Sunday, July 31, 2011



The back garden of Nellie Balfour’s home near Falkirk was filled with an assortment of fuchsias. She did not see too well these days, but it still gave her pleasure to walk through the archway of pink briar roses at her back door into the garden to marvel at the mauve, pink and white combinations of fuchsias, planted so lovingly by her late husband, Bob, many years before.

On the spur of the moment, her grand daughter, Marion had asked if she could come up to visit for a few days. She had sounded dejected on the phone. Nellie trusted she was not having problems either at school or in her personal life.

Marion, a lively red-head with accompanying creamy complexion and blue dancing eyes, was twenty-five years old, a music teacher at a school in Belmont, a small town south of London. She relished teaching and was working towards a higher singing diploma to add to her qualifications. She sang in a big choral society in London and had taken several leading parts in productions of the Belmont Operatic and Dramatic Society. Only a fortnight ago Marion had written a joyful letter to tell Nellie she had been chosen to play Phoebe in The Yeomen of the Guard and rehearsals were well under way. What could have gone wrong in such a short time?

Nellie heard the doorbell chime and hastened creakily from the fuchsia garden to the front door. Her grand daughter was standing dejectedly on the doorstep surrounded by suitcases. Far too many suitcases for a short visit, thought Nellie, rather alarmed, as she stretched out her arms in welcome, and Marion rushed into them, resting her head on her grandmother’s ample bosom, before bursting into tears. Nellie remained calm and still, stroking Marion’s thick locks gently.

After a few moments, as Marion became even more agitated, Nellie said, “Come away in, dear. Sit yourself down and I’ll put the kettle on. You can tell me all about it in a minute.”

With tears still falling freely, splattering on her shoes and then to the ground, Marion managed to pick up the suitcases, leaving them near the staircase leading up to the room with the sloping roof, where she had slept as a child on visits to her grandparents. All she wanted now was to go upstairs, hide herself in the small bed under the eaves, and forget the treachery engendered by her fellow human beings – one in particular - in the outside world.

With a cup of hot strong tea and a piece of grandma’s succulent gingerbread, dripping with melting butter, in front of her, Marion wiped her eyes, realising she must look a sorry sight. She had been weeping on and off on the flight to Edinburgh and then on the bus to Falkirk. For the first time in her life, she was completely miserable.

“You remember I wrote to you about our new musical director at the operatic,” she began. “Gregory Sullivan.”

Nellie remembered Marion’s effusive letter praising Gregory Sullivan to the heights. An excellent musician, the musical director at a local church and head of music at a public school, he and the committee had chosen Marion for the part of Phoebe. All the women in the show, including Marion, thought he was charming and handsome. He was in his mid-thirties, a product of a minor public school, with the resulting accent and self-confidence. He had an even temper except when things didn’t go right musically. Then he lost patience and made the offender feel small and stupid.

After a few rehearsals, he asked her to dinner and she was thrilled to be singled out. They had a lot in common and enjoyed their evening together.

Nellie particularly remembered that Marion was flattered when he had kissed her gently on her doorstep at the end of the evening, without trying to pressurise her into anything more, as most of her other dates did as a matter of course. She had gone up to her little apartment feeling on the top of the world, longing to see him again.

Marion seemed to know exactly where to pick up the story to tell her grandmother:

I lay in bed that night thinking about the wonderful evening I had with Greg. He had good manners and we just seemed to feel comfortable with each other, as though we’d known one another for years.

After our initial date, Greg discovered my cosy flat, where he was content to have coffee with me after rehearsals. He would arrange to come round to the flat, but he never singled me out more than any of the others, although we were seeing each other regularly by then.

Once I bumped into him in the wings when it was dark and we were by ourselves. He suddenly took me in his arms and kissed me quite fiercely, and then, just as abruptly, he stopped, when all I wanted was to stay in his arms forever. I was breathless and fired up by his kiss so I felt lost when he pulled away from me.

”Are you ashamed to be seen with me?” I asked, reaching for his hand.

”Not at all,” he replied, ‘But I am the musical director and it won’t do much for my authority if I show you undue attention. You do understand, Marion? Anyway, I’ll see you at your flat later. We’ll have all the time in the world to ourselves then.”

His lips brushed my forehead and he was gone. I felt restless and excited, wanting the rehearsal to end early so that we could spend more time alone together. I hoped we might see each other at the weekends: maybe go to a concert or a play. I suggested this one evening, but he was quite sharp about it.

