m shocked with myself for saying this but I’m afraid it’s true. I cannot help myself.

1 July – Go to Sunday School in the morning. Play for them but little boys are too much for me to handle! I get the play script from Gail and stay to church. Mr R very good.

2 July – Go to choir in the evening. I go up to 2c with Anna Marie and we see Hugh Rouse reading newscast. He won’t be doing that for much longer, I’m afraid.

We rehearse quite hard. Ruth is away and Gill is not there so I talk to Scots couple and a girl who is doing the same TC exam as me in August. We have a pleasant time – it is nice to get to know others in the choir for Ruth and I have a tendency to live in a little world or our own. Iris gives me a lift home.

3 July – I work extremely hard today and enjoy it. I hear JB Priestley talking about Ryder Haggard. He has a lovely, soothing voice.

Adjudicating in Bulawayo

At night we all listen to Anne’s new programme – Music for Romance. I’m afraid the summing up of this would be tried and found wanting. She spoke nicely of course in a sophisticated and deep drawl but she didn’t play one of their records. When I first met her I thought her such a pet – unaffected, charming. She has changed.

4 July – I lunch with Mum in the Capinero and then I meet Gill who is going to collect her clarinet from Gerrit Bonn at the SABC. I go with her and say hello to Johan and Gerrit B. I wait in the foyer while she collects the clarinet and am fed peppermints by two girls who are waiting to go to the Radio Record Club.

I go to Mrs S’s studio with Gill (complete with clarinet) and she demonstrates it to me but not much sound comes out yet!

We do ear tests which go well and then I sight-sing – I do this far better than Gill. She is fairly impressed.

Rita, Mrs S and I have coffee and then I have a nice lesson with Mrs S in which she asks me to join her choir, the Sylvia Sullivan Choristers, which rehearses on Saturdays at noon. Should be fun. She is pleased with my work and I feel quite elated. She plays a record of the Chopin Mazurka I am working on.

There is a picture of Webster in the Rhodesian paper just after his illness and he looks really awful.

He is going to be in a film about a Boer who inherits an English title called Lord Oom Piet.

I go to first play rehearsal at night and feel that I don’t do badly at all. My North country accent is a fair treat. Fun!

5 July – Have lunch with mum again and then go to lunch hour concert which is crowded out. I see Roselle reclining in a box, Jill Harry, and the lady who sits next to Ruth at choir. Quite a few children are there and they make a lot of noise. Gideon Fagan conducts and Walter Mony is the soloist. He is very good but naturally is angry at the noise – I don’t blame him!

Listen to Webster at night. He continues The Yeomen and gives us Martyn Green. Unfortunately Webster’s voice is very croaky.

6 July – Go to studio and Anne answers the door looking really awful and I feel sorry for her. She tells me that Webster is very seriously ill indeed and is now in hospital.

On the fourth day of his trip to Bulawayo, he collapsed and the doctors thought he had pneumonia because he couldn’t breathe. He managed to return home and was examined by their doctor here who was so worried about him that he sent for a specialist. He took blood tests and decided that he had developed a fever. It was too expensive for him to be treated at home so they put him into the fever hospital with a temperature of 103 degrees. She isn’t allowed to see him and today someone from the municipality rang up and asked if she was the wife of the “suspected typhoid case.” She says he can’t have typhoid fever but they’ll have to wait a week before they have the results of the tests.

When I got home I look up typhoid fever in a medical book. Within seven days red spots develop so maybe he does have it. Also, the heart valves have been affected. Poor, poor Webster. I am so very sorry for him and I pray that he will be well.

She makes us tea and I help and say (to cheer her up) that I liked her programme. She says she thought she sounded rather dull and slow but she’s rectified this in the second one. Let’s hope so!

My exercises (due to shock maybe?) go out of tune and she says it may be the result of my out-of-tune piano because I have a good ear. We go through them again and they get a little better – but not much! She says I must go through them bar by bar at home to get the tune firmly imprinted in my mind.

Sweet Polly Oliver is quite good – a little dull perhaps – but good. Mayday Carol is also better and My Mother is technically perfect but needs a little more light and shade. The studies go very well and she says, “I see you’ve been doing what your Uncle Boo told you!” She asks to borrow the music to practise them if she’s going to be my accompanist at the exam. I’ve to collect them on Tuesday evening before choir. Also, I have to go a bit later at 4.30 for the next two weeks because the little boy is going on holiday.

