▶ This year of Theatreland (1936) Webster Booth, Janet Lind and chorus. – Video Dailymotion

 

Webster Booth at the height of his fame.

Webster Booth at the height of his fame.

▶ This year of Theatreland (1936) Webster Booth, Janet Lind and chorus. – Video Dailymotion.

FAINT HARMONY by JEAN COLLEN

25 January 2014

I have just published the second novel in my trilogy! Faint Harmony

Here is a short extract from Chapter 1 of the book:

CHAPTER ONE
MALCOLM CRAIG – September 1939

On the 20 September 1939 I entered Broadcast House in Whiteladies Road, Bristol. It was a lovely late summer’s day without a trace of autumn chill in the air, so it would have been very pleasant to spend the day outdoors rather than in a sterile broadcasting studio which remained chilly no matter what the weather was like outside. I was all set to sing in several broadcasts that day, as had been my routine since the outbreak of the war a few weeks earlier. Sometimes I gave a solo recital; at other times I sang duets or in ensembles with other singers. Today would be a mixture of all three.Rather absentmindedly I collected my letters from the receptionist and gave them a perfunctory glance as I made my way towards the studio. I recognised Marina’s distinctive bold handwriting on the fattest envelope in the pile and looked forward to reading her latest voluble screed when I had a moment to myself during the course of my busy day. There were a few typed business letters but they could wait until I returned to my digs at the end of the day, although I did pause for a moment to thank heaven that I was now in a position to pay any outstanding bills. I wasn’t exactly a world-beater yet, but I was an established and respected singer, never without work, and most of that work had been far better paid than the work I was doing right now on the staff of the BBC.I noticed yet another envelope written in a hand I recognised, but, just for a moment, I could not place who had written it. The postmark was smudged so I looked at the back of the envelope for a return address. As far as I could recall, I knew nobody in Wigton. I had been to most places in the country during the course of my work and knew the town was in the north of England quite near the Scottish borders, but I certainly had never been to the town. Surely it wasn’t a fan letter? I had told our agent to hold all my fan letters until I returned to London. Perhaps this was one that had slipped through the net. Then I saw the name, “Mrs F. Davey”. Even then, for a few moments I couldn’t place that name, but it didn’t take me too long to figure it all out. Trevor Davey had been the co-respondent named by my solicitors in my divorce from Felicity in 1931.

It had taken me years to recover from Felicity’s desertion and I had spent a great deal of my spare time searching for her in every town I went to sing in on the remote off-chance that she might be living there. If she had contacted me in the years immediately after she deserted me without even as much as a goodbye letter, I would probably have been only too relieved to find her again and perfectly prepared to forgive her. Had I known she was in Wigton I would have taken the first opportunity to go there and bring her straight back home where she belonged. I wouldn’t even have asked her to explain what she had been doing during her absence. It was ironical that she was writing to me after all this time, when I had reached the stage when I hardly ever thought of her at all. So instead of feeling relieved and happy to see her familiar hand-writing once again as I would have felt years ago, I was apprehensive, fearing that she might be about to disrupt the even flow of my life.

I had looked on Felicity as my soul mate. If she had stayed with me I would never have looked at another woman. Her unexplained disappearance had turned me into a cynical womaniser. Nearly all the women I met afterwards were only too willing to go to bed with me and I often wondered whether I responded to them with equal willingness because I was trying to prove to myself over and over again that there was nothing wrong with me, and that Felicity was the one who had made a big mistake by deserting me. Even when I married Sally who truly loved me, I had betrayed her trust and hurt her immeasurably with my affair with Marina. I thought that I might at last be happy when Marina and I were finally married, but I couldn’t even manage to remain faithful to her for very long either.

“Why, there you are, Malcolm.”

As though from a great distance, I heard the producer call my name. I was always punctual for my professional engagements, so it was no wonder that he was surprised that I wasn’t already in the studio with the others, ready to begin our day’s work.

“We’re all waiting in Studio 1 ready for the run-through – when you’re quite ready.”

“I won’t be a moment,” I replied, hastily stuffing all my letters into my music case.

I was late, knowing full well that my colleagues were waiting for me. I was wasting their precious rehearsal time, but somehow I still couldn’t face going in right away. I didn’t dare open Felicity’s letter in case it upset me and spoilt my performance, but I needed a few moments on my own before I could even begin to think of singing and putting on a facade of bonhomie in front of my colleagues. I went into the cloakroom and splashed my face vigorously with cold water, trying to bring some colour back into my cold and pallid cheeks. Then I braced my shoulders and marched resolutely towards the studio to begin the run-through before the broadcast.

Usually singing invigorated me, but that day I found the work exhausting, and knew my singing wasn’t up to the usual standard I set for myself. I was distracted. All I could think about was Felicity’s letter lying unopened in my music case. I went through all my broadcasts like an automaton. The last one was a programme of romantic duets with Margaret Finnemore, a popular soprano, often heard over the airwaves in those days. She was a short plump brunette. That particular evening she was encased in a tight purple dress with a low-cut neckline which displayed a great deal of her voluptuous bosom. Her almost naked breasts quivered tremulously every time she drew breath. As we sang together I forgot my worry and distraction for the first time that day. I had sung with Margaret many times before and had never thought of her as anything more than a colleague, but suddenly all I could think about was what it would be like to bury my head in those breasts and have her comfort and soothe me until I forget all about that unopened letter. We finished our recital with The Indian Love Call. I was usually very disciplined in my singing, but I was so out of sorts that I took an unwritten high note at the end of the song. I had sung the same note in my recording a few years earlier and the critic in Gramophone had described the ending as “an astonishing piece of white singing”. At the time I had not been able to work out whether this comment was intended to be praise or blame!

“Where did that note come from? You completely drowned me out with it,” laughed Margaret as soon as we were off air. “I don’t think you knew you had a note like that in your range!”

“I was carried away singing with you, Margaret, dear,” I smiled. “Despite that phantom note, I think we did all right, tonight, don’t you?”

Margaret was engaged to a dance band clarinettist who had recently joined the army. Like me, she had been hastily billeted in digs the BBC had found for her. We were allowed only a pound a week to cover the expense of our digs so none of us could live anywhere in Bristol in unfettered luxury on that small amount.

“My digs are just round the corner. Would you like to come back with me for a night-cap?” she asked. “It’s rather lonely being on our own here, isn’t it?” she added plaintively.

I sensed that Margaret might have far more than coffee in mind to round off our evening. For a moment I managed to forget all about that letter as I concentrated my mind on the supreme satisfaction I would have if Margaret allowed me to unzip her tight dress, letting it fall to her feet, revealing her plump little figure. The idea of the possible encounter made me light-headed with desire, but, regretfully, I managed to pull myself together in time.

