ANNE ZIEGLER AND WEBSTER BOOTH

ANNE ZIEGLER AND WEBSTER BOOTH
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. The Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler Yahoo group is for those who remember them from the days of their success in the UK and South Africa, and for others discovering them for the first time. In the group there is a discussion forum and access to rare recordings and photographs featuring them as duettists and soloists.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

REMEMBERING ANNE AND WEBSTER


SWEETHEARTS OF SONG: A PERSONAL MEMOIR OF ANNE ZIEGLER and WEBSTER BOOTH

21 January 2013 is the hundred and eleventh anniversary of the birth of Webster Booth at 157 Soho Road, Handsworth, Staffordshire. To mark the occasion I have included a video featuring reminiscences of Anne and Webster, recorded towards the end of the 1970s.

video


21 June 2012 was the twenty-eighth anniversary of the death of Webster Booth in Llandudno Hospital, North Wales. The following day was the hundred and second anniversary of the birth of Anne Ziegler, born Irene Frances Eastwood in Liverpool in 1910, who died nearly nine years ago. I knew Webster for twenty-four years, so he has been dead for four years longer than I knew him. I remained friends with Anne for forty-three years until her death in October 2003. They certainly made a very strong impression on me as a young seventeen year-old just out of school. In the usual course of events I would never have met them except as one of the crowd waiting at the stage door to catch a glimpse of them as they left the theatre or a concert hall after yet another triumphant performance. In fact, I had met them briefly six months earlier in June 1960 when they had sung in the Methodist Church Hall in Roberts Avenue, Kensington, Johannesburg where they had been the star attraction at a variety concert, held to raise funds for the church. This time there were no eager crowds waiting to catch a glimpse of this glamorous couple as they left at the interval after they had sung. I was the only one waiting with my autograph book to ask for their autographs, which they graciously signed in the vestry of the church.




















August 1955
Webster Booth was one of Britain's finest tenors of his generation and only five years before I met him he was still singing at the Royal Albert Hall under the baton of Sir Malcolm Sargent, who had nurtured his more serious singing career since he had selected him to sing the tenor solos in the Good Friday performance of Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall in 1936.




After the war musical tastes in Britain altered. Danny Kaye and other American acts were top of the bill at the London Palladium now, and, with the advent of rock 'n roll, Anne and Webster's refined act was on the wane.  To make matters worse, an unfortunate incident related to the Inland Revenue in the UK led to the Booths leaving England and settling in Johannesburg in 1956. They went to live in South Africa in 1956.

Despite their hard work over the years and the fame they had achieved, their circumstances were much reduced by the time they arrived in South Africa. At that time there were not many professional theatrical companies and even if they commanded top South African fees, these must have been far less than they had received for their work in Britain. They did a fair amount of performing and broadcasting in South Africa, but found it necessary to start a school of singing and stagecraft on the eighth floor of Polliack's Corner in Pritchard Street, Johannesburg to supplement their dwindling income. 

Anne gave me this card when I attended my audition with her.

At first they asked far higher fees for lessons than reputable local singing teachers, but few could afford to pay such high fees, so they eventually reduced their fees to an amount closer to the fees local teachers charged.  Because of this my parents could afford to send me to the Booths for singing lessons after I left school. Webster was away in Port Elizabeth singing at the Port Elizabeth Oratorio Festival under the baton of Robert Selley at the time of my audition, so I met Anne by herself on my first visit to their airy studio, which contained a beautiful Chappell grand piano,  a set of shelves against the wall which contained all their sheet music, and a full length mirror so that students could watch themselves as they sang. There was a glass pane behind the studio couch,  filled with photographs of Anne and Webster in various roles and in the company of famous and illustrious people who had been their friends and colleagues in Britain.

During their twenty-two years in South Africa they starred and directed many musicals all over the country as well as teaching "singing and stagecraft" at their Johannesburg studio, where I was privileged to have lessons with them and act as Webster's studio accompanist when Anne was away. 
The corner of Eloff and Pritchard Streets, Johannesburg. Anne and Webster's studio was on the eighth floor of the building on the left.

