ALL MATERIAL ON THIS SITE IS MY COPYRIGHT. DO NOT COPY IT FOR ANY PURPOSE WHATSOEVER WITHOUT OBTAINING MY PERMISSION! Webster Booth (tenor - 1902-1984) and Anne Ziegler (soprano - 1910-2003) were best known in Britain as duettists on the Variety circuit from 1940 to 1955. During that time they rose rapidly to fame and were frequently heard and seen on radio, records, television, film and stage. Besides this Variety Act, Webster Booth was one of the foremost tenors of his generation and continued to sing in numerous oratorios throughout his career on the Variety circuit. Join The Golden Age of Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler and Friends on Facebook.

Monday, October 02, 2006


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 forty-three years later.

In their day, in the thirties, forties and fifties, Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth were stars of stage, screen, radio, concert and variety, and made over a thousand 78s 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 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 particularly requested that he should be the tenor soloist in the same work.


At twenty-one he auditioned for the D’Oyly Carte Company and was immediately accepted after a London audition. He abandoned auditing with little regret and became a professional singer, making his debut with the company in The Yeomen of the Guard at the Theatre Royal, Brighton. He stayed with the company for four years, but made no great advancement from the chorus and small parts. In 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 G&S repertoire without the prior approval of Bridget D’Oyly Carte.

>His recordings of Take a pair of sparkling eyes and A Wand'ring Minstrel under the baton of Leslie Heward remain unsurpassed and are now available on CD. He went with the company on a memorable and successful tour to Canada. Winifred Lawson, the principal soprano, heard him singing Your tiny hand is frozen from La Bohème at the ship’s concert and was impressed with his voice. She was not surprised when he left the company and soon became a deserved success in his own right.

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. During this period he sang at Masonic concerts, made his debut in the West End as the Duke of Buckingham in Friml’s : The Three Musketeers at Drury Lane, and sang in various seaside concert parties, including Tom Howell’s OPIEROS. This concert party sang operatic excerpts on the pier. Later he sang in Powis Pinder’s SUNSHINE concert party in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight. Appearing on the same bill was Arthur Askey, and he and Leslie became good friends. Arthur Askey named his daughter Anthea after hearing Leslie sing To Anthea by Hatton at one of the performances.

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, and had a young son, Keith, from his first marriage. Four years later, after Webster's painful divorce from Paddy, Anne and Webster were married on Bonfire Night in 1938. Webster Booth formed a duet partnership with his wife in addition to his extensive recording, film, oratorio and concert work.


Anne was born Irené Frances Eastwood in Liverpool on 22 June 1910. Her sister, Phyllis, and brother, Cyril, were many years older than her, so Irene was almost an only child. At the time of her birth her father was in Houston, Texas, buying cotton, so he did not see her until she was three months old.

Her father did not want her to risk the might of the Zeppelins, so she had a Scottish nursery governess to teach her reading, writing and basic arithmetic. Later she attended Belvedere School. Her sister, Phyll, had done well there, but Anne was only interested in music and dancing, so the staff compared her unfavourably to her studious elder sister.

When Anne left school, she continued the piano up to Grade VIII of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and began to study singing with the eminent teacher, John Tobin. In the nineteen twenties a girl of her class had no need to work for a living. She was beautiful: tall and slim with emerald green eyes, fair hair and a fine bone structure. She was engaged – several times – to suitable young men. She sang in John Tobin’s female choir of twenty-four voices, and took the part of the May Queen in an amateur production of Merrie England.

She won the gold medal at the Liverpool eisteddfod, and sang at concerts around Liverpool, but singing was a pleasant way of passing the time rather than a means of earning her living. Her father financed a vocal recital in Liverpool and a further recital at the Wigmore Hall under John Tobin’s tutelage. At the Wigmore Hall she sang everything from Handel’s He’ll say that for my love from Xerses to Roger Quilter’s Love’s Philosophy and Scheherzade, but neither of these recitals brought forth any professional singing engagements.