“I’d love to, darling,” I replied, “But we have an early start in the morning and I really must write a few letters before I go to bed.”

I could see that Margaret was hurt and disappointed by my refusal, but she was not a pushy woman so did not insist, as many other more determined young women had done in the past, and usually succeeded in breaking down my defences. I kissed her briefly on her soft cheek, amazed at the unusual restraint I had displayed.

It was late when I reached the home where I had been billeted. I don’t think Mr and Mrs Broadbent, the elderly couple who owned the large house, had expected to have a guest who kept such irregular hours living in their spare room, but they probably looked on my presence in their home as their contribution to the war effort. They hardly ever seemed to sit down to eat a proper meal at their imboua dining room table, although, in those early days of the war before food rationing was strictly enforced, there was always a good supply of food of all sorts in their cool pantry. They had given me free rein to prepare my own meals because my hours were so unpredictable. Mrs Broadbent was not the keenest cook and was lost without her staff. They had recently left her “in the lurch” to enlist in the various armed forces. Thank goodness I had always enjoyed cooking and was perfectly able to cook food for myself.

I wasn’t particularly hungry that night but I forced myself to make an omelette before I went to bed. As I sat in the large old-fashioned kitchen in the basement of the Broadbent household, forcing myself to eat, I looked at the two letters which I knew I had to read before I slept that night. Marina’s letter was definitely the more welcome of the two, but I dreaded having to open the letter from Felicity, fearing what I might find in it. I had reached the conclusion that her letter could only mean that there would be some unwanted disruption to my relatively tranquil life, if you could call living in a country at war a tranquil existence.

Certainly I was having a much easier time than men younger than me, who were signing up in vast numbers and leaving their families to go off for rigorous basic training in preparation for the active and dangerous part they would play during the course of the war.

Britain might have been at war, but so far we had not needed to wear the gas masks we were obliged to carry about with us everywhere, or to make use of the air raid shelters which had been erected long before war had even been declared, or for the protection of the sandbags stacked up high outside every important building in the city centres. The Germans had not dropped a bomb so far. The fact that we were now at war had not yet brought about any great change in our circumstances.

I decided to read Marina’s letter first and leave Felicity’s letter unopened for as long as possible. Marina’s frothy letter was full of what she had been doing with her parents, telling me how impatient she was to start working again at a time when there was no theatrical entertainment taking place in the country, except for all the ENSA concert parties busy rehearsing their acts to entertain troops abroad, and the wounded soldiers who might soon be flooding hospitals in the UK when the war got going in earnest. In fact, only that day we had heard that a list of the first British casualties of the war had been published on the previous day.

Marina mentioned that her older sister and her husband had asked her to dinner at their palatial home and were inviting some of her old friends to meet her again. She had promised to sing for them after the meal, so at least she would be keeping her voice in trim during her enforced break from the stage.
Marina’s letter ended on a sentimental note.

I really miss you, darling, and long to join you in Bristol. Even if I’m not allowed to broadcast with the BBC, I know I should be entertaining in some way or other. I’m pestering Bernard to find me something to do as soon as possible. Of course Mummy and Daddy are very kind to me, but I feel like an innocent little girl again, living at home with them. Do you know what the worst part is? It’s going to bed at night all by myself. I know then that I am very far from the innocent little girl my parents think me for I can only get to sleep if I imagine you in bed with me, holding me in your arms, making love to me, touching me in those secret places, until I cry out.

For a moment I forgot I still had Felicity’s letter to read. I tried to put the vision of Marina, lying in bed all by herself in her parent’s spare bedroom and imagining I was with her there, out of my mind.

I opened Felicity’s letter at last. It read as follows:

Dear Malcolm,

My husband, Trevor Davey died suddenly last week leaving me a widow with two young sons, Graham and Edgar. Edgar, the younger boy, is Trevor’s son, but almost from the time Graham was born, I knew that he was your son, and although Trevor never mentioned it, I think he knew this too. I would never have dreamed of contacting you while Trevor was alive, but now that he is gone, I feel it is only fair to tell you about Graham so that you have a chance to get to know him before it is too late. He is musical and sings in the local choir. He is nearly thirteen years of age.

If I had known that he was your son I would never have run away with Trevor in the first place, and perhaps we might have had a chance to sort everything out that was wrong in our marriage, but Trevor was very good to me and after you divorced me, we got married and were happy together until his death although I never stopped loving you, but I grew to love him too and miss him terribly now that he has gone.

I have no right to put any pressure on you as I know I was entirely to blame for the break up of our marriage, but if ever you are singing anywhere in the Wigton area, I would like you to meet our son. He loved Trevor and regarded him as his father, so I wouldn’t want him to know about your true relationship with him until he is much older – if at all. I enclose a recent photo of Trevor, Graham, Edgar and myself. It was taken three months before Trevor’s death. I am sure you will see a close likeness to yourself in Graham.

I’m very sorry I hurt you all those years ago, but a lot of time has passed since last we met. I hope you can forgive me and that you will choose to meet your son one day soon even if you want nothing more to do with me.

With all good wishes,

Felicity.

I can’t explain how peculiar I felt after I read that letter. At first I wondered how I could possibly know that Graham was really my son. Perhaps she was just trying to get money out of me by telling me a pack of lies. But if the boy really was my son, I needed to meet him, although I wished I could do this without ever having to set eyes on Felicity again.

Eventually I cast my eyes on the photograph Felicity had sent along with the letter. It was a snap of a happy family group. Felicity looked much as I remembered her although she had filled out somewhat through the passing years, and somehow had managed to tame her unruly curly red hair into a smooth, fashionable style. I studied Graham carefully, half-hoping that he bore a strong resemblance to the elderly Trevor Davey rather than myself. But no matter how much I wished to deny that this unknown child was my son so that I could carry on with my pleasant life and forget Felicity forever, I might have been looking at a photo of myself just at the time my voice broke and I had to leave the Cathedral and return home. Marina was still adamant about not wanting children, preferring to pursue her career, so Graham might be the only son I would ever have. No matter how Graham might change the course of my life, I had to see him.