“No good, Marion. I save the weekends for my mother. She’s not well you see, so I go to her home in Watford. She can’t get out much so my visits mean a lot to her.’’

”I’d be happy to go with you and cheer her up,” I said, without thinking I was being forward. “I usually get on with older people.”

But the minute I spoke, I could see I had gone too far. He was furious that I was trying to muscle in on his private life.

“My mother doesn’t welcome strangers,” he said coldly and left soon afterwards.

Not long after that evening, at a principals’ music rehearsal, I was sitting next to Angus Urquhart, another Scot like me. He’s playing Colonel Fairfax and sings beautifully. He’s a doctor in a practice in the town, after a long stint in the local hospital. He had to choose between music and medicine when he left school. He’s the nearest thing to a pro in our society.

Angus looks like a young Viking and we were all thrilled that night when he stood up to sing his solo, ‘Is life a boon?’ He has a beautiful unforced tenor voice and he’s taking lessons with my teacher, Helen McAlpine. We worked on some of the vocal ensembles and then Greg called a halt to the rehearsal for that night.

”Don’t forget that stage rehearsals start in two weeks time, so get all your songs and your dialogue by memory so that we can do the walk through with the director without scripts and scores holding us back.”

Greg smiled at the groans that greeted his remarks. Learning things by heart takes up a lot of time when you have to do it sandwiched between work and house keeping.

”Do you have a lift home?” Angus asked me, catching my arm as I was walking out of the hall. ”I could drop you off, if you like.”

”You’re very kind, but my car’s outside. I have to rush tonight for I’ve an early start in the morning.”

I smiled at him, anxious to leave as soon as I could, impatient to see Greg.

”Of course. Perhaps we could go out for a meal sometime, Marion? What do you think?”

I couldn’t stand there making small talk with Angus when Greg had already left and was probably at my flat already, annoyed because I wasn’t there yet.

”Lovely. We’ll talk soon. I have to go,” I said, hoping Angus would have forgotten his offer by next rehearsal. He’s a delightful handsome man, but I was besotted with Greg, with eyes for no one else.

My fingers trembled as I turned on the ignition in my little Uno and drove the short distance home. I feel a bit awkward telling you this, Grandma, but after coffee, we always ended up on the sofa kissing, as though we never wanted to let go of each other. You’ll probably think it all wrong, but I didn’t want to stop at kisses. I could never understand why he was always the one to call a halt, when I wanted him to stay with me so badly.

“Can’t you stay the night?” I whispered. “I really want you, Greg.”

Marion blushed, wondering whether her grandmother was disgusted with her being so frank. She knew that, had she told the same tale to her mother, she would already be having a lecture about morality, pride and dignity. That was why she had made the long journey to Scotland, rather than drive the few miles to her family home.

But her grandmother’s face was composed, as she listened closely and compassionately to Marion’s tale. Marion continued:

“Sorry, dear” he said bluffly. “I have a full day of school tomorrow and so have you, but I’ll see you in two weeks, won’t I?”

He wouldn’t budge and I felt sad and shoddy begging him to stay.

Once again, he held me, almost squeezing the breath from my body. “Sleep well, love,” he murmured as he closed my door firmly. I could hear his resolute footsteps on the pebble path on his way to his car.

That night I lay in bed shivering and weeping with frustration. I was mad about him and would have done anything for him, but although he relished our passionate kisses, he had behaved like a skittish girl, driving me to the brink of fulfilment, then saying no.

There were chorus rehearsals for the next few weeks. I didn’t hear from Greg and I wondered whether he’d given me up after my outburst. I thought of phoning him to apologise for being a pain, but he’d think I was being pushy, so I left it. Obviously he didn’t want to take our relationship too fast and I couldn’t press him in case he dumped me, and that I couldn’t bear.

I didn’t see Angus either, which meant I had no need to make up excuses for to avoid going on a date with him. I had a lot to do at school that week for we’re preparing an entertainment for the end of term. By the weekend I was counting the hours till Thursday evening’s rehearsal, when we would have our first walk through on stage with the director, Sabine Hunt. Greg and I could spend time together again. I was missing him terribly.