ANNE ZIEGLER SINGS NOEL COWARD SONGS





 Little did I know that this first meeting with Anne would result in an association with the couple, first as a student, a few years later as Webster's studio accompanist, and in a friendship which lasted until Webster's death in 1984 and Anne's in 2003. We had our ups and downs over the years, but I will never regret knowing them and having the course of my life changed because of my friendship with them. As long as I am alive they will never be forgotten.    




Anne Ziegler on sheet music cover (1936)










Anne Ziegler as Mrs Siddons in the famous Gainsborough painting. This photograph first appeared in The Star (Johannesburg) in 1962.



During Anne's singing career in the UK in the days of fame and glory during the forties and early fifties, Anne was noted for the beautiful crinolines she wore in the Variety act with her husband, the renowned British tenor, Webster Booth, and in stage and film performances. The gown in this photograph is an excellent example and the roses allude to Anne and Webster's signature tune, Only a Rose from The Vagabond King. The couple starred in a revival of this Rudolf Friml musical at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1943.

22 June 2010 was the hundredth anniversary of Anne's birth. Here is a photograph of a painting of Anne's great grandmother, Mary Fish (born 1796) in Parbold, Lancashire. I received it from Anne's first cousin (once removed) Catherine. 

While the generation who remembers Anne and Webster from those far-off days is growing smaller with the passing years, I hope new generations will discover them by listening to their recordings, many of which are available on CD. I have uploaded a number of rare 78 rpm recordings by Anne and Webster on YOU TUBE, and you may listen to these by clicking on the links to the right, or go directly to http://www.youtube.com/duettists Anne did not make many solo recordings, but Webster made recordings of oratorio, opera, ballads, musicals and art songs as well as medleys and duets with other singers as well as numerous duet recordings with Anne.Down in the Forest by Landon Ronald, taken from a live broadcast in the 1940s.




Anne Ziegler as a young woman.

My heart will never sing again/Queen of June

I was pleased that one of the WB-AZ Yahoo Group members discovered this rare shortwave broadcast of Webster Booth singing a song I have not heard before entitled, Wonderful Moment:

RARE SHORTWAVE BROADCAST (1935) WEBSTER BOOTH SINGS: "WONDERFUL MOMENT"

Despite their great fame in Britain in the forties and fifties, Anne and Webster are largely disregarded by the public today, possibly because they spent 22 years in South Africa before returning to the UK in 1978. People who appreciate them most today are those who listen/look at the videos I have posted on You Tube.

The links to my sites are as follows:
DUETTISTS STORE FRONT


Instead of writing something new about Webster I am reproducing a short extract from my book, Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler & Webster Booth, which illustrates how kind and unassuming he was, despite being one of the greatest tenors Britain has ever known. The incident takes place in April 1963 when Anne had gone on a fortnight’s trip with broadcaster Leslie Green and I, aged 19, was accompanying for Webster’s students in their studio in central Johannesburg for the first time.

On Monday we spent a lovely lunchtime, chatting about Webster’s life in the theatre in Britain. I was getting to know him very well. He was older than my own father, but I felt completely at home with him and loved him for his gentle nature, his good humour, kindness, and complete lack of side.

            Tuesday was a red-letter day.

            After Dudley Holmes’ lesson, Webster announced, “Jean and I are going to blow the family savings today. I’m taking her to Dawson’s.”

            Dudley said, “I wish I was coming with you. I have to go back to the office on an apple.”

            Webster and I walked round the corner to Dawson’s, which was one of the top Johannesburg hotels in those days, with only the Carlton and the Langham ahead of it. He seemed oblivious to the curious glances of the lunchtime throng doing double takes when they recognised his famous face. We were ushered into the dining room on the first floor as though we were royalty. The head waiter hovered around Webster and we were shown to the best table at the window.