I went to bed at last but found it very difficult to sleep. As I lay awake in my cold and rather lumpy bed, I wished with all my heart that I had gone home with Margaret after all. I could have spent the night with her, curled up in her arms, my head resting on her generous bosom, feeling warm and sated from making love to her, still completely ignorant of the disturbing, yet exciting contents of Felicity’s letter

I knew I would have to reply to the letter tomorrow and that I needed to meet my son at the first opportunity, but I wondered what it would mean to Marina? I could not decide whether to tell her about Graham while we were still apart, or wait until we were together again, or, better still, take the line of least resistance, and never tell her anything about him at all. While I was eager to meet my son, the thought of any kind of renewed relationship with Felicity was difficult. By running away with Trevor Davey without any explanation she had changed the way I felt about myself, and about the way I had responded to other women after her departure.

Eventually I fell asleep, and as I woke the next morning, just for a moment I felt cheerful, looking forward to the day ahead at Broadcast House as though I hadn’t a care in the world. Then my heart sank as I remembered the quandary Felicity had presented to me. My first broadcast was scheduled for 10 am that morning so I had no alternative but to rise from my bed, bathe, and dress, make a sketchy breakfast, where I had the ordeal of having to pull myself together and make meaningless small talk with my hosts, who happened to be eating breakfast at the same time. Eventually I headed for Broadcast House. As a professional singer I was expected to give a good performance regardless of what might be weighing on my mind…

The second novel in a Roman a Clef trilogy.

The second novel in a Roman a Clef trilogy.

Price: £11.00
Ships in 3–5 business days

Faint Harmony is the second novel in a Roman a clef trilogy about Malcolm Craig, a great British tenor. This book covers his life from the outbreak of World War Two until 1956 when he was at the zenith of his singing career. His rise to fame as a singer is smooth, but his private life is increasingly turbulent. The first book of the series is entitled Just the Echo of a Sigh and covers his early life to 1939. This is Jean Collen’s third novel.

"Just the Echo of a Sigh" by Jean Collen

“Just the Echo of a Sigh” by Jean Collen

She has also written a volume of short stories and several non-fiction books about the lives and careers of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler. All her books have a musical theme as she is a classical pianist and singer, and taught singing and piano until her retirement at the end of 2010.
Novel completed in NaNoWriMo competition 2013.

Novel completed in NaNoWriMo competition 2013.

WEBSTER BOOTH RECORDS SOUGHT

I am still looking for the following recordings featuring Webster Booth. If you have any of these recordings, I would be very grateful if you could send me an MP3 of the recording. I have many other recordings listed in the catalogues and would be happy to send you an MP3 in exchange.

 Some recordings have been listed as only one side. This means that I have already managed to obtain the other side of the recording on tape, CD or MP3.

I am not willing to send or receive 78rpm records in the post because of :

a) high postal costs;

b) for fear of the record getting broken in the post;

c) for fear that the record disappears in the postal system!

If you can help, please leave a comment or fill in the contact form

.

Jean Collen January 2013 

Photo taken in the early 1960s.

Photo taken in the early 1960s.

Decca

Decca K628 Rosemarie Vocal Gems/Friml/ Victor Conway, Anne Welch, Webster Booth, 12 December 1930

Decca F9921 Sanctuary of the Heart/Ketelby; He Bought My Heart At Calvary/Hamblen with choir of St Stephen’s Church Dulwich, Fela Sowande (organ) June 1952

Decca F9942 Castles in the Air/Lincke; The White Dove/Léhar, July 1952

 Durium 

M-41171-A What More Can I Ask?; Brighter Than the Sun/ from film The Little Damozel, Durium Dance Orchestra, Peter Rush,1 February 1933

HMV 

 Test recording Serenata, Macushla Reginald Paul, C Studio, Small Queens Hall, London, 20 November 1929

 B3735 Somewhere a Voice is Calling/Tate; I Know of Two Bright Eyes/Clutsam, Ray Noble, New Mayfair Orchestra, Friends Meeting House, London,10 January 1930/April 1931

 B8360 As I Sit Here/Sanderson; Love Passes By/Victor Schertzinger, September 1935

 B8476 I’m all alone/May; I’ll wait for you/ Feiner, September 1936

 B9030 When You Wish Upon a Star/Pinocchio/ Harline; Rosita/Kennedy/Carr, 1939

 B9071 Sylvia/Oley Speaks, Gerald Moore, September 1940

 B9164 A Ballynure Ballad/arr Hughes + Trottin’ to the Fair/Stanford, Gerald Moore, 1941

 B9271 Will You Go with Me?/Brandon-Park/Murray,Gerald Moore 1942

 B9458 Just for today/Partridge/Seaver; There is No Death/Johnson/O’Hara, Gerald Moore, 1946

 B9502 All Soul’s Day/ Richard Strauss; Memory Island/ Harrison/ Gerald Moore, September 1946

B9507 O, Come All Ye Faithful, Bertram L Harrison, 1946

 B9640 Show Me the Way/O’Connor/Morgan; Napoli Bay/Kynoch, George Melachrino, 1948

C2260 Chu Chin Chow Vocal Gems/Asche/Norton, Light Opera Company, including Stuart Robertson, Webster Booth, 17 March 1931

C2800 Co-optimists Medley/Gideon/Olive Groves, Effie Atherton, Webster Booth, Stuart Robertson, George Scott Wood, 1 October 1935

C2814 Neapolitan Nights, Light Opera Company with Webster Booth

C2827 Memories of Tosti/La Scala Singers with Webster Booth

C3050 Songs That Have Sold a Million (Part 2) with Dorothy Clarke, Foster Richardson, Webster Booth, 1938

Ave Maria/Schubert, Ernest Lush (unpublished) – Also recorded on 11 August 1939

C3151 Gondoliers Vocal Gems/ Sullivan Light Opera Company with Anne Ziegler Nancy Evans, Dennis Noble, George Baker; chorus and orchestra conducted by Isadore Godfrey, Kingsway Hall, London, 27 October 1939

Here Comes the Bride Selection/Schwartz/Light Opera Company with Alice Moxon, Stuart Robertson, Webster Booth, George Baker/Ray Noble/Studio C, Small Queens Hall, London/Cc18897-4, 25 March 1930 (Number unknown)

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 8,000 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

▶ Facebook Videotab – A Video PlayList on Dailymotion

▶ Facebook Videotab – A Video PlayList on Dailymotion.

I have added several videos featuring Webster Booth to Daily Motion.

Webster Booth at the height of his fame.

Webster Booth at the height of his fame.

WEBSTER BOOTH AND ANNE ZIEGLER’S CHRISTMAS PODCAST

Listen to the podcast at the following link:

WEBSTER BOOTH AND ANNE ZIEGLER’S CHRISTMAS PODCAST
A special podcast for the Christmas season featuring Anne and Webster, Norman Allin, Dora Labbette, Rawicz and Landauer, Layton and Johnstone.

