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.

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