I say I hope Webster will feel a bit better and that she’ll get good news of him. She puts on a face of studied tragedy. I’m so sorry for him and I do want him to get well. To think that only two months ago – almost to the day – he was so happy doing Drawing Room and kissing Ruth and me.

Go to guild at night and we have the best evening for a long time. At fellowship I pray in round of prayer – my first ever public prayer. I pray for the sick but my heart was praying for Webster. We also pray for the poor Sharpe girls whose father died of a heart attack on Wednesday.

We have a games evening and I play the piano. All very jolly and good fun.

7 July – Go to rehearsal early – 8.30am and we work quite hard. Peter Spargo brings me home for tape recorder and we record hymn for communion which goes quite well.

Sylvia Sullivan with great-niece.

I go into Mrs S’s studio to sing in ensemble. Most of the girls are from Parktown Girls’ High. Mrs S makes me take the altos and then she comes in to helps us. She says she hopes to get a broadcast for us.

I have lunch with parents in Galaxy and we see Susan Slade with Connie Francis who is very good. All most enjoyable.

8 July – Go to Sunday School and play for them. Church is conducted by Mr Huth.

I listen to Leslie Green, Die Goeie Ou Tyd, Time to Remember and Life with the Lyons. Gary A is “bitterly disappointed with Music for Romance”. Says that the public want to hear her own recorded stage appearances. Good for Gary. I agree.

9 July – Develop another cold so as today is Family Day (alias The Queen’s Birthday) I nurse it – grue, ghastly etc!

10 July – Work and nurse cold in the morning. I phone Johan’s secretary to apologise for not attending choir tonight.

I go into town to buy tissues and go up to the studio to collect music. Anne answers and, lo and behold, she has left it on top of the piano at home – she’s so sorry! What can she say? Will it be all right on Friday. I expect so.

Webster has a normal temperature now and if he’s all right by Saturday they may let him out of hospital. As yet, they don’t know what’s the matter with him but I expect if his temperature is normal he must be quite well. I say, “I’m so glad,” – perhaps a little too fervently, but it is the truth.

She is all apologies for not bringing the music but it doesn’t really matter because I really wanted to know about Webster. Thank God he is better.

11 July – Work in the morning and then go into town. I meet Eleanor – Ruth’s enemy – on the bus. She is affable and most la-de-da and talks about everything but Ruth. I rather think she used to be quite nauseated with Ruth and me drooling over Anne and Webster all the time!

I have lunch in Ansteys with Mum and it is quite like old times. The second trumpeter is still there drooling over his roast chicken and green peas.

I go up to Mrs S’s and do ear tests with Elaine, Rita and Gill. Latter tells me that next week we are recording the commercial record unaccompanied. All goes well. We have coffee and then I have my lesson in which I do scales and a Czerny technical exercise which (I think) I sight-read well. Have to go and “perform” on Saturday immediately after play rehearsal – how ghastly!

Go to rehearsal at night – I don’t know my words very well – must really learn them. We practise with our recording. Peter S brings me home and also fetched me. He is a very easy chap to talk to but oh, so learned!

The record Net Maar ‘n Roos is on sale in Ansteys so evidently it couldn’t have been terribly popular.

12 July – Work very hard and listen to Leslie Green – recording in Trafalgar Square – talks of pigeons, rain, London bobbies and buses and makes me feel quite nostalgic about it all.

Am now in bed waiting for G and S. It is a simply glorious programme. He finishes The Yeomen and plays a record by “my dear old friend, Winifred Lawson. Winnie made this in 1921.”

He then plays one of Sullivan’s part songs, The Long Day Closes – a record made after the funeral of Tommy Handley by eight of his singing friends – the most famous singers in Britain at that time – Norman Allin, Parry Jones, Trefor Jones and of course, “myself”. The proceeds went to the Tommy Handley Memorial fund. Good for them.

He finishes with his own recording of Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes seeing he’s starting to play the Gondoliers next week. It is very beautiful indeed and I enjoy it. Tonight was one of the loveliest programmes he’s done for ages. I’m so happy he’s better.

13 July – I go up to studio and Anne is there listening to Leslie Green broadcasting from London. I say I listened yesterday and felt quite nostalgic hearing his broadcast from Trafalgar Square and him talking about the pigeons. She says they had a letter from him yesterday and he has absolutely fallen in love with London. He’s very pro-British – both his parents were from Yorkshire and had broad accents.