Listen to all my podcasts and recordings, and see selected YouTube videos related to Anne and Webster: http://ziegler-booth-radio.blogspot.com

Listen to many of Webster and Anne’s solo and duet recordings on my You Tube channel at: http://www.youtube.com/duettists

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas!


Look at my books – both fiction and non-fiction – at: http://www.lulu.com/duettists

 I wish all my readers a very happy Christmas and everything of the best in 2014.

WEBSTER BOOTH – TIME LINE – 1940 – 1949

Messiah

22 March 1940 in Queen’s Hall, London
Good Friday Messiah. Royal Choral Society with Elsie Suddaby, Muriel Brunskill, Webster Booth, Robert Easton. Conducted by Dr Malcolm Sargent.
Photo

Gala Variety Performance

Because of the war this show replaced the traditional Royal Command Performance.The concert was in aid of the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund.
Photo

Messiah

22 December 1940 in Hallé Concert Society, Manchester
Webster Booth was tenor soloist at this concert, conducted by Malcolm Sargent. Later that night a big bombing raid destroyed the Free Trade Hall.
Photo

Dream of Gerontius (Elgar)

10 May 1941 in Queen’s Hall, London
Webster Booth, Muriel Brunskill and Ronald Stear were soloists in an afternoon performance with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Choral Society, conducted by Malcolm Sargent. That night a single incendiary bomb gutted the Queen’s Hall.
Paddy Prior, second wife of Webster Booth (tenor) 1902-1984 entertaining troops during World War 2. — in London, United Kingdom.

Photo

Photo: Paddy Prior, second wife of Webster Booth (tenor) 1902-1984 entertaining troops during World War 2.
Paddy Prior, Webster Booth’s second wife who divorced him in 1938, entertains troops as a member of ENSA during the war.

Death of Sarah Booth, Webster’s mother

Webster and Anne had sung at Golders Green Hippodrome in “Clap Your Hands and Smile” with Charlie Kunz and others from 1 November 1943. Webster’s mother died (aged 80) during that week.
Photo

Good Friday Messiah

Webster Booth sang in another Good Friday Messiah at the Albert Hall with soloists Isobel Baillie, Mary Jarred and Henry Cummings, conducted by Malcolm Sargent. In 1940 he and Anne Ziegler began touring in Variety as duettists and it is clear that he did not do as much serious singing because of this.
Photo

Edwin Booth remarries.

In 1947 Edwin Booth married Irene Constance Louise Coles, who was born in Bristol in 1902, a few months younger than Webster. After Edwin Booth’s death, Irene continued to attend Webster and Anne’s concerts in Birmingham. The census form shows the Coles family in 1911 when Irene was 9 years old.
Photo

Funeral of Tommy Handley

Members of Savage Club formed choir which included Webster Booth, Parry Jones, Walter Midgley, Dennis Noble, Frederic Gregory, George James & Edward Dykes. They sang “The Long Day Closes” by Arthur Sullivan.
Photo

Funeral of Tommy Handley at Golders Green Crematorium January 1949. Webster Booth was singing in choir with other Savage Club singers. — with Trefor Jones at Golders Green Crematorium.

WEBSTER BOOTH TIMELINE – 1902 -1939.

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21 January 1902 Birth.

Leslie Webster Booth was the youngest of six children born to Edwin Booth and his wife Sarah (neé Webster) at 157 Soho Road, Handsworth, Staffordshire. Above – 157 Soho Road today.
Photo: Leslie Webster Booth was born at 157 Soho Road, Birmingham on 21 January 1902.

Soho Road in the early 1900s.

Accepted as a chorister at Lincoln Cathedral

1911 in Lincoln Cathedral Official Page
Webster Booth spent four years as a chorister at Lincoln until his voice broke in 1915.
Photo

 

His voice breaks so he returns home.

1915 in Birmingham, United Kingdom
His parents send him to do a commercial course at Aston Commercial School. The headmaster there is Edgar Keey. Later he married Edgar Keey’s daughter, Winifred.
Photo

Leaves School

1918 in Birmingham, United Kingdom
After Webster left school he began working in an accounting office in Birmingham. At the same time he took singing lessons with Dr Richard Wassall, choirmaster at St Martin’s, Birmingham and singing teacher at the Midland Institute.
Photo

First professional engagement

9 September 1923 in Theatre Royal Brighton
Webster Booth was accepted into the chorus of D’Oyly Carte Opera and made his stage debut as a yeoman in “Yeomen of the Guard”. He remained with the company for four and a half years, singing in the chorus, playing small parts and understudying the leading tenor roles. He was known in the company as Leslie Booth. He did not use the name Webster Booth until he left the company in 1927.
Photo

 

Marriage

June 1924 in Fulham Registry Office, Fulham, London
Webster Booth married his first wife, Winifred Dorothy Keey in the second quarter of 1924 at Fulham Registry Office.

Photo

Birth of Keith Leslie Booth

Birth of his son, Keith Leslie Booth. Mother: Winifred Dorothy Booth (nee Keey)

D’Oyly Carte Opera tour of Canada

24 December 1926 in SS Metagama, Liverpool
Webster Booth went to Canada as a member of the chorus of D’Oyly Carte for the tour of Canada aboard the SS Metagama. The tour opened in Montreal on 4 January 1927.
Photo

Singing in Lyons’ Cafés and Restaurants

May 1928 in Popular & Strand Lyons’ Cafés, Holborn Restaurant
Webster Booth, still known as Leslie Webster Booth, was eking out a living singing in various Lyons’ cafés and at Masonic dinners, as well as performing in panto and singing with the Opieros. The photo shows the Holborn Restaurant, a popular venue for staff dinners.
Photo

Recording contract with HMV

1929 in His Master’s Voice Records
Webster Booth made his first recording with HMV in 1929. He continued recording with the company until his contract was cancelled in 1951. The first recording was A Brown Bird Singing and I Love the Moon.
Photo

“The Three Musketeers” (Friml)

Webster Booth made his debut as the Duke of Buckingham in “The Three Musketeers”. Denis King played D’Artagnan. Others in the cast included Adrienne Brune and Lillian Davies.
Photo

Divorce from Winifred Booth (nee Keey)

Winifred Booth deserted Webster and his young son in 1927. Webster tried to find her for many years but she had vanished. In October 1931, he sued for divorce, naming Trevor Davey as co-respondent.
Photo

Marriage to Dorothy Annie Alice Prior

10 October 1932 in Fulham Registry Office, Fulham, London
Webster Booth married his second wife, Dorothy Annie Alice Prior (stage name: Paddy Prior). Paddy was a soubrette, dancer and light comedienne.
Photo

Piccadilly Revels

Webster Booth, Paddy Prior, Violet Stevens, George & Kenneth Western and Edgar Sawyer starred in Murray Evans and Wilby Lunn’s summer show. Paddy Prior is seated to the left of Webster Booth in the middle row.

