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, December 03, 2012



 ALWAYS (Kenneth Leslie-Smith)
Always  comes from The Puritan Lullaby by Kenneth Leslie-Smith. Webster Booth took part in the broadcast of this show on BBC radio in September 1935. The cast included baritones George Baker and Stuart Robertson. BBC Theatre Orchestra and the Revue Chorus was conducted by Stanford Robinson.
He was very well known in his day. Although his voice was light it could still fill the Albert Hall without the aid of a microphone.

HEART’S DESIRE selection
In response to a remark about Alan Keith’s Hundred Best Tunes: Towards the end of the eighties Alan Keith presented The Golden Years  in which he also played many of their recordings. Although they had never met, Alan Keith attended Webster's memorial service at St Paul's, Covent Garden, in 1984.
In response to a comment that the person was sorry to have missed a concert in 1978: They had just arrived back in the UK after 22 years in South Africa and were surprised to find that people remembered them after their absence. They embarked on their short "third career" in the UK until Webster's health failed and he died in June1984.

Webster once told me that when he went to a recording date at HMV he was given about six items to record on each particular occasion, so the choice of what he would record was made by the powers-that-be rather than the singer. I know that he admired Richard Tauber's voice, which was a lyric tenor much like his own.


I love the song and think this is one of Anne and Webster's best duet recordings.
2009 Webster Booth died 25 years ago on 21 June 1984 in Llandudno, North Wales. This duet comes from a radio programme in the 1940s when he and Anne Ziegler were at the height of their popularity as duettists.

MORNING (Oley Speaks)
The only other songs by Oley Speaks I can recall offhand are Sylvia, which begins, "Sylvia's hair is like the night..." and his most famous song, The Road to Mandalay, recorded by many baritones. Webster recorded  Sylvia, but sadly I do not have it in my collection.

MORNING GLORY (Kenneth Leslie-Smith)
In answer to a query about the photographs I used in the video: Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth lived in Penrhyn Bay, North Wales when they returned to the UK in 1978, so instead of a series of photographs of WB himself, I decidedto use photographs associated with their time in Llandudno.

NOCTURNE (Chopin, arranged by Maurice Besly)
I'm afraid I don't know the exact date of the recording. I imagine it was recorded some time in the late forties. The recordnumber of this 12" 78rpm is HMV C3460. I have since found out that it was recorded in 1945.
(In reply to a comment by Selwyn Lotzof) I also had lessons with Anne and Webster at the same time as you and was Webster's accompanist when Anne was away. I remember playing for you! Happy memories!

ONAWAY, AWAKE, BELOVED by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Webster Booth sang the tenor solos in Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast many times before and after WWII. Sir Malcolm Sargent chose him especially to sing the part for his sixtieth birthday concert in 1955.
I have Webster Booth’s recording of Celeste Aida, sungin English as are all his other operatic recordings. When Webster Booth was in South Africa he and Anne Ziegler made an LP of their popular duets in Afrikaans entitled Net maar ‘n Roos, but Romance from the film, The Robber Symphony is the only other WB recording I know in a language other than English.
I see that in 1948 he also recorded Break of DayWayside Rose, and My Heart and I, all closely associated with Richard Tauber. I know he had no say in what he recorded but was given a selection of songs to record on particular recording dates. I can only think that the powers-that-be at HMV decided he should record these songs because Tauber had recently died.

At the age of 61 he sang the tenor part in Elijah in Pietermaritzburg. The MD told everyone that the organ was pitched a semitone higher than concert pitch so the orchestra would have to tune up accordingly. When asked whether the higher pitch would be a problem for Webster at his advanced singing age, he replied that he would just put on a second jockstrap and all would be well! As far as I know, it was!

