MEMORIAL SERVICE AT ST PAUL'S COVENT GARDEN - OCTOBER 1984.
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:
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.
Tom Howell (standing left), Anita Edwards (seated right)
Anita Edwards (soprano)
Tom Howell (top), Anita Edwards (top right)
Thanks to Professor Morgan for giving me access to these photographs.
In the nineteen-twenties there were Pierrot shows and concert parties at nearly every British seaside resort during the summer season from May to September. These shows had started in the late nineteenth century when a small troupe of male minstrels took up a pitch on the beach front, and the only payment they received after entertaining the gathered crowd was the money collected by a bottler, who went round the crowd to make a collection. These early minstrels were usually “blacked up” men in the style of the famous George Eliot, but by the turn of the century entertainers abandoned the practice of blacking up, were clad in Pierrot costumes and there were women included in some of the troupes of Pierrots.
By the twenties the Pierrots had given way to the seaside concert party, and some of these performers even wore evening dress rather than traditional Pierrot costume. Some entertained the holiday crowds on a pitch on the beach, while others frequented pier pavilions and theatres. Bigger seaside resorts, like Blackpool, offered a variety of entertainment with top performers from the Music Hall circuit and by the thirties this line-up included popular radio and screen personalities. At smaller resorts entertainment was more modest.
A concert party, usually run by a performing manager, would consist of a pianist, a comedian, a dancer, a soubrette and several straight singers. These performers were competent professionals who spent the colder months of the year at company, livery and Masonic dinners, in cabaret at large restaurants to the accompaniment of clattering plates and loud conversation, and, as Christmas approached, in provincial pantomimes. Most of them were unknown to the wider UK public, but became firm local favourites with holiday-makers who spent their week or fortnight’s annual holiday at the same resort, year after year. Straight singers would sing popular ballads and songs of the day and sometimes take part in skits with the comedian and other members of their party.
Professor Kenneth Morgan of Swansea contacted me recently to let me know that he had photographs of the Opieros Concert Party and individual photographs of Anita Edwards, the daughter of his great-grandmother’s sister, who had been a member of the Opieros in the nineteen-twenties. I was delighted to receive copies of these photographs, unfortunately, taken before Webster Booth joined the party in 1927, but Anita is featured in each one. It seems that she joined the Opieros in 1925 and remained with them until 1927.
Tom Howell’s Opieros was different from the majority of concert parties for although he employed light entertainers, he combined his strong baritone voice with a good tenor, contralto and soprano to present scenes from the opera, hence the name of his group – Opieros – a hitherto unlikely combination of opera and pier. The group also appeared in municipal parks providing entertainment for those who had not ventured to the coast.
Like the leader of the Opieros, Tom Howell from Swansea, and tenor Lucas Bassett from Pontypridd, Anita Edwards was also Welsh, born in Llanelli on 14 November 1900. Anita Edwards was a soprano, who trained at the Royal Academy of Music with Dr Charles Phillips. While she was a student she won many prizes, including the Rutson Memorial Prize and the Westmoreland Prize. While at the Academy she sang the principal roles of Manon in Massenet’s “Manon” opposite Welsh tenor, Manuel Jones and Nedda in Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci”.
In 1924 she sang at a concert on Mumbles Pier, which also featured Frank Mullings, one of the foremost tenors of the day, and Idris Daniels of Pencader, a popular baritone. Critics praised Anita particularly for her fine singing of “One Fine Day” from “Madame Butterfly” by Puccini. On Christmas night 1925, while on holiday from her tour with the Opieros, she sang in a concert at the Llewellyn Hall, Swansea. This concert comprised selections from various oratorios and featured Frank Mullings and the Australian baritone, Harold Williams, who was considered to be one of the greatest exponents of Elijah in Mendelssohn’s oratorio,” Elijah”.
During her time with the Opieros Concert Party she sang soprano solos and featured in the various operatic ensembles presented by the Opieros. So far we have not found out what Anita Edwards did after she left the Opieros. She married Lionel Beaumont in Wandsworth, Surrey in 1949, and died in Carmarthen in mid-1986.
Webster Booth worked with Tom Howell’s brother, Henry (stage name, Henry Blain) in the D’Oyly Carte company from 1923 – 1927. When Henry heard that Webster was planning to leave D’Oyly Carte, fearing that he might remain in the chorus forever, waiting vainly to fill “dead men’s shoes”, he suggested that Webster should contact Tom, whose tenor had been taken ill. Tom employed Webster as a replacement and he remained with the Opieros until 1930, and also appeared in two Brixton pantomimes with Tom in 1927 and 1928.