Piccadilly Revels, 1933 with Webster Booth (tenor) 1902-1984, and second wife, Paddy Prior. — in Scarborough, United Kingdom.
Photo: Piccadilly Revels, 1933 with Webster Booth (tenor) 1902-1984, and second wife, Paddy Prior.
Photo
·

The Faust Fantasy

December 1934 in Bushy Heath
Webster Booth was chosen to play the part of Faust in this film. During the filming he met Anne Ziegler played the part of Marguerite. Unfortunately their meeting spelt the end of his marriage to Paddy Prior before it had really begun.
Photo

A Kingdom for a Cow (Kurt Weill)

Webster Booth starred as Juan, with Jacqueline Francell as Juanita. The show included George Gee, Bobby Comber and Hay Petrie. Muir Matheson conducted the orchestra. The show received good notices but was not a success with the public. It closed after three weeks.
Photo

The Robber Symphony (film)

Webster Booth sang several songs in this film. The film was directed by Friedrich Feher, who also wrote the script and the music. His wife was the heroine of the film.
Photo
Carols and other Christmas music (1936) — at Royal Albert Hall
Photo: Carols and other Christmas music (1936)

Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast

  1. Webster Booth’s first appearance in Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast. Conducted by Malcolm Sargent. He sang the role of the Monk on 7 & 10 June, and Chihiabos on 18 June.
    Photo
  2. Souvenir programme for the dramatised version of “Hiawatha” held at the Royal Albert Hall in June 7-19, 1937.
    Photo: Souvenir programme for the dramatised version of "Hiawatha" held at the Royal Albert Hall in June 7-19, 1937.

    Der Rosenkavalier, The Magic Flute

    Webster Booth sang the role of Octavian in “Der Rosenkavalier” and took a small role in “Magic Flute”.
    Photo

Third Marriage

5 November 1938 in Paddington Registry office, Paddington, London
Webster Booth’s divorce from Paddy Prior came through in October. He married Anne Ziegler (Irené Frances Eastwood) the following month – first at the Paddington Registry Office, followed by a blessing of the marriage at St Ethelburga’s Church in Bishopsgate.
Photo

 Messiah

17 December 1938 in Queen’s Hall, London
Webster Booth, Joan Hammond, Muriel Brunskill, Norman Walker with London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Opera Choir, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.
Photo
Members of the Concert Artistes’ Association gave their annual concert in aid of their Benevolent Fund. Webster Booth & other artistes performed. The receipts totalled £427 – a record for these affairs!
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Joins staff of variety department of the BBC

Webster Booth had been appointed to the staff of the BBC Variety department at the outbreak of war. Others included Tommy Handley, Sam Costa, Charles Shadwell, Betty Huntley-Wright and Leonard Henry.
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21 January 1902 Birth.

Leslie Webster Booth was the youngest of six children born to Edwin Booth and his wife Sarah (neé Webster) at 157 Soho Road, Handsworth, Staffordshire. Above – 157 Soho Road today.
Photo: Leslie Webster Booth was born at 157 Soho Road, Birmingham on 21 January 1902.

Soho Road in the early 1900s.

Accepted as a chorister at Lincoln Cathedral

Webster Booth spent four years as a chorister at Lincoln until his voice broke in 1915.
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His voice breaks so he returns home.

His parents send him to do a commercial course at Aston Commercial School. The headmaster there is Edgar Keey. Later he married Edgar Keey’s daughter, Winifred.
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Leaves School

After Webster left school he began working in an accounting office in Birmingham. At the same time he took singing lessons with Dr Richard Wassall, choirmaster at St Martin’s, Birmingham and singing teacher at the Midland Institute.
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First professional engagement

Webster Booth was accepted into the chorus of D’Oyly Carte Opera and made his stage debut as a yeoman in “Yeomen of the Guard”. He remained with the company for four and a half years, singing in the chorus, playing small parts and understudying the leading tenor roles. He was known in the company as Leslie Booth. He did not use the name Webster Booth until he left the company in 1927.
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Marriage

June 1924 in Fulham Registry Office, Fulham, London
Webster Booth married his first wife, Winifred Dorothy Keey in the second quarter of 1924 at Fulham Registry Office.

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Birth of Keith Leslie Booth

Birth of his son, Keith Leslie Booth. Mother: Winifred Dorothy Booth (nee Keey)

D’Oyly Carte Opera tour of Canada

24 December 1926 in SS Metagama, Liverpool
Webster Booth went to Canada as a member of the chorus of D’Oyly Carte for the tour of Canada aboard the SS Metagama. The tour opened in Montreal on 4 January 1927.
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Singing in Lyons’ Cafés and Restaurants

May 1928 in Popular & Strand Lyons’ Cafés, Holborn Restaurant
Webster Booth, still known as Leslie Webster Booth, was eking out a living singing in various Lyons’ cafés and at Masonic dinners, as well as performing in panto and singing with the Opieros. The photo shows the Holborn Restaurant, a popular venue for staff dinners.
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Recording contract with HMV

1929 in His Master’s Voice Records
Webster Booth made his first recording with HMV in 1929. He continued recording with the company until his contract was cancelled in 1951. The first recording was A Brown Bird Singing and I Love the Moon.
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“The Three Musketeers” (Friml)

Webster Booth made his debut as the Duke of Buckingham in “The Three Musketeers”. Denis King played D’Artagnan. Others in the cast included Adrienne Brune and Lillian Davies.
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Divorce from Winifred Booth (nee Keey)

Winifred Booth deserted Webster and his young son in 1927. Webster tried to find her for many years but she had vanished. In October 1931, he sued for divorce, naming Trevor Davey as co-respondent.
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Marriage to Dorothy Annie Alice Prior

10 October 1932 in Fulham Registry Office, Fulham, London
Webster Booth married his second wife, Dorothy Annie Alice Prior (stage name: Paddy Prior). Paddy was a soubrette, dancer and light comedienne.
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Piccadilly Revels

Webster Booth, Paddy Prior, Violet Stevens, George & Kenneth Western and Edgar Sawyer starred in Murray Evans and Wilby Lunn’s summer show. Paddy Prior is seated to the left of Webster Booth in the middle row.