Greg led Sabine Hunt into the hall on Thursday evening. She was tall, dark and imposing, in her late thirties, with smooth dark hair drawn back in a severe bun. She’s starting to make her name as a professional director, so our society is lucky to have her working with us. I had only seen her once before at the auditions.

The accompanist was there and Greg was conducting us from the bow of the piano, emphasising that we had to keep half an eye on him, despite now having to move and act as well as sing. I start the show, sitting at a spinning wheel. There’s a long introduction to my song, ironically entitled, ‘When maiden loves she sits and sighs…’ Sabine Hunt was on a chair next to Greg. I saw them whispering to one another, his hand on her shoulder, during the introduction. I was jealous and nearly missed my cue, and when he gave it, he avoided looking at me directly.

We went through the rehearsal, marking our moves according to Sabine Hunt’s directions. She was polite, but authoritative. She would be formidable if things went wrong. All the time I was trying to catch Greg’s eye, but it seemed he was avoiding me. Had I disgusted him the last time he had been in the flat? Although he treated me the same as the others, he usually found time to give me that special look, which always turned my nether regions to jelly. I was determined to speak to him. I was past caring what anyone might think.

Doctor Urquhart arrived late. He seemed upset and didn’t sing as well as usual. We were in the wings together waiting for our separate entrances. I took a chance to ask if everything was all right.

”Just a bit of worry over one of my patients,” he whispered. ”I’ll ring the hospital later and see how things are going.”

He looked rather forlorn and suddenly very boyish. I squeezed his hand.

“I hope you have good news,” I whispered. I heard my cue and had to make my entrance hurriedly.

When I arrived in the Blue Room most of the others were drinking coffee or mineral water from the dispenser. Angus stood up and beckoned to me.

”I got you some coffee. I hope it’s what you want.”

I sat down and sipped gratefully. I saw Greg at the next table with Sabine, deep in conversation, so I couldn’t catch his eye, far less go over and speak to him as I had planned. Angus was trying to make conversation, but I hardly listened to what he was saying. All I wanted was to speak to Greg. With a start, I saw him cover Sabine’s hand with his. Was she his new interest? Was he going to spend the rest of the show ignoring me now that he was with Sabine?

After the rehearsal, I hung around at the stage door, praying Greg would come out on his own. Angus left before me. He was the one in a hurry that night.

”I want to phone the hospital so that I can sleep easy tonight,” he said. ”I haven’t forgotten our date, by the way. I’ll have a few days off next week – we’ll talk at the next rehearsal.”

He squeezed my hand briefly. I was surprised he was still thinking of the date after the offhand way I had treated him earlier.

Just then Greg and Sabine emerged at the stage door, he with his arm round her shoulder, not seeming to mind if any of the cast thought he was being too friendly towards her. I was blocking their path, feeling forlorn and awkward so he had no alternative but to stop before me.

”Good evening, Marion’, he said bluffly, nonplussed at my unexpected appearance. “I thought everything went well this evening,” he said with a bland smile, but with no warmth in his brown eyes.

Sabine smiled more effusively than her companion. ”Yes, the show’s going to be great once I’ve put in some hard work, and with Greg as musical director, I have no fears for the music.”

Before I could answer, she turned and smiled archly at Greg. This is it, I thought. I'm being dumped and he doesn't even have the guts to tell me. There was an awkward silence. I was holding them up. Greg could hardly contain his impatience.

Eventually he said, “I don’t know whether you know that Sabine is my wife? She’s been directing a play in London for the past month.”

I could feel my mouth drying and my heart beating in my throat, nearly choking me.

”And it’s just wonderful to be home again,” smiled Sabine, drawing herself closer to Greg. 

“Goodnight, Marion – that’s right isn’t it – we’ll meet again on Tuesday.”

I stood aside limply, watching their retreating figures, still arm in arm, Sabine’s head now on Greg’s shoulder. Don’t ask how I got home. Thank goodness, there were no policemen to witness my erratic driving. I wanted to curl up and die, give up my job, definitely leave the show, maybe even move back here and stay with you, Grandma. I took a stiff brandy to settle my stomach and at last, I managed to sleep. I called in sick this morning, when the only thing I could do was to come up here and forget the mess at home. I beg you not to tell Mum and Dad – you can imagine what Mum would say.