Webster Booth was one of Britain's finest oratorio singers of his generation and was known for the clarity of his diction and runs, and for his excellent musicianship. He recorded for HMV for over 20 years, and was Sir Malcolm Sargent's personal choice as soloist at his 60th birthday concert in 1955. I have never understood why Webster is underrated as a singer today as I think he deserves a place amongst the best.  Most people think all he ever did was sing light duets with Anne Ziegler on the variety circuit. He told me that oratorio singing meant more to him than any other branch of his singing career. You should be able to listen to  the recordings by clicking on the links.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012



I don't think Anne and Webster ever made a bad recording either as duettists or
soloists. Webster's voice is as recognisable in his early recordings in the late
1920s to the broadcasts he made at the end of his singing career in the early
1980s when his voice was past its best.

I have many recordings in my collection so it is difficult to choose my absolute
favourites, but I really like the following:

Duets: Too tired to sleep by Alan Murray;
Love's garden of roses by Haydn Wood
Anne: A song in the night by Loughborough
Webster: Why does the God of Israel sleep? from Samson by Handel; Ah, moon
of my delight by Liza Lehmann; Morgen by Richard Strauss.

I would be interested to know what your favourite recordings are.

Charles Forwood was Anne and Webster's accompanist during the 1940s. By the late forties his health was suffering so he did not go on their tour to Australia and New Zealand in 1948. I know he was a good accompanist but I wonder if anyone knows anything more about him?

In reply to a member, I wrote:
I posted most of the recordings by Anne and Webster on You Tube on my Duettists Channel, and another member of this group has posted quite a number also. I am always pleased to hear comments from people on You Tube who discover Anne and Webster for the first time through the videos posted there, but few of those who comment ever join the Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler Yahoo group or "like" their pages on Facebook. I am reaching the end of suitable recordings to upload there as I do not want to post anything which was reissued and restored by small companies in the 1990s when the original HMV copyrights lapsed after fifty years. I have added other recordings to my Sky Drive and your e-mail address has been included so if you click on the following link, you should be able to access these recordings without any trouble. (If you join the Booth-Ziegler Yahoo Group you will be able to gain access to these recordings also.)

I suppose some think I am foolish to promote Anne and Webster on Facebook, Twitter and on my blogs, as there are not so many people left who remember them when they were at the top of the musical tree. Webster, in particular, had an exceptional voice and it is unfortunate that if he is remembered at all today, he is thought of as a "romantic duettist" with Anne, and his exceptional work as one of the foremost oratorio soloists of his day, is forgotten by the general public and present-day critics alike. He and Anne were very much more than singing teachers to me and I was privileged to be his studio accompanist for several years. Although I didn't realise then how lucky I was to be chosen to do this when I was a teenager, I certainly realise it now.

Recently I included a "homemade" medley featuring Webster Booth and Garda Hall on You Tube. The songs came from the 78rpm recording entitled Theatreland at Coronation Time (1937). Garda Hall went to the UK from Pietermaritzburg in the early 1920s, and despite being banned from joining her school choir because the music teacher said she sang out of tune, she seemed to do quite well for herself in the UK. She was still living there towards the end of the 1940s, and although she was acclaimed when she returned to  South Africa to give a series of concerts in Natal in 1925, the same year of the visit of the then Prince of Wales, nobody remembers her there today. 

Unfortunately I do not think she made further recordings with Webster, but they did appear in concerts together several times in the late twenties and thirties, including one at the Finsbury Town Hall on 6 March 1930. In October 1933 they sang at the London Palladium with Debroy Somers and his band. On the same bill was talented South African pianist, Raie de Costa, who died tragically young. Others on that bill were Leonard Henry as compère and Stainless Stephen. 

Their last joint appearance was in 1935:

"5 December 1935: Galashiels Choral Concert, Playhouse, Galashiels - Galashiels Choral Society, conducted by Robert Barrow. Concert versions of Gounod's FAUST and THE BEGGAR'S OPERA Garda Hall (soprano), Webster Booth (tenor), George Baker (baritone), orchestra conducted by Herbert More." (from my book: "A Scattered Garland: Gleanings from the lives of Webster Booth & Anne Ziegler").