Piccadilly Revels, 1933 with Webster Booth (tenor) 1902-1984, and second wife, Paddy Prior. — in Scarborough, United Kingdom.
Photo: Piccadilly Revels, 1933 with Webster Booth (tenor) 1902-1984, and second wife, Paddy Prior.
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The Faust Fantasy

December 1934 in Bushy Heath
Webster Booth was chosen to play the part of Faust in this film. During the filming he met Anne Ziegler played the part of Marguerite. Unfortunately their meeting spelt the end of his marriage to Paddy Prior before it had really begun.
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A Kingdom for a Cow (Kurt Weill)

Webster Booth starred as Juan, with Jacqueline Francell as Juanita. The show included George Gee, Bobby Comber and Hay Petrie. Muir Matheson conducted the orchestra. The show received good notices but was not a success with the public. It closed after three weeks.
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The Robber Symphony (film)

Webster Booth sang several songs in this film. The film was directed by Friedrich Feher, who also wrote the script and the music. His wife was the heroine of the film.
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Carols and other Christmas music (1936) — at Royal Albert Hall
Photo: Carols and other Christmas music (1936)

Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast

  1. Webster Booth’s first appearance in Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast. Conducted by Malcolm Sargent. He sang the role of the Monk on 7 & 10 June, and Chihiabos on 18 June.
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  2. Souvenir programme for the dramatised version of “Hiawatha” held at the Royal Albert Hall in June 7-19, 1937.
    Photo: Souvenir programme for the dramatised version of "Hiawatha" held at the Royal Albert Hall in June 7-19, 1937.

    Der Rosenkavalier, The Magic Flute

    Webster Booth sang the role of Octavian in “Der Rosenkavalier” and took a small role in “Magic Flute”.
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Third Marriage

5 November 1938 in Paddington Registry office, Paddington, London
Webster Booth’s divorce from Paddy Prior came through in October. He married Anne Ziegler (Irené Frances Eastwood) the following month – first at the Paddington Registry Office, followed by a blessing of the marriage at St Ethelburga’s Church in Bishopsgate.
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 Messiah

17 December 1938 in Queen’s Hall, London
Webster Booth, Joan Hammond, Muriel Brunskill, Norman Walker with London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Opera Choir, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.
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Members of the Concert Artistes’ Association gave their annual concert in aid of their Benevolent Fund. Webster Booth & other artistes performed. The receipts totalled £427 – a record for these affairs!
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Joins staff of variety department of the BBC

Webster Booth had been appointed to the staff of the BBC Variety department at the outbreak of war. Others included Tommy Handley, Sam Costa, Charles Shadwell, Betty Huntley-Wright and Leonard Henry.
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Recollections of Paddy O’Byrne who died on 3 December 2013

On 4 December 2013 I heard the sad news that Paddy O’Byrne had died the previous night, shortly before his eighty-fourth birthday. People on social media and on radio remembered the man and his broadcasting skills with great affection, just as I do myself.

The Voice of South Africa competition 

I first heard of Paddy during the Voice of South Africa competition organised by the SABC in 1961. My parents and I sat in the lounge at 21 Juno Street, Kensington, in front of our large valve radio with the green cat’s eye tuner, listening to the weekly competition with interest. Paddy won that competition, with Michael Todd second, and Dr Tony Venniker in third place. Paddy was Irish, Michael Todd English, and Dr Tony Venniker was South African!

Paddy’s father was a high court judge in Eire and Paddy himself had studied law and was working for an insurance company in the city, but when he won the competition he began his broadcasting career on the English service. Michael Todd became a newsreader with the SABC, while Dr Tony continued practising medicine but made frequent broadcasts in an excellent series called Medical File with fellow medics, Professors Harry Seftel and Peter Cleaton-Jones. Sadly, Dr Tony died of advanced prostate cancer in 1989, and Michael Todd also died many years ago.

Paddy O’Byrne was a fine broadcaster. He had a beautiful speaking voice, a beguiling personality and had a wide musical knowledge. He and his wife, Vicky, who had a charming singing voice, had appeared in a pantomime with the Hungarian/South African singer, Eve Boswell, before coming to South Africa.

Gilbert and Sullivan series presented by Webster Booth – 1962 

The first connection between Paddy and Webster Booth began in 1962. Webster was presenting a Gilbert and Sullivan series of programmes when the copyright on Gilbert’s words was lifted. Unfortunately he was taken very ill during that year and spent some time in the fever hospital in Braamfontein with a mysterious virus which gave him myocarditis and threatened his life. He was away from the singing studio and unable to record the Gilbert and Sullivan programmes for some time. It fell to Paddy O’Byrne to read Webster’s scripts for several of these programmes, and he made a very good job of this assignment.

Sunday at Home – 1963 

In 1963 Paddy presented a series on the English Service called Sunday at Home. He visited the homes of different celebrities to interview them. On one particular Sunday, Anne and Webster entertained a young Paddy in their home at 121 Buckingham Avenue, Craighall Park. It was a charming, informal interview and I liked it so much that I ordered a tape of it from SABC Enterprises some years later.

To the UK and back to South Africa 

I went to the UK in 1966 for several years, and some time later Paddy and his family went to live in Croydon in the UK. During that time Paddy worked at the BBC as a broadcaster on Radio 2. The family returned to South Africa in 1980 when Paddy launched a new radio station, Channel 702, which initially had a licence to broadcast from the South African “homeland” of Bophuthatswana.

Shortly after the launch, Paddy returned to the SABC, succeeding Peter Broomfield and Ken Marshall in a weekday morning programme called Top of the Morning with Paddy O’Byrne. On this programme he chatted to listeners about a variety of topics which interested him, played a wide selection of music and the occasional request from listeners, and also interviewed guests. I particularly remember him interviewing John Robbie, the Irish rugby player, who is a long-established talk show host on what is now called Talk Radio 702, broadcasting from studios in Sandton.

By this time I had been married for ten years and had two children. Anne and Webster returned to the UK in 1978 and, for a time, established a third career on stage and radio. Webster was not in the best of health and his voice was a shadow of what it had once been, so it was very sad that he had to get up on the stage and sing in public. The only news I had of them in 1983 was a comment from Paddy on his programme to say that he had heard that neither of them was very well and “needed looking after”. I wrote to Paddy asking for further news as I was worried that I had not heard from them for so long. No doubt he thought I was some loony fan for he did not reply to my letter! Later that year I had a letter from Anne telling me that Webster was very ill and was now in a nursing home in North Wales and unlikely to return home. He died on 21 June 1984.

 I Bless the Day (De Jongh)and Brian Morris 

Paddy O’Byrne continued his regular morning programme on the English Service and I listened to it regularly. One day, he had a request from Brian Morris, a former student of Anne and Webster’s. When I was Webster’s studio accompanist I had often played for Brian at his lessons. He had a very good baritone voice, reminiscent of Peter Dawson’s.

