Anne in early 1960s.
My long association with Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth began nearly fifty years ago on the 8 December 1960, when I went for an audition with Anne at their School of Singing and Stagecraft on the eighth floor of Polliacks Corner, 169 Pritchard Street, Johannesburg. I had recently turned 17 and had finished writing matriculation examinations at Jeppe High School for Girls. Webster Booth was in Port Elizabeth on the day of my audition as he was singing in Messiah at the Port Elizabeth Oratorio Festival under the direction of Robert Selley.
I knew Anne and Webster as singing teachers for several years, but at the beginning of 1963 they asked if I would like to act as Webster’s studio accompanist when Anne, who was accompanist as well as teacher, had other commitments. I did my Associate and Licentiate singing diplomas under their guidance and we remained friends until their deaths. Webster died on 21 June 1984, 26 years ago, while Anne lived on in the little bungalow in Penrhyn Bay, Llandudno, North Wales until her death on 13 October 2003.
I was too young to have seen them performing at the height of their fame in the 1940s. Unless they were doing a radio programme when it was expected that they would reminiscence about their illustrious careers, they were surprisingly modest. Their autobiography Duet was published by Stanley Paul in the United Kingdom in 1951, five years before they immigrated to South Africa. Each wrote alternate chapters, culminating in a final one, written jointly. They lent me a copy and I collected a number of their solo and duet recordings over the years, but it was only after their deaths, when I was writing my book about my association with them, that I found out a great deal more about their achievements and realised how very popular they had been with the British public from the 1930s until they left for South Africa in 1956.
Anne and Bonnie (1990s)
Anne was born in Liverpool and was blessed with a charming light soprano voice and exceptional good looks. She arrived in London to make a career on the stage in 1934 and changed her name from Irené Frances Eastwood to Anne Ziegler when she made her West End debut in the octet of By Appointment with Maggie Teyte as the star. Unfortunately this musical play by Kennedy Russell was not a success and closed after three weeks, but Anne remained in London and managed to earn a rather stressful living singing in various Lyons restaurants and the Cumberland Hotel. By the end of the year she had been selected from two hundred sopranos to sing the part of Marguerite in a colour film, The Faust Fantasy, with Webster Booth in the role of Faust.
She soon became very popular on radio and was principal boy in pantomimes in Liverpool, Edinburgh and Golders Green in the thirties and appeared in the musical, Virginia at the Center Theatre, New York in 1937. In 1940 she and Webster formed a double act on the Variety Circuit in the UK. They presented an essentially romantic and glamorous image in their variety act, but they were also excellent musicians, and created a unique blend of voices.
Although in great demand with their double act, Webster continued to sing in oratorios on the concert platform. He was one of the finest British lyric tenors of the twentieth century, a fact often overlooked by today’s critics, because he could sing lighter music just as well as he sang the more serious tenor repertoire.
I was pleased to discover a number of up and coming young singers from the Royal Northern College of Music who won the Webster Booth or Anne Ziegler awards during their studies there. These awards were instituted several years after Webster’s death, thanks to their friend, Jean Buckley who worked hard to raise money for them. Anne was one of the judges at some of the earlier competitions. Unfortunately Webster’s award was discontinued after 2002 due to lack of sponsorship, but Anne’s award is still presented each year, although without sponsorship and donations this award will probably be discontinued soon.
Anne and Webster were a wonderful couple, completely without side, who were kindness itself to me and to many others. They are ever remembered by those who, like me, knew and loved them.