It has always saddened me that Webster Booth is largely forgotten today and,  if he is remembered, his voice is not revered in the same way as those of some of his contemporaries.  But it seems that the voice of Webster Booth was always underrated even when he was at the peak of his vocal ability. Why else did the powers-that-be at HMV not issue his serious recordings on the Red and Gold label rather than the Plum?  

I suppose he is under-rated by some people  today because he formed a duet
partnership with Anne Ziegler, and they became a very popular act on the Variety circuit in the 1940s. Despite "going on the halls", he never neglected his more serious work and remained one of the foremost oratorio singers of his day.
Webster always said that he enjoyed broadcasting and recording more than anything else, and he certainly made a fine art of it with a beautiful voice, excellent diction, observing the composer's expression marks to the letter, musicality and his ability to interpret every aria or song he sang.

As early as 1935 when Webster was only 33 years old, WS Meadmore said in an article about him in Gramophone, "Webster Booth prefers broadcasting and recording to any other type of work. He likes the atmosphere and good fellowship of the studios, but does not feel so happy when facing an audience. He says that in a concert hall there is always a percentage of the audience who is bored with him, but, perforce, have to listen, while, if they listen-in to him, they can turn off. And if they buy one of his records - well, they must like his voice! Booth is most modest, and has little opinion of his own powers to please."

A gentleman who joined (and subsequently left) the Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler Yahoo group said flatly that Webster is underrated and disregarded today because he wasted  his time singing duets with Anne. But despite "going on the halls", he never neglected his more serious work and remained one of the foremost oratorio singers of his day.

Gerald Zwirn wrote the following an article entitled Collecting Rare Records in the South African magazine Scenaria  (November 1987):

"Curiously enough, one of the best recordings ever made of Che gelida manina was on an old HMV 78 plum label record, later re-issued on LP. 
I say 'curiously enough' because plum label records were among the cheapest in the  catalogue. They were usually reserved for domestic artists or those considered of less importance than their international counterparts, whose records bore the prestigious red-and-gold labels.

In this case, the record was made by Webster Booth, and although sung in English as Your tiny hand is frozen, it still remains a model interpretation. Booth's outstanding musicianship, his shaping of the musical phrase, his style, diction, feeling and observance of the composer's markings, all combine to put this record in a class by itself.
Yet I doubt whether any serious record collector would even deign to consider including a plum label in his precious collection. After all, its commercial value would be calculated in cents."

 I wonder how many tenors who convey passion via a powerful pair of lungs would be as self-effacing! As someone else remarked recently, there is a difference between showing off and making music.
Recordings: No More, Wayside Road, Sympathy 1 September 2010
My record of Wayside Rose (Lehar) has a crack in it and I'm afraid I'm not very good at editing sound files. No More (Yradier) came from a reel-to-reel tape which Webster made of his 78 rpm records in the early 1960s. I copied it (via microphone) onto my own reel-to-reel recorder and later to cassette tape, so it has probably lost a good deal of its original sound quality as a result.  

I have often wondered why Webster and Anne's recording contracts with HMV/EMI were cancelled in 1951. I notice from Dennis Noble's discography on the Internet that his 78rpm recordings end in 1951 also.  LPs  were being produced and it is possible that the company was concentrating on making LPs of complete works rather than 78s. Perhaps someone else has an idea or firm information about why contracts were cancelled at this time? I know Webster was very upset to have his contract cancelled and he was further offended about the billing he received in the film,  The Gilbert and Sullivan Story. There is even a scene in The Yeomen of the Guard towards the end of the film where his voice was dubbed for the character who sang, "All thoughts of Leonard Merryll (sp!) put aside..."