If I’d known Greg was married, I wouldn’t have looked at him twice. I loved him, but he’s just made a fool of me, with that silly tale of his sick mother in Watford taking up his weekends. He knew I’d find out eventually so why tell me lies? Now I just feel furious that I’ve been so gullible. I was begging him to go all the way with me. If you’ve got advice, Grandma, I’ll take it. I feel useless and I don’t know what to do. I just want to feel better.

“Come through to the kitchen, dear. You can help me put an omelette together for our supper. You must be famished,” said her grandmother.

Away from the frenetic life she lived in the south of England, the tragedy seemed less intense, even a bit trite, sitting here in her sensible grandmother’s cosy kitchen. They had a light meal and talked of other things, as though Greg Sullivan did not exist – her parents in St Albans, her job at Belmont Junior School, the extra work for the higher singing diploma – anything to avoid the dreaded Greg.

Marion was relieved that Greg and she had not consummated their passion, for passion was all it could have been on his part. He had probably missed Sabine, and was partial to the company and admiration of a pretty young woman, especially when each evening was rounded off with kisses, like sweetmeats after a decent meal.

Marion and Nellie sat in the front room with cups of cocoa. Only then did her grandmother deliver her advice. Marion listened carefully. Eventually she took the suitcases up to the little room with the slanted roof. She slept well and spent the rest of her time with Nellie peacefully, even with moments of contentment. Mentally she rehearsed putting Nellie’s suggestions into practice.

On Monday evening, she attended the rehearsal for The Yeomen as usual. It was a music rehearsal, as Sabine Hunt had returned to London to rectify a dilemma in the play she had recently directed. Marion greeted everyone cheerfully and was glad Angus had saved a place for her. Greg was late, so she chatted to Angus, this time listening closely to what he had to say, even finding it interesting. She discovered that, apart from their love and understanding of music, they had other things in common: an extensive knowledge of the theatre, favourite authors who were not entirely fashionable in present day Britain: Priestley, Tilsley, Maugham, Cronin. Marion was delighted that Angus loved Beverley Nichols’ novel Evensong, the story of a fading prima donna, as much as she did herself. They were united in their dislike for gym workouts. Marion had exercise from ice skating and swimming, while Angus liked cycling on country roads when he could find the time.

“A few of us are going to have a drink at the Queen’s Head after the practice. Would you like to come along?” asked Angus before the rehearsal began. “Just a quick one,” he added when he saw her hesitate. “We’ve all been working so hard we haven’t had a chance to get to know one another.”

She smiled, remembering her grandmother’s advice.

‘I’ll be there. I was up to Scotland visiting my Grandma this past week end, so I’m still recovering from the long trip.”

“Where does she live?” he asked. “I haven’t had a moment to get up to my folks lately. I’m quite often on call at the weekends.”

“She lives near Falkirk, in the same house I remember as a child, where my mother was raised. It did me good to see her again.”

“I’m from Stirling myself,” said Angus. “Maybe we could go up together after the show is over. I could drop you at your Gran’s and go on to my own family. We could maybe meet up while we were there.”

Marion smiled wryly. She hadn’t even been out with Angus in Belmont yet so perhaps he was premature in his plans for Scotland.

Greg came in while she was chatting and she didn’t even notice his arrival. She was glad her trip to her grandmother’s had helped her come to terms with her sadness and hurt. Had she remained in Belmont she would still be devastated.

They managed to get through the entire score without any major disasters. Most of them knew their songs and ensembles now without referring to the score.

At the break, Greg came over to the table in the Blue Room where Marion was drinking coffee with Angus and several other cast members.

“Could I see you for a moment, Marion?” he asked.

He looked serious and commanding. She wondered if her singing had not been up to standard, although she knew he would have bawled her out in front of everyone if she had been bad. He drew her quite roughly by her arm to the door of the Blue Room. She felt self-conscious, still ashamed of her bad judgement.

“Look, Marion, I could see you were shocked to find out that I’m married, but I thought everyone knew. Sabine’s quite famous and we’re often featured in the papers as a couple. I thought you were seeing me with your eyes open. Am I forgiven?”

He looked directly at Marion with contrite brown eyes. Her heart almost melted from the granite state to which it had hardened in the last few days. Then she thought of her grandmother and the advice she had given her. She steeled herself to follow it to the letter.

“I wouldn’t have invited you to my flat for coffee or dined with you if I had known you were married,” she said coldly. “I’m not a woman who messes with someone else’s husband. You even told me outright lies – remember your sick mother in Watford! If there was no secret about your marriage, why tell me a lie about where you spent your weekends?”