She says that since Webster was taken ill she has felt more home-sick than ever. She hates South Africa and simply can’t settle here. “Maybe if I went back to Britain for a holiday that would settle me but I just can’t settle here now!”

I say that my mother is just the same and she says that the people here are very ill-mannered. She has to put the car into the garage in Plein Street and people are ready to run her down and bump into her. She has reached the point where she stops her car and gives them a mouthful! She says, “Webster was always there to help me but now there’s no one.”

Webster is getting out of hospital on Monday but the membranes of his heart are severely damaged and next week he has to stay in bed and have a cardiograph every day and then he’ll have to rest up for two or three weeks. She went to see him through a glass and could only wave at him but he was able to write her a letter on Tuesday.

My singing goes quite well today – best for a long time. We do studies and they are better for leaving them alone for a bit. Bedfordshire Carol is still a bit out of tune but she says that if I “think flat” on the D it should come right. I do this and it improves. My Mother and Polly Oliver are better because of vast practice. She says I must practise octaves and come down on all vowels to achieve evenness. She praises (sincerely) the tone of my voice and I feel elated.

She says Ruth sent her a postcard and she feels so sorry for her still being at school – I don’t! I envy her. We decide that after this exam we’ll burn the music.

I have a nice long lesson today as Bill Perry doesn’t turn up. It is just like old times. I feel elated and light as air but a little sad for Anne being so homesick and poor Webster still being ill.

Anne has been under a terrible strain running the studio, worrying about Webster and feeling homesick. If I had such a darling husband as him I’d feel pretty awful too.

14 July – I go to Mrs S’s studio. I play my pieces to Elaine and she plays hers to me. We work a little and then have coffee and cake with Mrs S, and her sister, Mrs Du Plessis. We work a bit more. Elaine says my pieces are excellent and then we play to Mrs S’s friend, Miss Cameron. The choir arrives and I play the piano for the altos. They all know Ruth and are impressed that I sing in the SABC choir. Their names are Shelley, Linda and Leila.

Go in the afternoon to see West Side Story which is, in my opinion, rather ghastly and too modern and ugly for words. That’s not music – that’s dis-chord!

15 July – Go to Sunday school and play the piano for them. I go with Joan to hear Peter C’s sermon – a great improvement from the last one. He speaks slower which aids matter considerably.

Listen to the radio – Leslie Green, Time to Remember and Life with the Lyons.

16 July – Have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to get the unaccompanied song in tune but have found another that I can sing perfectly in tune so I’m going to try and learn it beautifully for Friday and hope that Anne will allow me to sing it in the exam. It’s a bit late but I think it would be worth it.

In the evening I go to the SABC and the first person I come across is Gill V complete with her clarinet. I go and have supper with her.

We go into 1a to make the recording as Guest Stars of the Kreel Orphanage on the commercial record they have made and which is soon to be released. We sing our two Volksliedjies, unaccompanied. We manage to complete one song by the interval. Graham Green is the controller – he also did the controlling for Drawing Room. A photographer comes to take our picture.

At the interval, I try to play Gill’s clarinet and we all have a hilarious time. The noise I produce gets more squeaky as I proceed! After interval we record the first song Die Lied van Jong Suid Afrika. The sentiment of both songs is decidedly pro-Nat.

We also get our wages tonight which is perhaps the best part of the whole evening. I am quite surprised by the amount – far more than I expected. My first fee for singing!

17 July – Work and then have lunch with Mum in Ansteys. I treat her with my fee!

Work hard in the afternoon and listen to Leslie G in Kew Gardens.

Anne’s programme at night is still pretty awful as far as the music is concerned but her speaking is sweet and next fortnight she’s to play the Vagabond King so let’s hope it’s their beautiful recordings of it.

18 July – Work hard and then have lunch with mum and go up to the SS studio. Elaine and I sight-read duets together. We have coffee and then I have my lesson which goes quite well. I play on 1 September. I’m not looking forward to it.

We go for a drive at night to Hillbrow.

19 July – Go to shops, library, and park today with Shandy and we have fun.

I listen to Leslie G. He goes to the Tower of London where there is an actual rehearsal of the D’Oyly Carte company for Yeomen of the Guard. Then he goes to Petticoat Lane and tells of having high tea for 3/-. Am now in bed waiting for You Know Who!