Webster’s first appearance with the Opieros was in the Glasgow park pavilions where his salary in 1927 was £6.10s a week.
Judging by notices in The Stage the party was very popular and the performers and their excellent accompanist, H Baynton-Power always received good notices. Peggy Rhodes, a promising contralto, was a member of the party for some time, as well as Walter Badham the humorist and Doris Godfrey, a child mimic.
Tom Howell died in the early nineteen-fifties.
If anyone can tell me more about Tom Howell, Anita Edwards and any other members of the Opieros, please contact me.
I taught music and drama at Wheathampstead Secondary School, Herts from 1966 to 1968 and have fond memories of the children I taught. My colleague, Vera Brunskill was a flautist and had a recorder group. She and I taught ourselves the guitar and worked with groups of children who were keen to learn the instrument in the days when the Beatles were all the rage. I have a recording of a number of the children who were keen enough to give up their break to come in to the music room to work at their singing. In particular I remember Reginald Dyke and Denis Andrews, who sang duets together, Sheila Faulkner, Mary Rose andJeannette Wright. I wonder where they are now!
Wheathampstead Secondary School library. Mrs Vera Brunskill (flute), Jean Campbell (Collen) (guitar) and children playing and singing Cheelo, Cheelo.
I directed several plays at the school and enjoyed the improvised drama classes, where everyone let their imaginations run wild, although imagination was often tempered with TV series of the time, notably Till Death Us Do Part!
From the Herts Advertister.
During the time I was there the school was officially opened by the Queen Mother. We all spent a great deal of time practicing our curtsies for the moment when the headmaster, Mr JD Thomas would present us to the Queen Mother. Her private secretary came to the school several months before her visit to ascertain what she would discuss with each person being presented to her.
Although I am British by birth, I had lived in South Africa and had studied singing with Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, who were living in Johannesburg at that time. I was told that the Queen Mother would discuss South Africa and my association with Anne and Webster, whose singing she had always enjoyed.
The day of the visit was very exciting for staff and students alike. The music pupils and I played and sang Cheelo Cheelo, a South African folk song made popular by Miriam Makeba, for the Queen Mother in the school library. I still have several photographs of us in that performance, and being presented to her afterwards. She was very charming and I'm sure everyone who was present will remember that memorable day thirty-six years ago.
Me, Mrs Covey-Crump (in background) Queen Mother, Mr J.D. Thomas, Vera Brunskill.
I returned to South Africa in 1968, where I met my husband and married in 1970. I kept in touch with some of the children for a while, and with Vera Brunskill until the early 1990s. I was sorry to hear that the school in Butterfield Road is no longer there, as it began with great promise and had so many wonderful open-hearted children and staff. Jean Collen (copyright 2010)
Comments: Dear Jean You have asked what happened to your former pupils. Well Jeanette Wright is now married to Chris Heilbronn with 2 children, David 21 studying Mechatronic Engineering Kathryn 15 still at school. We are living in Auckland New Zealand. It was quite a suprise to hear Wheathampstead school had closed. I too have fond memories of the Queen mum’s visit. How she managed to look interested and attentive while I rambled on about sets and mathematics is beyond me but I suppose she had lots of practice. I remember our singing our lessons together you were always so encouraging and generous with your time. There was a dog I used to walk at lunch time did he belong to you or Mrs. Brunskil. Mr. Thomas was a wonderful headmaster and Mr and Mrs Newcombe who met the school and married shortly afterwards were fantastic teachers. I also used to baby sit for the art teacher Mrs Kirby who had her sitting room painted a dark purple walls and ceiling. When her home made ginger beer onWheathampstead Secondary School, Herts (1966-1968)
Dear Jeanette, I was delighted to hear from you and to learn what you have been doing over the years. I've been suffering from sciatica recently so perhaps treatment by an osteopath is just what I need! I remember you well and still have a tape of you and some others singing during the breaks at school, and all the teachers you mentioned. I wonder where they are, nearly 43 years later. Mrs Brunskill had a long-haired dachshund,so I imagine you took him for walks at lunchtime. I heard that she had died in St Albans a few years ago, aged over ninety. My last visit to the UK was twenty years ago, when I visited Anne Ziegler in North Wales, my Scottish roots in and around Glasgow, and friends in Notts and Lincolnshire. I had hoped to go to St Albans to see Mrs Brunskill and other friends, but I was only over for a short time and I was driving by myself on rather congested British roads, so did not manage down South. I wish you and your family well in New Zealand and hope that you on Wheathampstead Secondary School, Herts (1966-1968)
Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler spent a large part of their early careers singing in restaurants, hotels and cafés. Many of these establishments were owned by J. Lyons and Company, forebears of the attractive food fundi, Nigella Lawson. Neither of them enjoyed singing in these establishments because they had to sing over the conversation of diners, the bustle of waiters and nippies, the clatter of dishes, and in an atmosphere pervaded with the mingling smells of food, drink and tobacco. If you imagine that these places were the intimate cabaret venues one might find today, think again. Many of these restaurants and cafés were capable of seating 2000 people, most of whom were not paying close attention to the musical entertainment on offer, regarding it as mere background music.