“I didn’t mean to upset you, darling,” he wheedled. “Can I come round to the flat tonight and make it up to you? It’s so lovely to relax with you. It isn’t as though I’m betraying Sabine. We haven’t been to bed together, have we? We’re just good friends.”

Marion was beginning to lose her temper. How could she have felt anything for this self-centred man who ignored everything he didn’t want to hear? She was about to give him a mouthful, but once again, she saw her grandmother’s gentle face. If she lost her temper Greg would know he had really hurt her. She paused before speaking, summoning up all her acting ability.

“Sorry, Greg. I’ve made my plans for tonight,” she said casually. “I’d better go. My coffee’s getting cold.”

Outwardly calm, Marion returned to her seat at the table with Angus and the others. She just had time to finish her coffee before she was due back in the rehearsal hall.

“Is there a problem?” Angus asked, putting his hand over hers.

“No problem at all,” smiled Marion as they walked back to the hall, hand in hand.

Jeannie C© 31/7/2011

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Friday, July 22, 2011


Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth in South Africa from DO YOU REMEMBER ANNE ZIEGLER AND WEBSTER BOOTH?

This book tells Pamela Davies' story of her keen admiration of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth in the forties and early fifties. Shortly after Anne and Webster returned to the UK from South Africa in 1978, Pamela began corresponding with Anne and became good friends with her. The book includes THE BODY OF WORK OF ANNE ZIEGLER AND WEBSTER BOOTH, compiled and edited by Jean Collen. Jean has listed many of their engagements on stage, screen, radio and television from 1924 to 1994. She has also written the section about the Booth's time in South Africa.

Early days in Johannesburg

Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth settled in South Africa in the middle of 1956. In November 1955 they had toured the Cape with the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra, and then returned to the UK to fulfil engagements over Christmas. Towards the end of January 1956 they were back in South Africa to appear in the major cities in the Transvaal, Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban and Pietermaritzburg, before doing a tour of the country districts of the Transvaal. They also went to various countries north of South Africa. In this second tour they were accompanied by Arthur Tatler on the piano.

Johannesburg 1962

A great fuss was made of them when they came to Johannesburg in 1956. There was even a notice in The Rand Daily Mail advising people of the time of their plane’s arrival at 5.50 pm on Saturday afternoon 28 January. They were entertained by the Mayor, Leslie Hurd, in the mayoral parlour. The Mayor spoke to the assembled gathering of local celebrities about the fact that he shared a Christian name with Webster as Webster’s first name was also Leslie.

The critics were rather severe in their judgement of their Johannesburg recital, viewing them as ballad singers rather than operatic singers, although both Dora Sowden from The Rand Daily Mail and Oliver Walker from The Star agreed that Anne and Webster knew how to charm their audiences. The writers of the “women’s pages” were much more enthusiastic. Amelia from the Women’s Journal in The Star gave a fulsome report of one of their concerts on 20 February 1956:

“When the two appeared in the City Hall on Thursday night the crowd was screaming to stamping stage with enthusiasm even though the artistes had been most generous in their encores.

Miss Ziegler wore one of the lovely crinolines which she always chooses for stage appearances. This one had a black velvet bodice and a skirt of gold and black tissue brocade. With her diamond jewellery she was a scintillating figure under the lights.”

They had made up their minds to settle in the country and returned to the UK merely to sort out their affairs and make arrangements to have their belongings shipped to South Africa.

On their return by the Union Castle ship, The Pretoria Castle, they stayed for several months at Dawson’s Hotel in Johannesburg while they looked for a suitable place to live. They eventually found a pleasant flat at Waverley, just off Louis Botha Avenue in Highlands North, where they lived until they bought their first house in Craighall Park. They were lucky to obtain the services of Hilda, who hailed from the island of St Helena, to be their housekeeper. Hilda remained with them during their eleven years in Johannesburg.
A Night in Venice (1956)

They had an engagement to star in A Night in Venice with the Johannesburg Operatic Society in November, and Webster was asked to sing the tenor solo in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at a Symphony concert. The work was presented as part of the Johannesburg Festival to celebrate Johannesburg’s seventieth birthday. Sir Malcolm Sargent, who had conducted Webster at several London concerts the previous year, was the conductor at the Johannesburg concert, while other soloists were Webster’s old friend, Betsy de la Porte (contralto), whom he remembered from his early days at Masonic dinners, Frederick Dalberg (bass) and the young coloratura soprano, Mimi Coertse, who was beginning to make her name in Vienna.

