All photographs of the Bristol Hippodrome were taken by Charles S. P. Jenkins in 2011 when he went to Bristol to see the production of South Pacific. I am very grateful to him for allowing me to use his excellent photographs in this post and for creating collages of his photographs for me.
The Bristol Hippodrome is a hundred years old this year and was the last theatre designed by Frank Matcham. When Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth appeared at the Hippodrome it was principally a variety theatre, but their last appearance there in the nineteen-fifties was in a musical. Today it is a venue for opera, ballet and musicals, but the theatre is too big for straight drama.
Even before Anne and Webster officially decided to take their act on the variety circuit, they appeared together in a variety show at the Bristol Hippodrome on 3 August 1939, a month before the Second World War. Others in that show included Jimmy James and company, Herschel Henlere, Red Fred, Two Rexanos, Paul Wingrave and company, Terina and Duncan Gray.
With the declaration of war, Webster returned to Bristol after singing at two concerts in Buxton with Anne, to join the variety department of the BBC. Others who had been chosen to join this department were Tommy Handley, Vera Lennox, Ernest Longstaffe, Sam Costa, Charles Shadwell, Doris Arnold, Betty Huntley-Wright, Leonard Henry and others. It had been pre-arranged that if war was declared the BBC variety department would broadcast from the Bristol studios as Bristol was deemed to be safer than London in the event of bombing. While he was on the staff of the BBC, he gave recitals on air several times a day, either as a soloist or with other BBC staff singers like Betty Huntley-Wright. When the bombing became heavy in Bristol, the BBC also broadcast from Evesham in Worcestershire and Bangor in North Wales.
London theatres had initially closed at the outbreak of war, so after a month living in London on her own with few engagements, Anne moved to Bristol and managed to find some broadcasting and concert work there. Anne and Webster lived at 27 Grove Road, Clifton during their time in Bristol. Webster gave up the staff job with the BBC at the end of 1939 when London theatres re-opened once again.
Anne appeared in an All Star Variety concert on 10 December 1939 in aid of Bristol’s Own Fund in the presence of the Lord Mayor and Sheriff of Bristol. The star-studded cast included Suzette Tarri, Helen Clare, Horace Percival, Tommy Handley, Davy Burnaby, Michael North, Dick Bentley, George Moon, Phil Green, Jack Warner, Jack Train, Jean Colin, Fred Yule, Richard Hassett, Denny Dennis, Mackenzie Twins, Alan Paul, Billy Ternent, Bryan Michie, Doris Arnold, Jack Hylton’s Band, Bristol Aeroplane company Band.
Just before Christmas of 1940 Webster was singing in a performance of Messiah in Manchester while Anne was in Bristol once again for a radio broadcast. Walter Legge, the record producer, who was looking after their recordings at HMV at that time, was staying at the Royal Hotel, where Anne was staying also. At breakfast the following morning he told her tactlessly, knowing that Webster had been singing in Manchester, that Manchester had been razed to the ground the previous night. Anne was distraught at the news and tried to phone Webster, but the lines were unavailable for non-priority calls. She travelled back to London, anxious to see whether Webster had arrived back at midday as planned, but there was no sign of him. Anne began to fear the worst. He eventually reached home that evening once trains from Manchester had started running again. By this time she was quite frantic with worry, but relieved and thankful that he had not lost his life in the dreadful air raid.
After Christmas of the same year the Booths were back at the Bristol Hippodrome in a variety show from December 30 to 4 January 1941. They appeared in Sober as a Judge with Jimmy James and company, Herschel Henlere, Paul Wingrave, Duncan Gray, Terina, Two Rexanos, and Red Fred.
On 29 March 1941 there was a broadcast from Bristol of the popular Music Hall show. The compère was Gordon Crier and the show was produced and presented by John Sharman. Anne and Webster’s programme included their signature tune Only a Rose from The Vagabond King by Rudolf Friml. Webster sang I'll Walk Beside You by Alan Murray and Anne sang When Big Ben Chimes by Hans May, and finally they sang the duet Wanting You from The New Moon by Sigmund Romberg, with the augmented BBC Variety Orchestra, conducted by Charles Shadwell. After the war on August 1-6 1949 Webster and Anne appeared in variety at the Bristol Hippodrome with the Rudells, Albert Whelan, Frank Preston, MacDonald and Graham, Charles Ancaster, Kardoma, and Johnson Clark.
Anne and Webster in And So to Bed
Their last appearance at the Hippodrome was from April 19-24 1954 when they played the roles of King Charles II and Mistress Knight in the touring production of Vivian Ellis’s musical play, And So to Bed with Arthur Riscoe, Barbara Shotter, Colin Hickman, Kenneth Collinson, David Sharpe, Mostyn Evans, Richard Curnock, Gwen Nelson, Hazel Jennings, and Joy Mornay.
Jeannie C. May 2012