I don't think his style of singing became dated as he had a good voice, few vocal idiosyncrasies and was capable of singing more serious music with the best of them. Radio shows like Friday Night is Music Night were always popular, as was Eric Robinson's show on TV in the sixties. I was given American baritone, Thomas Hampson's EMI CD of An Old Song Re-Sung  for a recent birthday. It was recorded in 1990 and included songs like Danny DeeverOn the Road to MandalayAt DawningRoses of Picardy and Long Ago in Alcala, even Will You Remember?, so there is always a place for such songs even if the audience for them is more limited than it was in 1951. 
A group member mentioned that he had heard that Webster Booth played the Tommy Handley part  in ITMA scripts on South African radio. I wrote the following in reply:
I have the record of the Tommy Handley Memorial Choir you mentioned. The items were sung at Tommy Handley's funeral service by a group of fellow Savages, including Webster. Some time after the Memorial Service at St Paul's the choir made the recording and the record was sold in aid of boys and girls clubs in which Tommy had always taken a keen interest.

Unfortunately I never heard Webster playing Tommy Handley's part on Springbok Radio in South Africa. The 13 week series was called Light up and Laugh and began in December 1956, not long after Anne and Webster arrived in the country. It was recorded before an audience at the Brooke Theatre in De Villiers Street, Johannesburg.

Webster told me that he and other members of the cast had a few drinks before making one of these recordings. He said this was a big mistake when it came to delivering Tommy Handley's quick-fire lines and he vowed never to drink before the show again.

The popularity of variety was waning in the UK in the 1950s, but in 1955, the year before the Booths moved to South Africa, Webster still had many oratorio engagements and sang in Hiawatha's Wedding Feast at a Prom concert, following this with Quilter's song cycle To Julia after the interval.
 Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth moved to South Africa in the middle of 1956 when I was 12 years old. My parents remembered them as popular singers in the UK but I didn't know anything about them. They were given a great welcome in South Africa. Nobody could believe that such well-known singers would settle here! Their records were played many times each day on the SABC and newspapers included photographs and news items about them on a regular basis.
I first saw them and heard them sing in a performance of Messiah at St James' Presbyterian Church, Mars Street, Malvern in October 1957.  I wish I could say that their singing was imprinted in my mind for all time, but I remember very little about the performance! My most enduring memories are that Webster looked rather cross - perhaps he was wondering what he was doing at a suburban Church hall rather than at the Royal Albert Hall - and Anne was sporting a distinctive Italian boy haircut and was very charming to the tea ladies at the interval!


I have the greatest admiration for Webster's serious solo singing but alos enjoy the duets. Whether Webster was singing oratorio in the Albert Hall or musical comedy duets  with Anne or other singers, he always committed himself to whatever song he happened to be singing at the time. Although Anne had a lighter voice, their voices blended beautifully as they were both excellent musicians and never tried to out-sing one another as so many other duettists seem to do. Perhaps the artistry of their singing was why they were the most popular duettists of their day. They sang in many concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, the London Palladium and most concert halls and theatres throughout the UK and abroad, and never made use of a microphone. Harold Fielding kept them very busy for years.

Unfortunately I was too young to see them when they were at the top of the tree in the UK. I first saw their variety act when I was 16 at the local Methodist Church Hall in Kensington, Johannesburg in 1960 - a far cry from the London Palladium. I thought they were wonderful - not only in singing the well-loved duets but in the way they connected with the audience. They lit up the hall with their presence and everyone adored them instantly.


A memorial service was held at St Paul's Covent Garden for Webster Booth in October 1984. Before the service his ashes were buried in the grounds and a memorial plaque erected in commemoration to him. In 1991 Pamela Davies, who collaborated with me in writing one of the books on Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, visited the churchyard and found Webster's memorial plaque under a hawthorn tree. The plaque was made of brass and in the seven years since it had been erected it was blackened, although she could still read the plain inscription, which read: 


Pamela returned to the churchyard in 2005 only to find that the hawthorn tree had been cut down and Webster's plaque could no longer be seen. She wrote to make enquiries as to what had happened to the plaque. I quote from our book, Do You Remember Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth?