Rather incongruously Webster took the Tommy Handley part in a series of ITMA scripts acquired by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (the SABC). This thirteen-week series was entitled Light up and Laugh, sponsored by Gold Flake Cigarettes, and produced by the Herrick-Merrill production house.

Although Anne had driven a car in her youth she had allowed her British driving licence to lapse after she married Webster. They realised that it would be necessary for them to run two cars in South Africa, so Anne had to do a South African driving test. The Booths had brought two cars from the UK: a sea-green Zephyr Zodiac and a pale blue Hillman convertible.

She was taught to drive by an Afrikaans ex-traffic policeman. At her first lesson he made her drive along Louis Botha Avenue, in those days the main road from Pretoria through the suburbs into Johannesburg. There was a bus boycott on at the time. Thousands of people were walking along Louis Botha Avenue from the townships of Alexandra and Sophiatown to their work places in the city centre. Anne was very nervous, fearing that she might knock somebody down. Despite the adverse circumstances of her first driving lessons she soon passed her test and proved to be an excellent driver. She went on driving until shortly before her death in 2003.

In the first year or two after their arrival in South Africa they were fêted by everyone, invited to all the society parties, and offered all kinds of engagements. Anne took her first non-singing part in Angels in Love, the story of Little Lord Fauntleroy and his mother, Dearest, the role played by Anne. They appeared in Spring Quartet in Cape Town under the direction of Leonard Schach, and replayed their parts in A Night in Venice to Durban audiences. They even went to East London in the Border coastal region to sing at the city’s Hobby Exhibition, and they were heard often on the radio. Not only did they do frequent broadcasts but their records were played constantly by other presenters, who marvelled that such a famous couple had chosen to settle in South Africa.

In 1957 they opened their school of Singing and Stagecraft at their studio on the eighth floor of Polliack’s Building at the corner of Eloff and Pritchard Streets in the city centre. They held a party to celebrate the opening of the studio and invited musical and society glitterati, who eagerly crammed into the studio for the occasion and were suitably impressed by the array of pictures of Anne and Webster, taken with internationally famous friends and colleagues, adorning one of the studio walls.

The original plan was that Webster would teach singing, while Anne would teach stagecraft, but in the end they both taught singing, and Anne acted as accompanist to the students. At first they did not attract many students as their fees were much higher than those of local singing teachers. Eventually they reduced the fees and managed to attract more students.

In 1963 Anne said that all the local Johannesburg celebrities and socialites who had tried to cultivate them when they first arrived in South Africa, soon left them alone once they realised that they were not as wealthy as imagined, that they actually had to work for a living and were not free to attend the races and other such activities.