Brian asked for Webster’s recording of I Bless the Day by De Jongh. The SABC in Johannesburg had got rid of its collection of 78rpm records years before, so there were few of Anne and Webster’s recordings in the SABC library at that time. I had the recording Brian had requested on a Canadian Rococo LP, and also I Leave My Heart in an English Garden by Harry Parr-Davies, which was on the flipside of the original 78rpm. I wrote to Paddy, offering to lend him my precious recordings so that he could play the song Brian had requested. This time he did get in touch with me. His daughter, Jane, who lived near us, collected the records and Paddy duly played Brian’s request and some other recordings from my LPs over several days.

I was rather worried when Paddy didn’t return my records so eventually I phoned his home. Paddy was out, but I spoke to his wife, Vicky. She was charming and realised that I was concerned about my records and said she would make sure that he returned them very soon. Paddy called at our home unexpectedly one Saturday morning to return my records and was fascinated by the photographs of Anne and Webster which adorned my music room. I had a duplicate copy of the LP The Golden Age of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth and gave it to him so that he could play a wider selection if listeners requested one of Anne and Webster’s recordings. Because of Brian Morris’s request for I Bless the Day Paddy and his wife, Vicky, became personal friends of Brian and his wife, Denise. Someone contacted me on my blog a few years ago to tell me the sad news that Brian had died.

Paddy was writing articles about music and broadcasting, so after our initial meeting he often phoned me if he needed to verify information about Anne and Webster. He was always charming and friendly, and I enjoyed our chats together.

He continued as a broadcaster with the SABC, and in 1995 he did a combined afternoon programme with Vuyo Mbuli. I think this was the first time Vuyo had done any broadcasting. Sadly he died suddenly a few years ago, still only in his forties. By that time he was a top TV presenter and very popular with the South African public. Their musical taste differed widely, so it was often a case of hearing Thomas Hampson one minute, and Michael Jackson the next!

After Paddy retired from the SABC he joined the community radio station of 1485 Radio Today and was as popular with listeners as ever. Return to Ireland He and his family returned to their native Ireland towards the end of the last century. His beloved wife, Vicky, died some time ago, and in June this year Paddy came to South Africa to attend a Requiem Mass for her at the Catholic Church in Rosebank where they had worshipped while living here. He and Peter Lotis were guests on Clare Marshall’s programme Morning Star on 1485 Radio Today, which broadcasts from a beautiful plant nursery in Jan Smuts Avenue. It was good to hear his voice once again, although I could hear that he was not very well.

My sincere condolences to his family and friends. He will be sadly missed, but very fondly remembered by everyone who knew him and enjoyed listening to him on the radio.

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Scarlet Fever in Glasgow and Immigration to South Africa

I started school in Bishopbriggs when I was four and was quite happy there for a month or two. Then I caught scarlet fever. My secure world changed in an instant. I can remember the doctor visiting, the ambulance arriving, the ambulance men wrapping me in a rough grey blanket and taking me from the warmth and comfort of my home, parents and grandparents to the isolation of the fever hospital, Ruchill, where I remained for six weeks. Perhaps I was delirious but I can’t remember my mother telling me how long I would be there or that they would not be allowed to visit me. I have found photographs of Ruchill on the Internet. It was a fine building when I was there, with well-tended grounds. Now it is abandoned and in a state of advanced decay like so many other buildings in Scotland which are no longer in use.

A ward in a fever hospital, reminiscent of our ward at Ruchill, Glasgow in the late 1940s.

I was placed in an old-fashioned ward with about thirty other children, all of whom must have been in the throes of scarlet fever also. The nurses wore starched white uniforms and little starched caps. The senior nurses had long white head-dresses, covering the nape of their necks. I was in tears, longing for my mother. A young nurse came to my high bed and tried to console me.

‘I want to go home. When can I go home? I want my mummy.’

‘You have to stay in hospital so we can make you better,’ the young nurse replied brightly.

I must have gone on like this for hours, for eventually she said, perhaps in despair, ‘If you’re a good wee girl and go to sleep maybe you’ll go home in the morning.’

I must have settled down then, but I soon found out that she had made a false promise. I was devastated to find out that I wasn’t going to go home tomorrow, nor the next day, nor even the following week.

As we were all infectious nobody except the hospital staff was allowed in the ward, but there was a sort of viewing area, where parents could look through a window to wave at their offspring. My parents didn’t come. They told me later that they thought a visit under such circumstances would upset me. In due course I received toys from them, but these had to be left behind in the toy room of the hospital so that I would not carry the germs back to the outside world.

Every morning each child received a cup of hot strong tea. This tea was handed round by the children who were feeling better and would soon be returning home. Generally the ward was a cheerful place once we got over our home sickness. I dare say some of the other children were very ill. Some may even have died, but I don’t remember anything like that happening. I do remember snatches of the songs we used to sing lustily, something like ‘I caught the scarlet fever, they put me in my bed, they wrapped me up in blankets and took me off to Ruchill…’ Only today, Morag in Canada sent me the words to that song that has lingered in my memory for such a long time. It goes something like this:

When I had scarlet fever it nearly drove me mad,
They wrapped me up in blankets and put me in the cab,
When I got to Ruchill I was really glad, they only took my temperature,
and said I wasn’t bad.
I go home on Friday morning,
I go home at half past nine,
Say goodbye to the dear old doctor,
Tell him I can stay no longer,
Goodbye doctor, goodbye nurse,
Goodbye all you sulky patients,
Ho ho ho, home I go,
Friday morning home I go!!!

What a pity I don’t remember the tune!  We seemed to remain in bed for a long time. No thoughts of deep vein thrombosis in those days! The first day I was allowed out of bed left me feeling weak and light-headed. I could barely stand. Once I regained my strength I was allowed to go to the toy room and play with some of the other children. I made some protest at having to leave my newly-acquired toys there when it was time to go home.

Ruchill Hospital, now derelict and abandoned – quite unlike the pristine building I remember.

Eventually the day for leaving hospital arrived. I remember going home in the ambulance with a few other children. It was a sunny day. The grounds of the hospital were large and well cultivated. I felt strange and sad at home with my parents, hardly able to tell my mother that I needed to go to the bathroom because I felt so shy. I missed all the cheerful friends I had made in the big ward, the sing-songs and the camaraderie. My mother was horrified to discover that there were nits in my thick brown hair, possibly introduced by the nurse who combed each child’s hair with a communal comb and brush.