I get rather a shock because Webster does not do the programme this evening. They say that unfortunately he is indisposed, so Paddy O’Byrne reads from his script. I feel like howling, honestly I do! It sounds absolutely ridiculous but it would be futile if I could never hear or see him again. I’m shocked with myself for saying this but I’m afraid it’s true. I cannot help myself.

Paddy O’B is excellent and from Webster’s script he tells us, “A pupil of mine lent me a record because he thought I was one of the singers. I made it such a long while ago that I’d forgotten about it. It has George Baker, Alice Moxon and Dennis Noble on it, and of course, myself. “ It is lovely – a selection from Gondoliers and his voice is glorious.

“This small company was called the Light Opera Company but we didn’t mind not being in the full company because the pay was the same.”

He starts with the overture to the Gondoliers and says, “I saw The Gondoliers in Birmingham the night before my audition and thought how bright and fresh everything looked. Imagine my dismay when the next morning I walked on to the stage and saw such tatty and dingy props! But who am I to disillusion the theatre-going public who have been my bread and butter for so many years?”

Paddy O’B goes on with the story. I feel so sorry that Webster wasn’t able to do it himself. I hope to heaven he is a bit stronger now. It’s so difficult to imagine such a strong, dependable, kindly man like that very ill and weak but no doubt he is and he must get better.

20 July – Go to the library and then to the studio in the afternoon. Anne answers the door and once more is in the middle of listening to Leslie G. I go in and listen too. He is on the train on his way to Edinburgh and describes the carriage, the friendly ticket collectors, the punctual time-keeping and the fast train. He went to visit a friend of Anne’s (Babs) and thought her garden was the loveliest in England.

Anne says that hearing him talk about all that she remembers so well makes shivers go down her spine and she feels so homesick. Strangely enough, I do too. When I listen to these programmes I always want to cry.

Webster is home now but he is still very weak and has to stay in bed. Last night and today he had a most terrible pain in his chest at the back of his breast bone so she called the doctor, and the specialist is coming for a cardiograph tomorrow. The virus cannot be killed and will only go in its own good time.

She tells me to come at a quarter to four next week and then, after my lesson, we can listen to Leslie Green and have tea together. That should be great fun.

I moot Hush My Dear and Anne is delighted with it. She says I must cover it more and all will be well. She spoke to Webster about the other one and he said he thought it was a state of mind with me. If he can say things like that he must be getting better.

All my songs go really well today and she is delighted. She says I am now singing quite beautifully and interpreting the songs well. Exercises are good and she says that my attack must be bang in the middle of the note. We finish with scale exercises. I think, with a bit of luck, I should pass the flipping exam!

Anne says that it is very tiring to sing properly because of the concentration it requires. Someone told her that it was simply pleasure, but brother, that is a fib!

I tell her to give Webster my love and tell him that I hope he will soon be well. She says, “God bless you, Jean,” and I depart.

I don’t know whether her awful gnawing homesickness makes her sweeter and more sincere but I do know that these last two lessons have been glorious and such fun, even though she’s worried about him. I think I cheer her up in some funny way – it must be that I’m British and love Britain as much as she does and she can confide how homesick she is to me when she can’t to a South African. She used to make a pretence of adoring this country but now she doesn’t have to because she knows that I understand how she feels.

Go to guild at night and we have a talk on guide dogs by young, handsome Mr Dawson and a demonstration by a lovely Alsatian. Very interesting.

21 July – Go to rehearsal for play and we mess around at the piano. Joan Rudman plays and I sing and they are greatly impressed and it gives me good practice at the same time.

Go to the studio and do ear tests with Pam and Olive. We have choir practice – only 3 altos and 4 sopranos are there. We combine with the sopranos today and it sounds very good.

Have lunch with parents at Galaxy and we see Follow that Dream with Elvis Presley who is quite decent for a change and very funny.

22 July. – Go to Sunday school. Playing and lesson go well.

In the afternoon the Alexanders come with Inge. They have a nice new Opel Rekord.

I listen to Leslie G and he plays a lovely record by Anne and Webster which I record. I turn over to Die Goei Ou Tyd and Francois van Heyningen plays a section from Glamorous Night with Webster singing Shine Through My Dreams and Fold Your Wings with Muriel Barron. Sunday has some really good radio programmes.

