I Remember Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth by Peggy Cruden (nee Wakefield)
I first met Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth in June 1940. I had of course heard of them before because they were so well known. I was 22 years old at the time and lived in Blackpool with my mother, Elizabeth Wakefield. We had come to live in Blackpool following evacuation from Birmingham during the Great War because of the fear of bombing by German Zeppelins. My mother had known Webster's parents in Birmingham.
Peggy as she was in 1940, age 22
Quite by chance one day, my mother was talking to the local butcher, Charlie Farrar who told her that Anne and Webster were living in North Park Drive Blackpool whilst performing in 'On with the Show' at the North Pier Theatre. He knew this because he delivered orders to them. My mother arranged, through Mr Farrar, to meet up again with Webster to renew old acquaintances and we went to visit them at the house. I was struck by what a glamorous couple they were yet at the same time very homely and friendly.
During the visit Anne and Webster mentioned that their housekeeper, whom I understand usually travelled with them, was unable to work for them for the foreseeable future because her father had been taken ill. My mother offered to help with the housekeeping chores and Anne and Webster happily agreed. However, my mother, who was in her sixties by this time found that the housekeeping was a little too much for her. I was not working at the time as I was waiting to be called up for war service so I offered to help out instead. Anne and Webster were perfectly happy with this arrangement so I became their housekeeper for the rest of the season until it ended in October 1940.
I had a wonderful time working for them. They were always so kind and friendly towards me and were such good company. I went to the house six days each week during the morning and did general dusting and cleaning. I recall that I never had to make the bed for them as they seemed to do that for themselves. I made a rice pudding for them on one occasion. Webster said it was the best he had ever tasted although, being such a gentleman, I expect he was just being polite! An embarrassing thing happened one day whilst I was working upstairs in the house. I heard the bathroom door open and when I turned around there stood Webster wearing, it seemed, nothing but a shirt! I turned away but Webster didn't appear to be concerned at all.
Anne was very generous to me. She gave me a wonderful black dress with thin silk pleats which she no longer needed and a beautiful peach coloured nightdress. I had to shorten the black dress as Anne was a little taller than I was. I also used to admire her range of make up and other cosmetics such as Elizabeth Arden cream and she would let me have some of her make up if she no longer needed it. Anne would ask for my suggestions as to where to buy good quality clothes in Blackpool and also for my recommendations for a good hairdresser. I suggested my own hairdresser who began visiting Anne at the house on a regular basis.
I recall that Anne was a very delicate lady who was anxious to maintain her strength and energy for her performances. The butcher used to deliver marrow bones and I recall that Anne would regularly eat the marrow from the bone. She would also have regular visits from the doctor, a very handsome man as I recall. One rather bizarre recollection I have is that during one of his visits, the doctor sat me down on the bed and syringed my ears for me. I cannot remember why but I suppose I must have asked for it to be done!
I do remember Anne telling me one day that her agent had asked her if she would like to perform a show with Richard Tauber. I was most impressed because of Richard Tauber's reputation but for some reason Anne was less than thrilled at the prospect and as far as I know turned down the invitation.
During the summer Webster's son, Keith, visited the house for a few days. One day the air raid siren sounded and although Blackpool was never really a target for German bombers, Keith and I took refuge in the coal house until the all clear was sounded. Another memory of Keith was that, according to Anne and Webster, he told them that he had been walking behind me in the street one day and had commented that I had a very trim figure! They were probably just teasing me but it was very flattering anyway!
Anne and Webster invited mother and me to their show at the North Pier Theatre. Mother was worried because she didn't have a decent hat to wear so she rushed out to buy a new one. On the night, Anne commented upon how much she liked my mother's hat which pleased my mother. They called for us in their car, Webster driving, and parked in Queen Street, about 100 yards from North Pier. We all walked across the short stretch of Promenade and along the pier to the Theatre. Everyone who passed by recognised who they were. It made mother and me feel very important! When we reached the Theatre, Anne went backstage to the dressing room while Webster showed mother and me to our seats. During a wonderful performance, Anne and Webster even acknowledged us from the stage with a friendly nod! After the performance, we were driven home again by Anne and Webster.
As the end of the season approached, Anne and Webster asked me if I would go back to London and continue working for them. This was such a tempting offer which in other circumstances I would have happily accepted. However, I had by this time received notice that I was to work in munitions, making parts for Wellington Bombers at the Vickers aircraft factory in Blackpool.
As they were leaving, Anne showed me a case which she kept under the bed. The case was full of photographs of the couple and Anne invited me to take whichever photographs I wanted. I chose two and Anne and Webster autographed them for me. I still have the photographs to this day!
Peggy's autographed souvenirs from Anne and Webster: October 1940
I still live in Blackpool not far from North Pier and although I celebrated my 90th birthday in 2007, my time with Anne and Webster still evokes fond memories. I was so fortunate that, during the dark early days of World War Two, my life was brightened by two such shining stars.
Peggy Cruden. March 2008
Peggy as she is today, aged 90