      "The administrator, in the rector's absence, kindly instituted another search, equally fruitless. He suggested it could be hidden under a large plant or simply have disintegrated in the adverse weather, as had happened to the plaque to the actor Michael Williams, which had been in place only four years.
"In my letter I had enquired also about the possibility of a plaque to Webster Booth's wife, the singer Anne Ziegler, but I was informed that no more plaques are being accepted. The only answer would be an inscribed garden bench, or obtaining permission for a name in a memorial book in the church...."

It seems a shame that this plaque, which marked the burial place of his ashes, and was erected in memory of a great British  tenor who was also dearly beloved by his family, friends and fans, should have vanished without trace. 

Apparently no record is kept of those whose memorial services are held at the church. If these plaques disintegrate and disappear within such a short time, valuable pieces of theatrical history are lost to future generations.

Jeannie C
Updated September 2012

Early memories of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth


Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth


We arrived in Johannesburg in October of 1957. My father had been offered a job in the same firm as a former Scottish colleague from ISCOR (now Arcellor Mittal) in Vanderbijl Park and we were living in the Valmeidere boarding house in Roberts Avenue, Kensington until we found a suitable flat. We witnessed the lights of Sputnik flying over our heads at night and wondered whether this was a sign that we had made the right move to the big city.

My parents and me in Vanderbijlpark in 1953.

The school year in South Africa runs from January to December, so I, aged thirteen, went to yet another new school just in time to prepare to write end of year exams in subjects with different syllabuses to the ones I had been studying at my previous school. I staggered into the busy road each morning, praying that I would not be knocked down by a speeding car, to catch a rattling tram down the hill to Jeppe Girls’ High School, clad in my new green dress and black blazer with white stripes. The most important part of the uniform seemed to be the white Panama hat adorned with school colours and badge. This had to be worn at all times when outside the school. Heaven help anyone who removed it, or worse still, forgot to wear it.

The boarding house proprietors were fellow Scots, Mr and Mrs Jimmy Murdoch. They were friendly with a couple called Mr and Mrs McDonald-Rouse. Mrs McDonald-Rouse ran a flourishing amateur concert party and was the accompanist to the singers in the group. Her daughter Heather, a theatrical costumier, had recently married and sometimes dined with her parents and her new husband at the Valmeidere. In due course we were introduced to the McDonald-Rouses, Heather and her husband.

Through her work Heather had met Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth shortly after their arrival in South Africa the year before and had become very friendly with them. Through the grapevine we heard that Webster had sung the aria from Mendelssohn’s St Paul at Heather’s wedding, entitled Be Thou Faithful unto Death. Later I learnt that this aria was one of his favourite choices when requested to sing a solo at a wedding. Another of his wedding favourites was the ballad,My Prayer.

Click on the link to hear Webster singing:

John Corrigan, my father’s colleague, was an elder at St James’ Presbyterian Church, then situated in Mars Street, Malvern. The church moved to its new site in Bedfordview in 1976. He invited us to a performance of Messiah to be held in the Church Hall, conducted by Drummond Bell, organist and choir master at the Central Presbyterian Church, St George’s. Coincidentally the tenor and soprano soloists were to be Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth. This was the first time I ever attended a performance of Messiah, and the first time I ever saw Anne and Webster. I did not know then that Webster had been one of the foremost oratorio tenors in Britain, but I had heard Anne and Websters' recordings, which were often played on the radio. It now seems rather incongruous that they should be singing Messiah in a suburban Church Hall when only two years before Webster’s oratorio stamping ground had been the Albert Hall, with the Royal Choral Society, with Sir Malcolm Sargent as conductor and other foremost oratorio soloists.

Since their arrival in South Africa Anne and Webster had received a great deal of publicity on the radio and in the newspapers. Their records were featured on South African radio a number of times each day. South Africans could not quite believe that such an illustrious theatrical couple had willingly chosen to exchange their successful careers and lives in the UK as the best known duettists in Britain – and possibly the world – to become immigrants in the colonial backwater of Johannesburg. My parents remembered them fondly from their frequent broadcasts in the UK and seeing them in Variety and in the musical play, Sweet Yesterday at Glasgow theatres.