Not only did Webster sing in Lyon’s Restaurants and Cafés, but he was often called upon to sing at Masonic, staff and livery dinners. Webster himself was a Mason and there were Lodges attached to the Savage Club and the Entertainment Artistes Association. He was an active member of both organizations, and in the 1950s he and Anne were joint presidents of the CAA for several years. I imagined that the entertainers at Masonic dinners would be limited to men, but women also entertained there. Webster particularly remembered Betsy de la Porte, the South African singer, as a fellow soloist. She always took her knitting with her on these occasions to keep herself busy as she waited to perform. There were close connections between particular restaurants and hotels and various Masonic Lodges. The Skelmersdale Lodge held their meetings at Verrey’s Hotel, Hanover Street from 1926 to January 1928, after which they moved to another hotel.
Webster’s second wife, Paddy Prior, a comedienne, soubrette and mezzo soprano, whom he married in October 1932, began entertaining at such dinners when she was not otherwise occupied in seaside summer shows, musical comedies, early television or pantomimes. Early in 1927 she appeared at the Skelmersdale Lodge Masonic Ladies’ night at their meeting place at Verrey’s Hotel, Hanover Street, apparently evoking much laughter amongst the guests with her turn. In 1928 she appeared at Anderton’s Hotel, Fleet Street, the hotel where the Magic Circle had held their meetings and which had close associations with the printing profession. The inaugural dinner of the London Press Club had been held there in 1882. There she entertained at a Printers’ Charity Concert with other performers, and in 1929 she performed for the Electrotypers & Stereotypers’ Managers’ and Overseers’ Association at Frascati’s Restaurant, Oxford Street.
In January 1928 there was a dinner of the Gallery First Nighters’ Club at the Comedy Restaurant, Panton Street, Haymarket, with Miles Malleson as the guest of honour, where a number of well-known artistes provided the entertainment, including George Metaxa, Webster Booth and Tom Howell (the leader of the Opieros, with whom Webster was working at the time) and a similarly lavish dinner for the Daily Mirror and Sunday Pictorial staffs at the Holborn Restaurant, Kingsway also featuring Webster Booth.
Paddy Prior entertained at Beale’s Masonic Hall, Holloway, while Webster, who was still calling himself by his full name, Leslie Webster Booth, appeared at a variety of Lyons Cafes, such as the Popular Café in Piccadilly, which seated 2000 diners, the Empress Rooms, and the Corner House in the Strand. The Lyons restaurants catered for different social classes. The Trocadero was luxurious and expensive, while other restaurants were more economical. Within the same venue there were often multiple restaurants, some more expensive than others.
Even in the 1930s when Webster was making a name for himself on record, radio, in the West End, Oratorio, and on film, he was still entertaining at dinners and at benefit concerts, such as one at the Finsbury Town Hall on 6 March 1930 for the Clerkenwell Benevolent Society, where South African soprano, Garda Hall was one of the other entertainers. Charles Forwood was the accompanist at this concert. Ten years later, Charles Forwood would become the regular accompanist for Anne and Webster in their variety act. In February 1931 Webster and Gladys Ripley (contralto) sang at a dinner for the Hardware and Metal Trades Musical Society at the Cannon Street Hotel. A month later he sang at the Holborn Restaurant for the Entre Nous Club, with comedienne, Suzette Tarri and comedian, Arthur Askey as fellow artists.