23 July – Leslie G is in Scotland – Loch Lomond, Stirling and Edinburgh.

Go to SABC at night. We start on Messiah and I really enjoy it and sight- read it well. Ruth is due tonight but she doesn’t arrive. I suppose she’s too exhausted after flying back.

Gill, Iris and I have coffee at interval and Gill says hello to Uncle Edgar and he grins at me as well. We do the Ninth Symphony after interval. Poor Iris might be having an operation soon.

24 July – Leslie G’s programme from the UK doesn’t arrive in time so we hear one he made in Jo’burg before he left. Quite disappointing not to hear from ‘home’ as Anne calls it.

25 July – Go to music in the afternoon and do ear tests wit Gill and Rita. Mrs S asks Gill to adjudicate at an Indian Eisteddfod at beginning of September so she asks me to go with her and be a second opinion. I agree to do this – will be a very good experience.

I have lesson which goes well. Mrs S says I must come as soon as rehearsal is over on Saturday and work with Elaine.

Go to rehearsal at night and it goes reasonably well. Archie is quite good but Shorty is hopeless. I cannot imagine play going on on 17 August.

Mummy listens to the radio in order to record Leslie G but instead of him, John Silver is on. He says that the programme hasn’t arrived yet but one wonders if his programmes were a little too pro-British for the SABC. They just have to put it on for Friday for we’ve such a lovely day planned and it must come off!

26 July – Have a rather grim day of feeling ill again. However, I manage to listen to Leslie G – he’s back, thank goodness. He’s still in Scotland and talks of Edinburgh, Stirling and Falkirk.

I am now in bed waiting for G and S and wondering who will broadcast it tonight. Paddy O’B does it again. The station announcer says once again that he is sorry that Webster is still indisposed. Paddy O’B goes on with the Gondoliers which is nice and also plays a quartet with Henry Lytton, Bertha Lewis and Leo Sheffield, lent to Webster by a friend – Norman Roberts. Henry Lytton is quite fabulous. Webster says in his script that he thinks they were far livelier than they are today. Paddy O’B sounds horrified at this!

27 July – Go up to studio. Peter (someone) a tenor with a glorious voice is singing the Serenade from Frasquita and Hear my song, Violetta. Anne says, “We’ll lend you our record of it. It’s a very good recording – we made it when we were young and sprightly and still had voices!” Hear her say that Webster is once again in the fever hospital!

Go in and in my excitement say, “What’s happened to Webster?” Anne says that he is terribly ill once again. Over the weekend he had terrible pains and the specialist decided that his heart was all right. It must be indigestion so he put him on a diet – no alcohol ( which he couldn’t tolerate for he must have at least one whisky and soda before dinner) and only ten cigarettes a day. The pains persisted and on Tuesday they were so bad that he had to have the doctor in again and his temperature was up. Doctor decided that he had better go to hospital again and have x-rays as the virus must have flared up again.

Wednesday and Thursday they were too busy to do x-rays but they thought it was either gallstones or something pressing against the heart.

Today Anne went along and sat with him while he was x-rayed and the radiographer was terribly rude and said he’d have to come back tomorrow (when there’ll be about 50 people there!). He said he had no intention of coming back again, so she said, “Do as you please. If you want to die, I don’t care!”

However, whether he likes it or not, he has to go back tomorrow. They’re allowing him to have a gin and tonic because he can’t go without it. He absolutely hated having to go back to hospital and is in a grim room. I’m so very sorry for him.

Anne says she thinks perhaps his gums could have affected his system but they won’t listen to her. She says she’d rather have all this happening to her because he’s in such agony.

We decide that we’ve wasted so much time we can’t listen to Leslie G today but I have tea anyway.

I sing – not too badly – considering. I haven’t been very well myself but I feel wretched about him. We go through everything and as tickets haven’t arrived Anne has to phone Arnold Fulton tonight. She says I can phone her at home on Sunday night to hear the outcome of the call. After all that work the tickets must come!

I say goodbye and send Webster my love. Poor, poor pet – he’s had one hang of a bad time and he must get better. How I pray he will get well.

When I get home Ruth has phoned. She phones again at 5.30 and tells me simply astounding unbelievable news – they (her family) have won £40,000 on the Ndola sweep! Can you imagine! I am utterly delighted and she tells me her parents are driving up from Natal today in a state of great excitement. I ask what they will do with all that money and she says they will probably go overseas and buy a new car. I am thrilled for her sake. She is a darling and deserves all the happiness she can get.