Later years in Johannesburg

Anne and Webster had never taught singing before. They had been far too busy performing in the UK to have had the time or the inclination to teach, although in 1955 Webster had placed an ad in The Musical Times in the UK, which intimated that he would consider taking a few singing pupils. Neither had formal music teaching qualifications but Anne was a competent pianist, and they adopted common sense methods of teaching singing, which had stood them in good stead during their own careers.
      Anne always said that singing was merely an advanced form of speech. They concentrated on good breathing habits and on using correct vowel sounds. The basis of “straight” singing was that one sang through the vowels and attached consonants at the beginning and end of the vowels to create good diction. There were five vowels: ah, êh, ee, oo and oh, and from these vowels all words could be sung. Diphthongs in words such as “I”, were created by a combination of two basic vowels – in this case - ah and ee.
     They were very particular about dropping the jaw on higher notes. One of their exercises to master this technique was based on the sounds “rah, fah, lah, fah”. It was also essential to keep the tongue flat in the floor of the mouth just behind the teeth, and an exercise on a repeated “cah” sound was good for training the tongue to remain flat and not rise in the mouth to bottle up the sound. The “mee” sound was produced as one would sing “moo”, so that the vowel was covered and focused, rather than spread. The jaw had to be dropped on all the vowels in the upper register, including the “ee” and “oo” vowels, which one is inclined to sing with a closed mouth. They also emphasized that words like “near” and “dear” should be sung on a pure “ee” vowel, rather than rounding off the word so that it sounded like “nee-ahr” or “dee-ahr”.
     The voice should be placed in a forward position, “in the mask” as Anne always said, so that it resonated in the sinus cavities. They did not dwell on the different vocal registers unless they detected a distinctive “change of gear” from one register to the other.
     Webster continued his oratorio singing in South Africa. Drummond Bell, who had conducted the JODS’ production of A Night in Venice the year before, was the organist and choir master at St George’s Presbyterian Church in Noord Street. He asked Webster to sing in The Crucifixion at Easter 1957. He also sang the part of the Soul in The Dream of Gerontius in Cape Town later that year. The conductor was the young organist Keith Jewell (then aged 27). It was the first time that the work was performed in South Africa. Webster always held Keith Jewell in very high regard, and he appeared as guest artiste in Anne and Webster’s “farewell” concert in 1975.
      He and Anne also sang in performances of Messiah at several Presbyterian churches towards the end of 1957, and Webster adjudicated at the Scottish eisteddfod in November. Astutely he awarded the young soprano, Anne Hamblin 95 per cent for her singing. She was to do well in her singing career in Johannesburg and is still remembered for her part in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris in the nineteen-seventies. Webster sang regularly in various oratorios at the annual Port Elizabeth Oratorio Festival, conducted by Robert Selley, and, in Pietermaritzburg  did  and Elijah for Barry Smith (1963) and The Creation (1964) at Pietermaritzburg for Ronald Charles, successive directors of music for Michaelhouse School in the early sixties.
     Anne and Webster appeared frequently in various advertisements on screen and in the press. Early in Anne’s career she had modelled for an advertisement for Craven A cigarettes. She had learnt a valuable lesson at this assignment when the photographer told her that the photograph would mean nothing unless she smiled at the camera with complete sincerity, despite the fact that she had never smoked a cigarette in her life. They had also endorsed Ronson cigarette lighters in the late nineteen-forties and made an advert to promote Parker pens.      

Merrie England 1958

Advert for Lourenco Marques Radio (1960)

Advert for Skol Beer (1961) 

In late 1957 they were featured in an advert for Lloyd’s Adrenaline cream. According to the advertisement, this cream had given Webster relief from the excruciating sciatic pain he had suffered on their fleeting visit to Calgary to appear in Merrie England. Apparently Anne used the cream whenever she had an attack of fibrositis. Anne also endorsed Stork margarine (although the last thing she enjoyed was cooking and baking), a hair preparation and a polish. Webster appeared on film as a French boulevard roué in an ad for a product I have now forgotten, and they were featured in an advertisement listening avidly to Lourenco Marques radio, and celebrating a special occasion with a glass of Skol beer. For this last ad Webster was obliged to grow a beard!
     1957 and 1958 were very busy years for the Booths in South Africa. In 1958, for example, they went from one production to another in as many months: Waltz Time in Springs; Merrie England in East London; Vagabond King in Durban; and Merrie England again in Johannesburg. Anne was also principal boy in pantomime in East London at the end of that year.

Waltz Time East London (1959)
      But 1959 was not quite as busy. They were asked to appear in East London again, this time in Waltz Time, and Anne was the Fairy Godmother in The Glass Slipper for Children’s Theatre in Johannesburg towards the end of the year.
      From then on they built up their teaching practice and began directing musicals for amateur societies in various parts of the country. In 1959 they did an interesting Sunday afternoon programme on Springbok Radio entitled Do You Remember? in which they told the story of their lives, based on their autobiography, Duet. They also recorded their popular duets in Afrikaans that year.
     By the nineteen-sixties they were no longer appearing regularly in musicals although Anne took the unsuitable part of Mrs Squeezum in Lock Up Your Daughters, a restoration musical by Lionel Bart at the end of 1960. Her big song in the show was entitled When Does the Ravishing Begin? A very far cry from We’ll Gather Lilacs! In 1963, aged 61, Webster took over the role of Colonel Fairfax – the juvenile lead - in The Yeomen of the Guard for the Johannesburg Operatic Society. He had not been JODS’ original choice, but was asked to take over the part at very short notice. In 1964 Webster and Anne appeared in a Cape Performing Art’s Board (CAPAB) production of Noel Coward’s Family Album, a one act play in Tonight at 8.30. It could hardly be called a musical although there was some singing in it.
     They appeared in a number of straight plays in the nineteen-sixties. Webster was the Prawn in The Amorous Prawn and took the small part of the Doctor in a very long and serious play called The Andersonville Trial. They played Mr and Mrs Fordyce in the comedy, Goodnight Mrs Puffin at the beginning of 1963 and, just before they left Johannesburg for Knysna, Webster was the non-singing Circus Barker in the Performing Art’s Company of the Transvaal’s (PACT’s) production of The Bartered Bride, while Anne played the wife of a circus performer in The Love Potion for the same company at the same time.
      They remained in Johannesburg until the middle of 1967. Anne was suffering from hay fever, which was becoming worse the longer she remained in Johannesburg. There were times, especially at night, when she could hardly breathe. Anne had a number of allergy tests done, but these did not pinpoint the exact cause of her hay fever. They decided to move to the coast in the hope that Anne’s hay fever would ease, and in the hope of a more peaceful life as they grew older.
     At the beginning of 1967 they went on a coastal holiday. They thought Port St Johns in the (then) Transkei was very attractive but slightly too remote for them. The village of Knysna on the Garden Route was more to their taste. They bought a house in Paradise, Knysna and returned to Johannesburg to put their affairs in order and plan their move to the coast.