Her family’s fortune took a downturn in the early thirties with the depression and the collapse of the cotton trade. For the first time in her life, she had to think seriously about earning a living to relieve her family’s finances. She was not trained to do anything as mundane as serving in a shop or typing, but she was attractive and she could sing. She and her friend, the mezzo-soprano, Nancy Evans, went to London to audition. Nancy didn’t find any work on that occasion, but Anne got the part of top voice of the octet in By Appointment changed her name to the more glamorous Anne Ziegler; had been accepted on the books of the theatrical agent Robert Layton and was determined not to be a financial burden to her father. She found another job singing for Mr Joe Lyon’s organisation amidst the clatter of the restaurants of the Cumber, starring the famous singer, Maggie Teyte. Sadly, the show closed after a few weeks, but by this time, Irene hadland and Regent Palace hotels, and auditioned for the part of Marguerite in a colour film version of Gounod’s Faust. She had seen the opera as a child and was so enchanted with it that she determined she would play the role of Marguerite when she grew up.

From over two hundred other hopefuls she was chosen for the part: 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.

They fell in love almost at first sight, although at the time he was married to his second wife, Paddy Prior, a light comedy actress, and had a son, Keith, by his first marriage. Four years later, after a painful 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.

In those intervening four years, Anne sang principal boy in her first pantomime, was an overnight success on radio in The Chocolate Soldier, sang in the early days of British television and starred, under the name of Anne Booth, in the musical Virginia in New York.

Webster went to New York with her, hoping to find some stage work of his own, but 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 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.

They formed a duet partnership, in addition to their solo work. Their first duet recording was 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 called The Voice of Romance. In this series he too was anonymous, but by this time, most people would have recognised his distinctive voice.

They accepted an offer from George Black to join the variety circuit. The money was good and they were well received in 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 epitome of glamour and romance. He was tall, dark and handsome. He was always in immaculate evening attire, she in a range of crinoline gowns, some designed by Norman Hartnell. Their act was interspersed with what seemed like off-the-cuff banter, but every word and move was meticulously planned, and the lighting plot carefully worked out for
the most telling impact.

Apart from the usual 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 Anne and Webster in Demobbed arrange the duet part himself if none had been written.

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.

They were at the height of their fame during the war. Webster was born in 1902, too old for war service, and suffering from a kidney problem, which precluded him going to the front. When the war started, he went to Bristol, where the BBC moved at the outbreak of war, as one of the selected broadcasters. They sang in Gangway pre-London tour of this show when the war ended, and Webster was called upon to m with Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon at the London Palladium when the London theatres opened again and starred in a revival of The Vagabond King at the Winter Garden theatre in 1943. In 1945, they starred in Sweet Yesterday at the Adelphi, a musical play with music by Kenneth Leslie-Smith. It was in Glasgow during theake the announcement to the theatre audience. They appeared in three films during and after the war: Demobbed (1944), Waltz Time (1945) (with Richard Tauber) and The Laughing Lady (1946).

The variety theatres, like the music halls before them, were in their twilight years in the early fifties, and Webster’s long-standing recording contract with HMV was suddenly cancelled in 1951, despite his still being in excellent voice at the age of forty-nine.

Anne and Webster’s charming, sentimental, polished and exquisitely groomed act, so popular with the public in the forties, was losing favour. The post-war generation preferred American entertainers like Danny Kaye and Judy Garland at the London Palladium, or brasher acts fresh from the tough training ground of forces entertainment. Calypso, skiffle and rock and roll became the favoured musical entertainment, as sung by Lonnie Donegan, Tommy Steele, Marty Wilde and the ultimate Elvis Presley.