I would imagine that entertaining at dinners was more congenial than singing above the general hub-bub in a public restaurant or café, as those attending the arranged dinner would have a specific time set aside to enjoy the entertainment, and this would not have been while waiters were collecting dirty crockery or serving the next course.
The first time that Webster and Paddy Prior appeared together was at a concert for the Bellingham Club in April 1932. They were married in October of the same year. In January 1933 Webster sang at a meeting of the Henley Lodge, held at the Connaught rooms, which had been the headquarters of the Freemasons since 1717. After a long summer season with Paddy at Scarborough with the Piccadilly Revels later that year, Webster was entertaining the Railway men at the North End Hall, Croydon and for St Dunstan’s at the Regal Kinema, Beckenham. The Lea Valley Growers Association held their annual dinner at the Abercorn Rooms on 1 November with Webster, Bertha Wilmott, Mario de Pietro and other entertainers, and Webster entertained the Masons of the Welcome Lodge at the Adelaide Galleries on November 15th. On 21 December The Old Friends Society held their ladies festival at the Hotel Victoria. Once again Webster was one of the performers. In the early 1930s he was the guest artist at the New Year’s Annual Gathering of the Luton Industrial Co-operative Society, situated at 3-5 Hastings Street, Luton.
Irené Frances Eastwood had changed her name to Anne Ziegler in 1934 when shearrived in London from Liverpool in 1934 to sing the top voice of the octet in the musical play, By Appointment, which starred the famous soprano, Maggie Teyte. The show was not a success and closed after three weeks. Her father had lost his money in the collapse of the cotton shares so Anne decided to stay on in London to try to forge a career there rather than return to Liverpool and add to her father’s financial woes. She found work singing in Joseph Lyons’ venues, and continued this work, on and off, for two years. She sang at the Regent Palace Hotel, Glass House Street, the Popular Cafe in Piccadilly, The Strand Corner House, the Trocadero, the Café de la Paix, the Café Monico, Piccadilly Circus, the Piccadilly, and the Cumberland Hotel, Marble Arch. She often worked on the same bill as Leslie Hutchinson, “Hutch” at the Cumberland.
On 20 February 1936 Webster and Paddy Prior contributed to the musical programme at the ladies’ festival of the Hendon Lodge, held at the Piccadilly Hotel and the pair entertained again in April when the Lyric Lodge of Instruction met at Gatti’s Restaurant. Later that month he sang for the annual dinner of the London Meat Trades’ and Drovers’ Benevolent Association at the Connaught Rooms. It demonstrates Webster Booth’s versatility that, on 10 April 1936, he was the tenor soloist in the Good Friday Messiah at the Albert Hall.
On 29 April Webster entertained at the annual dinner of the London Commercial Chess League at the Northumberland Rooms, Trafalgar Square, along with Leonard Henry. The last engagement Webster and Paddy worked together was at the 84th Annual Dinner of the City Musical Union at the Holborn Restaurant on April 30 1936, attended by 500 people. He had met Anne Ziegler during the filming of The Faust Fantasy at the end of 1934, and this meeting was instrumental in ending Webster’s short marriage with Paddy in 1938.
At the end of May he and Paddy went to the wedding of Violet Stevens and Bryan Courage and attended the reception at Frascati’s. This was the last time it was noted that they were out together as a married couple. I presume that they made a determined effort to avoid appearing at joint engagements in future. They both continued to perform at dinners, many connected with the Masons, although, by this time Webster was a regular broadcaster, oratorio soloist and film actor. In January 1937 he sang at the annual dinner of the Ham and Beef National Trade Association at the Holborn Restaurant and at the City Musical Union, this time at the Cannon Street Hotel, and at the Charrilock Social Club dinner at the Trocadero in March.
Webster started singing with Anne in 1937 and literally burnt his boats as far as Paddy was concerned, when he went with Anne to New York where she had been booked to appear in the musical, Virginia at the Center Theater there. They were married on 5 November 1938.
Paddy joined ENSA at the outbreak of war. In 1947 war she immigrated to Australia. Ironically, while Paddy was entertaining the troops in various theatres of war, Anne and Webster rose to great fame as romantic duettists on the variety stages of the UK, but eventually immigrated to South Africa in 1956.
The Booths returned to the UK in 1978 and in December 1979, were invited to present a Sunday afternoon concert at the Cumberland and were given a week’s luxury accommodation there to commemorate their appearances there early on in their careers.