We sat fairly near the front of the hall on the right hand side. I wish I could say I that I remember every moment of that performance over fifty years ago. But sadly I only remember snatches of it. Webster looked rather stern during the whole proceedings and I am sorry to admit that I was not immediately struck with the exquisite beauty of his voice. I did not know every aria of Messiah as I do now. In fact, the only piece I had heard before was the Halleluiah Chorus. My most enduring memory of the occasion was the tea break when Anne, her hair recently cut in a rather startling Italian Boy hairstyle, drank tea and chatted animatedly with the star-struck tea ladies a few feet away from where we were seated.

St Anne's Convent Grammar School, Southampton.

In mid-1958, my parents, doubtful of what the future in South Africa held, made a bid to return to the UK. We lived in Southampton – yet another new school another different syllabus, new subjects and girls with Hampshire accents. My mode of transport in Southampton was a crowded bus from the suburb of Bitterne to St Anne’s Convent Grammar School. It was winter, so the bus journey began in the dark and ended in the dark by the time I reached home in the afternoon.

One of my parents’ friends had a grand piano on which I was allowed to practise and receive music lessons. The gentleman had a collection of 78 records which had belonged to his late wife. While his son and his friends chatted about various forms of jazz in the sitting room, I looked through the record collection in the dining room and was delighted to find a number of Anne and Webster's recordings. After listening to their fill of Chris Barber records, the young men departed and I was able to play the duet records on the ancient record player. I enjoyed listening to the records and thinking that I had heard Anne and Webster singing in Johannesburg the previous year and knew something about them.

By the end of 1958 my parents decided that we would return to South Africa so we were on our way back on board the Pretoria Castle, the same ship on which Anne and Webster had travelled to South Africa in July 1956.

Despite my disrupted education I was back at Jeppe Girls’ High,admitted to Form IV for my final two years at school, which would culminate in writing the matriculation exams at the end of 1960. My father had returned to his old job with Mr Corrigan, and my parents bought a house in Juno Street, Kensington, having decided that life in South Africa, despite its uncertain political future was easier than life back in the UK where the weather was hard, the cost of living high, and Southampton was still full of bomb sites thirteen years after the war.

At the end of 1959 I went to the Reps Theatre (now the Alexander Theatre) with the late Gillian McDade, who had been head girl at Jeppe in 1959, to usher for the Children’s Theatre show, The Glass Slipper. The house was full so there were no spare seats for the teenage voluntary ushers, but I was delighted to watch the enchanting show seated on the carpeted stairs of the darkened auditorium. Anne Ziegler was playing the Fairy Godmother and made her entrance in a glass coach drawn by a donkey. She looked every inch an ethereal Fairy Godmother in her gossamer crinoline gown.

In 1960 Anne and Webster came to the Methodist Church in Roberts Avenue to sing in a Variety show that had been arranged to raise money for Church funds. I loved their charming act, once again done on the small stage of a suburban Church hall rather than in one of the great Variety Halls in the UK where they had been performing only a few years before. I waited for them to emerge at the interval to ask for their autographs and they signed my book in the vestry, Webster graciously holding the door open for me. Strangely enough I was the only autograph hunter that evening. They were both charming to me.

East London cast of Merrie England (1958). Mabel Fenney (later Perkin) was Jill-All-Alone on the left of the photograph

Mrs Mabel Fenney from East London had taken over from Miss Heller as temporary music mistress at Jeppe for a term while Miss Heller was on long leave. At the time she was studying singing with the Booths and had recently won the UNISA (University of South Africa) scholarship to study abroad. Mabel was charming and glamorous and took some of us girls to see Rigoletto at the Empire Theatre in the city centre. She often regaled the music students with tales of her studies with Anne and Webster and at the end of the term gave a memorable vocal recital in the school hall. I particularly remember her singing an aria from Carmen and ending the song by throwing a rose to her fascinated schoolgirl audience. At the end of the term Mabel Fenney went to the Hochschule in Berlin to further her singing studies. I wondered whether my singing was good enough for me to have singing lessons with Anne and Webster after I finished school.