Knysna and Somerset West

It must have given them a sense of déjá vu to receive such a warm great welcome in Knysna. Anne’s hay fever vanished within a few weeks and she concluded that dust from the mine dumps in Johannesburg had been the cause of the hay fever. 
    They were soon as busy as ever, with concerts, ranging from oratorio with the Knysna and District Choral Society, to variety concerts with local artistes, and pantomimes, in which Anne not only played principal boy once again, but wrote the scripts into the bargain. They started teaching and trained several talented singers, in particular soprano, Ena van der Vyver, who sang in many performances with them. 
Ena van der Vyver and Anne Ziegler in Knysna pantomime (late 1960s)

 Webster Booth - directing "Mikado" in Guild Theatre, East London (1973)
     Anne was also asked to produce several shows for the Port Elizabeth Musical and Dramatic Society, and Webster produced The Mikado in East London in 1973.
     Anne’s friend Babs Wilson-Hill (Marie Thompson) visited them in Knysna from the UK, and, in 1973, Anne went to Portugal and the UK to spend a holiday with her and to appear in a British TV show at the same time. Anne and Webster were getting older and Anne longed to return home to the UK.  

Babs Wilson-Hill (Marie Thompson) in her lovely garden in Old Colwyn, North Wales (aged 94)
     In 1975 they moved to Somerset West, believing that the cost of living there would be lower than in upmarket Knysna. They bought a cottage in Picardy Avenue with a beautiful view of the mountain, but despite being nearer to Cape Town they were not offered much radio work and did not find many singing students. Webster ran the Somerset West and District Choral Society and presented several oratorios, but was not paid a fee for his work with this society. Towards the end of that year they gave what was to be their "farewell" concert in Somerset West.
     Babs realised that although Anne and Webster were keen to return to the UK, they could not afford to buy or rent accommodation there. She kindly offered to buy a property for them where they would be able to live rent-free for the rest of their lives. The offer was too good to refuse. At the beginning of 1978 they left South Africa to return to the UK. Having given their farewell concert a few years earlier they did not expect to perform again, but they were soon in demand by fans who had not forgotten them from over twenty years earlier. Thus they embarked, on what Anne termed, their "third" career.

Jean Collen © 22 July 2011


Pamela Davies first heard Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth singing on the radio when she was a teenage evacuee in Devon in the early nineteen-forties. She became a staunch fan of the couple, attended as many of their performances as possible, collected press cuttings and made her own notes about the shows and concerts she saw.
When Anne and Webster returned from South Africa in 1978 she wrote to them to welcome them home. Much to her surprise, not only did Anne reply to her letter, but began a regular correspondence with her. After Webster's death in 1984, Pam and her late husband, Walter took Anne out for lunch whenever they were in North Wales, and they became good friends.
This is an interesting account of Pam's association with them over the years, first as a fan, and later as a friend. By no means is this an uncritical account by a starry-eyed fan, but tells of the couple's loss of popularity after the war, leading to their decision to settle in South Africa from 1956 to 1978.

I can thoroughly recommend this fascinating and thoughtfully written book to those who are interested in the lives and careers of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth. 
Jeannie C 10 July 2011  ©