Jeannie C COPYRIGHT 2005

Sunday, October 01, 2006



Webster was in increasing demand as tenor soloist in oratorios. In those days the Promenade Concerts were held at the Queen’s Hall, a concert hall, with sympathetic acoustics for singers, and always his favourite concert hall.
     He 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.
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 Françel. 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”.
In the four years before Anne and Webster were free to marry, Anne’s career rapidly took shape. In 1935 she sang in a Concert Party called Summer Smiles during the summer season at Ryde and acquired her first devoted fan, a girl aged about fifteen, who kept in 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.
Anne was an overnight success on radio in The Chocolate Soldier, and was one of the first singers to appear on the British television service when it was launched in 1936.
In 1937 she was invited to star in the musical Virginia at the Center Theatre in New York. Anne’s stage surname “Ziegler” was perceived to have Germanic overtones, and in light of the storm clouds gathering over Europe, she decided to appear in New York under the name of Anne Booth, in anticipation of her forthcoming marriage.
      Webster accompanied Anne onboard the Scythia to New York, hoping to find some stage work in America, and not wanting to let her out of his sight for too long. In England he was an established and well-known artiste on film, radio, theatre and the concert platform. It was therefore extremely disheartening for him to attend various New York auditions as an unknown, and without any success.
      Despite his beautiful voice and good looks, he made no impact on the cut-throat powers-that-be of the American musical world. He saw Anne make a success of her part in Virginia, but although he made several appearances on radio, and in cabaret at the Rainbow Room in New York, he was running out of money. To compound his woes he was taken ill with an old kidney complaint. He could do nothing else but return to England alone, knowing that he could resume his engagements there. He was in pain, crestfallen at his lack of success in America, and he was worried about leaving Anne on her own in New York.
Anne was hailed as a Broadway star, and offered a lucrative film contract in Hollywood, with the notion that she would make a worthy successor to Jeanette MacDonald. The offer was very tempting for a talented and beautiful girl aged twenty-seven, but she did not have to think about it for very long before she turned it down. Anne had been named as the co-respondent in the divorce of Paddy Prior and Webster but it would not be long before he would be divorced from Paddy and free to marry her. If Webster could not make a success in America, she preferred to return to England and to Webster.
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.
       Webster endured further humiliation in 1938. While he was still with the D’Oyly Carte Company    Dr Malcolm Sargent was engaged as musical director at the Princes Theatre for the 1926 season. He advised Webster that opera singing was poorly paid and if he did not have a supplementary private income he should concentrate on trying to obtain more lucrative singing engagements. Webster’s sister Nellie always hoped that he would make his name in opera, and he still hoped that he could sing in opera despite Dr Sargent’s advice to the contrary.
At Covent Garden he auditioned like an unknown for a part in the forthcoming International Opera Season before Sir Thomas Beecham. Sir Thomas was joined by his companion, Lady Cunard, at this audition and the pair sat in the middle of the empty auditorium, chatting to one another while Webster sang his audition arias.
Despite their apparent inattention to his vocal efforts, he was offered minor roles in The Magic Flute and Der Rosenkavalier. The pay was miserly in comparison to his usual earnings; the rehearsals were unpaid. A high point of the exercise was when the distinguished conductor Erich Kleiber singled Webster out after he had sung his aria during a rehearsal of Der Rosenkavalier and praised his singing before the whole company.
      Although Webster continued to make many operatic recordings, this was his last venture into Grand Opera at Covent Garden or any other opera house, apart from doing several performances for Lilian Baylis at Sadler’s Wells. He did star in several Grand Operas on radio, notably The Magic Flute and Lakmé. After this experience both Anne and Webster finally realised that although it is the dream of every good singer to be hailed as an operatic star, singers without a private income had to diversify their talents if they wished to make a decent living.
      After Webster’s divorce from Paddy was eventually finalised amidst much adverse publicity in the gossip columns, in an age when divorce was neither as common nor acceptable as it is today, Anne and Webster were finally married on Bonfire Night in 1938, at the Harrow Road Register Office.
This ceremony was followed by a form of the Marriage Service, adapted for divorced persons, at 11 am in St Ethelburga’s Church in Bishopsgate, the same church that was to be badly damaged by an IRA bomb in 1993. The Church has been restored and is now known as St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace.
      There was no time for a honeymoon. Webster had an engagement to sing duets with Olive Groves at a Sunday Night Concert in South Wales the following evening, so Anne and Webster drove as far as Cheltenham where they spent their wedding night, and continued their journey to the concert venue the following day. Webster always laughed at the charade of having to sing very romantic duets with Olive Groves, the wife of his friend and mentor, George Baker, the day after his marriage to Anne.
       Both Anne and Webster had many solo engagements to fulfil, but now that they were married they hoped to sing together as often as possible.
      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 New Zealand’s Warwick 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.
      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.
      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.
     Anne and Webster formed their duet partnership around the time of their marriage, in addition to their solo work and Webster's extensive recording, film, oratorio and concert work.
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 1936, 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.
      Their first duet recording in 1939, the year after their marriage, was If You Were the Only Girl in the World, with A Paradise for Two on the flip side. Before these recordings were made, Anne had sung with Webster in a number of broadcasts, and had been the anonymous soprano voice in a radio series called The Voice of Romance in 1937. In this series he too was anonymous, but by this time, most people would have recognised his distinctive voice. Their duet recordings were instantly popular and there was a great demand for them. By 1940 HMV issued a separate pamphlet about Anne and Webster’s duet recordings, which was included in the HMV catalogue of that year.
Jeannie C