Jeannie C

Friday, November 23, 2012



Collage by Charles S.P. Jenkins

Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth as Katherine and Francois Villon in the revival of The Vagabond King (1943). A duet from The Vagabond King:


Webster Booth pointed out in his joint autobiography with Anne Ziegler, Duet, that the Winter Garden had been in the hub of theatre land in the 1920s, but by the time Tom Arnold’s revival of The Vagabond King opened there in 1943, theatre land had moved west and not many people (including taxi drivers) knew where the theatre was any more.
The Tom Arnold production went on an extensive tour of the United Kingdom before it opened at the Winter Garden on 22 April 1943. The production was devised and supervised by Robert Nesbitt, the dialogue was directed by Maxwell Wray, and the  and the conductor of the orchestra was Bob Wolly.  
The name part of the Vagabond King, Francois Villon was a strenuous one. There was a lot of robust singing and a a sword fight. Unfortunately, on the first night of the tour in Blackpool, Webster was struck on the throat during the sword fight on stage  with John Oliver. He lost his voice and his part was taken temporarily by Derek Oldham, who had played Villon in the original production in 1927 with his wife Winnie Melville playing Lady Katherine.
Anne Ziegler played the part of Lady Katherine de Veucelles in this production and she had  three excellent duets with Francois Villon in the show: Love Me Tonight, Tomorrow, and Only a Rose. The last duet became the Booths' signature tune in their variety act:
The part of Huguette was taken by Tessa Dean, while Lady Mary was played by Sara Gregory. Henry Baynton, an elderly Shakespearean actor took the role of  Louis XI.
Sara Gregory (Lady Mary), Webster Booth and Syd Walker (Guy Tabarie)

Webster (Villon) prepares to lead the mob against Burgundy with the King's blessing (Henry Baynton.

Webster Booth (Villon) and Tessa Deane (Huguette)  

The King makes Villon Grand Marshall of France.
The show received excellent notices, but Webster complained about the theatre being very uncomfortable. Anne was so concerned with the sanitation that she called in a sanitary inspector! Despite the success of the show it closed in July. Webster was sure that the show closed prematurely because the Winter Garden Theatre was no longer in theatre land. He realised that the role was too heavy for his light tenor voice and thought the early closure was a blessing in disguise as he might have ruined his voice had he continued singing it for a longer time.

Here is the duet which stopped the show, Love me Tonight:


Judging by the photos of the 1943 Tom Arnold production of elaborate sets, large chorus and the sword-fight scene, The Vagabond King would be extremely expensive to mount today. 

Although Webster considered the role of Francois Villon his favourite part, it took a toll on him, not so much because of the singing which he could manage perfectly well, but because the part itself is a strenuous one. He was on stage most of the time rallying the masses to turn against the Duke of Burgundy and lead the mob into battle. The sword fight must have been quite challenging too - he probably thought he had lost his voice forever when his opponent John Oliver  "was so realistic that I received the full force of his arm with his sixteen stones behind it right across my throat.... By the end of that first night's show... I could hardly speak. A specialist was sent for, and he diagnosed a badly bruised larynx."

Victor Standing took over the part for a few nights and Derek Oldham (who had played Villon in the original London production) took over from him until Webster's larynx had recovered from the blow. After the first night of the London opening he was due to sing in the Good Friday performance of Messiah at the Albert Hall, which he considered "the very height of the oratorio profession".  

When he was 71 he told me that oratorio singing had meant far more to him than anything else he had done in his varied singing career, so he must have felt torn between everything he did in the nineteen-forties - musicals, films, and part of a double act with Anne on the variety stage. I dare say if he had stuck to singing in oratorio he would be remembered today as one of the great British tenors of the twentieth century instead of one half of "Sweethearts of Song" duettists act on the variety stage. 

The sword fight. Villon fights with Captain of the Archers (John Oliver).

Jeannie C 23 November 2012 ©