            Webster was at home in this setting, after all the grand hotels of Europe and Britain he had known. I, on the other hand, in a bottle green velvet dress, felt gauche and young, as indeed I was. He ordered grilled trout and I had a fish dish also. He had a gin beforehand, and was disappointed when I refused anything alcoholic. At that stage of my life, the only time I ever had anything to drink was when my father poured me a thimbleful of sherry on special occasions. Over coffee, we had petits fours and he insisted I should eat as many as I wanted. I found out later that they were soaked in brandy, so I did not go entirely without alcohol that day.

            We sauntered back to the studio on a sunny afternoon. There was only one pupil due, so Webster fell asleep on the couch, while I sat in a chair a fair distance away reading Duet, their autobiography, which he had brought in for me to read the week before.

            When he woke up, he put on one of the reel-to-reel tapes of his sacred and oratorio recordings: How Lovely Art Thy Dwellings, The Lost Chord, Abide With Me, Sound an Alarm. I listened entranced and sometimes near to tears. He told me that when Lost Chord was recorded in the Kingsway Hall early in the war, the All Clear sounded just as he was singing the last phrase “The Grand Amen”. They had to record it again so that the sirens could not be heard on the recording.

            After Winnie, the only pupil for the afternoon, he drove me home and stayed to dinner with my parents. He took an immediate fancy to our dog, Shandy, whom he christened “my girlfriend,” and kept her on his knee for the rest of the evening.

            My father offered him a whisky, and he informed us that whisky had never done him any harm so far. He teased me because I had refused a drink at lunchtime. My father looked suitably alarmed at the thought of his innocent teenage daughter being plied with alcohol.


Shandy, sitting on the stoep of our Juno Street house (1963)
            Webster talked to my parents about Britain, and the artistes they had all known during the war, like Max Miller and Tommy Handley. He looked so at home in our sitting room, in a chair before the coal fire, smoking and drinking whisky, with Shandy on his lap.

            When he was about to go home, and was standing on our stoep (balcony), which was enclosed with an indigo bougainvillea creeper, my mother said, “Thank you for looking after Jean,” and he looked at me affectionately and replied, “I think it’s Jean who’s looking after me”.

            Although I can remember that day as though it were yesterday, it saddens me to think that Dawson’s is no longer the plush hotel it once was, while my mother, father, Shandy and Webster are all long dead and gone.







He made nearly a thousand recordings with HMV from 1929 until 1951. These recordings included ballads, musical comedy, oratorio and opera, not to mention the many duets he made with his wife and duettist partner, Anne Ziegler. He was also a regular broadcaster for the BBC and the European radio stations such as Luxembourg, Radio Normandy and Radio Eirann before the outbreak of the Second World War.


Webster Booth and Lilian Davies in "The Three Musketeers" at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 1930.
He began his career in the chorus of the D'Oyly Carte Opera (1923 to 1927) and made his West End debut as the Duke of Buckingham in the 1930 production of The Three Musketeers, which starred the dynamic Dennis King as D'Artagnon. Other musical roles included Juan in Kurt Weill's A Kingdom for a Cow (1935).  























As Francois Villon in "The Vagabond King" (1943)
With his wife, Anne Ziegler he appeared as Villon in The Vagabond King (1943) with Anne as Katherine, Sweet Yesterday (score by Kenneth Leslie Smith, 1945), and as Charles II in And So to Bed (early 1950's), score by Vivian Ellis. He and Anne also appeared in innumerable productions of Merrie England (Edward German).


"And So to Bed" (1953)  Anne Ziegler in South Africa (1960s)
When they returned to the UK in 1978 they did a number of radio and TV broadcasts and travelled the country reminiscing about their illustrious careers during the nineteen-thirties and forties. Webster died in Llandudno Hospital, North Wales, the day before Anne's seventy-fourth birthday, 21st June 1984.




Jeannie C  June 2012.


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