She says she phoned Anne but I’m the only one she has told about the money and she’s terribly sorry about him. It shows what a sweet lovely child she is to be concerned with him after winning £40,000! She’s coming to choir on Monday – I can’t wait to see her. I’m surprised at myself for I don’t feel envious. I’m just delighted for her.

28 July – Go early in the morning for rehearsal. Shorty, who is supposed to be my husband in the play, insists on giving me slobbery kisses and putting his arms around me at every opportunity. I survive, however.

Go to town where I see Johan in a bottle-green t-shirt and sports jacket looking far removed from being Anton Hartman’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice!

I arrive at SS studio in time for coffee and then practise Viva Voce with Pam and Elaine. This proves rather grilling with Mrs S listening to every word. Luckily I have to ask the questions rather than answer them. The choral singing goes rather nicely. Shelly, Leila, Mary and Belinda Bozzoli are the altos.

Have lunch with parents in Galaxy and come across Sally Bowling there. She looks older and more sophisticated than I remember her. She doesn’t go skating much now.

We see The Silver Key by Edgar Wallace – very exciting, and an excellent short on Russian culture – singing, ballet etc.

29 July – Go to Sunday school and play the piano. David Dury shows me all the postcards from Ireland. I promise Mr Russell to train the soloists which should be fun. He gives an excellent sermon today.

In the afternoon we have another rehearsal which goes well. Play is shaping up very well indeed. Later I have to phone Anne. She has not phoned Arnold Fulton yet. “I just haven’t had a minute with the two programmes. Would you do it?” She is so insincerely charming that I can’t really refuse. I say I’ll phone tomorrow afternoon. I’ll phone her about it on Tuesday.

Webster is a bit better and had an x-ray for gallstones today and is to have a stomach x-ray on Wednesday. She doesn’t sound terribly upset about him either – she is in one of her more callous moods tonight!

30 July – Work hard and intermittently spend time phoning Arnold Fulton but he’s not there.

Go to SABC tonight. Ruth arrives and is quite unchanged despite the £40,000. They are going to buy a Rover and her parents are going to Scotland and then around the world in September. They’re going to have another two servants and each of the girls has £100 to spend on clothes. She says she doesn’t intend to swank about it or get big-headed but she’s quite thrilled at the minute.

She says that Anne is acting very strangely and she is disgusted that Anne is charging us a fee for accompaniment. We enlarge on this. Ruth is rather sweet and says, “Money is no object to me now but I still think it’s a bit much.”

She says they sent Webster a whole lot of books to read in hospital. I’d like to be able to do that too, but alas – impecunious me!

We sing Messiah and Gill is rather acid about Tufty’s successful audition with Bruce Anderson. “They have to take people whether they can sing or not!” Poor Tufty.

At interval, Ruth and I disappear and she tells me about her holiday, Alan and Anne and Webster. She doesn’t seem so gone on them any more. She goes and asks Johan for her wages and says, “The more I get, the more I want! Life’s too short not to be happy!” Some philosophy this!

We do the Ninth and then Johan tells us that next week, as the orchestra is going on tour, we shall probably have Edgar Cree to take us. Come home with Iris and feel quite elated.

31 July – I get through to Arnold Fulton today and discover that he is as Scottish as the day he was born. He says he sent the forms to them so they must have gone astray. He tells me to fill in a form with all the particulars and send them to him.

I phone Anne and tell her this news. She tends on the brittle side but it quite affable. Webster has no gallstones and just has to have his stomach x-rayed and he might be home on Thursday all going well. I say that it’s lovely about Ruth isn’t it? And she says, “It’s not true!” Presumably, this is an expression of pleasure.

Have lunch in Ansteys with Mum and post letter to Arnold Fulton. Leslie G is in the Midlands today.

Listen to Anne’s programme tonight and have to say that it is quite fabulous. The reason is that she plays their own records and talks about Webster a lot. She plays Wunderbar, Only a Rose and Love Me Tonight. She says, “You’ll have to excuse the surface of that record. It’s probably getting old, just as Webster and I are also!” There is a slight tremor in her voice at this – somehow, it touches my heart. Her programme is fabulous and if it goes on like that it will probably run for ages.

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 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ss-megantic-white-star-29-may-1927.jpg
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.

2014-03-13_140054

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

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.