I arrived home just in time to face the hard winter of 1947 and the rigorous food-rationing which continued after the war. I distinctly remember sausages composed of far more bread than meat, and tastier rabbit stews.   My grandparents lived with us in Bishopbriggs, but at the beginning of 1948, my grandfather died suddenly on the bus on his way home from a football match. After his death my grandmother decided to go to live with a close friend in Dunoon on the Cowal Peninsula of Argyle .

After my grandmother moved to Dunoon, my parents decided it was time to leave the UK for warmer climes where food was not in short supply and I could regain my strength after my illness. My father was offered a contract with ISCOR (Iron and Steel Corporation) in Vanderbijlpark, on the Highveld of Transvaal, South Africa. The town centred on ISCOR and was dubbed “the planned industrial city” in the booklet they sent to my parents to help persuade them to settle there.

We went to Southampton and boarded  the Arundel Castle to South Africa. The ship had been used for military purposes during the war and was still fitted out as a troop ship, and still under the supervision of the British government rather than the Union Castle Line. It was only handed back to the Union Castle after a refit in 1949.  Women and children slept in cramped 4-berth cabins, while the men slept in the troop’s communal quarters. I may have been mistaken, but I’m sure I remember hammocks in the men’s quarters. My mother and I shared a cabin with another mother and daughter. The little girl was called Priscilla and was about the same age as me.  Priscilla and her parents were headed for a country to the north of South Africa – possibly Southern or Northern Rhodesia. It was so hot in the tropics that at night many passengers slept up on deck in deck chairs rather than in the stuffy cabins below deck.

Arundel Castle on which we sailed to Cape Town in 1948

On board the Arundel Castle (1948)

We berthed in Cape Town and faced the long train journey of two days and a night to Johannesburg. How we reached Vanderbijlpark I do not remember. Perhaps ISCOR sent a bus to collect all the immigrants from the station. At the time they were employing skilled engineering staff from the UK when the country was still under the rule of the United Party, with General Smuts as the prime minister.

But shortly after we arrived an election was held and Smuts’ United Party government was unexpectedly defeated, to be replaced by the Nationalist Party with Doctor D.F. Malan as prime minister. The Nats were a predominantly Afrikaans party with no love for the British. Nearly fifty years after the Anglo-Boer war of 1898-1902 many Afrikaners still harboured bitter resentment against the British. The Afrikaners particularly deplored Britain’s “scorched earth” policy where Boer (farmer) women and children had been taken to concentration camps and had their farms burnt to the ground. These people had lived in isolation on large farms and were susceptible to all the infectious illnesses of the time. They were herded together in these camps, and many died as they had no resistance to these infections.  A significant number of Afrikaners had not wished to take part in World War 2 on the side of the Allies, but had far stronger leanings towards Hitler.

The Nat Government of 1948 opposed the idea of British workers immigrating to South Africa, fearing that they would vote for the predominantly United Party rather than the Nationalist Party, and soon put the UP back in power once again. With this change of policy ISCOR began employing workers from Germany rather than from Britain. Most of the British and German employees at ISCOR had been soldiers in opposing armies only a few years earlier, so one might have thought that they would not get along together. I don’t think this was the case. On the whole they got on very well on an individual level. It was only when the German émigrés were in a large group of fellow-countrymen that their wounded national pride rose to the surface and they often sang the Horst Wessel song, the anthem of the Nazi party from 1930 to 1945.

Most of our friends in Vanderbijl were fellow British immigrants. My father had gone to introduce himself to our neighbour in Hallwach Street. The gent had grown a long beard to mark the hundred and tenth anniversary of the Great Trek, and was cock-a-hoop that the Nationalist Party had come to power. He told my father grimly, “Ek praat geen Engels nie,” (I don’t speak English) pouring cold water on my father’s friendly greeting.

Me and my little friend and his father.

Mary and me.

Although I had been at school in Scotland, I was not allowed to go to a government school until I turned six in 1949. My parents enrolled me in Grade 1 at the Holy Rosary Convent in Vanderbijlpark. I have dim memories of this small school, but I do remember the maroon uniform I wore and the very strict nun who marched round our classroom with a ruler in her hand while we recited our tables over and over again. The child who stumbled on an answer was rapped briskly over the knuckles with this ruler. We soon learnt our tables by this austere method and I still remember them  to this day, thanks to that formidable nun. Apparently the Holy Rosary sisters lived in a double-storey house in Faraday Boulevard but moved on to Vereeniging in the fifties. They were replaced by Irish Dominican sisters who built the present convent in Vanderbijl.

Living in Vanderbijlpark was rather like living in a mining community with everyone housed according to their importance in the company. The obsolete verse in ‘All things bright and beautiful’ certainly applied to Vanderbijlpark in the early fifties and probably beyond: ‘The rich man in his palace, the poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate.’

The blue collar workers lived in the town proper in streets like Hallwach Street, Parsons Street, Curie and Faraday Boulevards. The big yins lived to the south of the town near to the Vaal River, ‘down the river’ or Nobhill, soon to be nicknamed Snobhill by those in the town. Most of the black workers lived in hostels or small houses in the black equivalent of Welwyn Garden City, Bophelong, Apparently Bophelong means ‘clean place’.

The following year my grandmother was taken ill, so my mother and I returned to Scotland, this time on board the Winchester Castle.

Return to Southampton on board the Winchester Castle

We lived in furnished rooms in Dunoon to be near to my granny, where I attended yet another school, the Dunoon Grammar School. My grandmother taught me to knit, Scottish style with one knitting needle under my arm, and I remember picking out God Save the King by ear on the piano after hearing that King George VI was very ill.  When my father returned some months later, we moved to Blairbeth Road, Burnside, Rutherglen, south of Glasgow and I was sent to Burnside Junior School. It was here that I began my first piano lessons with a Miss Wright and where I had my first taste of ice cream – Walls Ice cream – quite delicious. I read Enid Blyton’s Sunny Stories when it came out every week, and played with an older girl called Joan Dickson, one of the neighbour’s children. Her family had a heavy log cabin in their back garden with a heavy thick wooden door. I have a very distinct memory of my so-called friend banging my fingers in this door as she slammed it shut. My nails were black and blue for weeks afterwards.

Perhaps my father had to complete his three year contract with ISCOR for we returned to Vanderbijlpark in 1951, this time on board the Llanstephan Castle.

Returning to South Africa on board the Llanstephan Castle (1951)

This ship did not stop at Madeira as the others had done, but took an intermediate route, stopping at Las Palmas in Teneriffe, St Helena and Ascension Island. We settled at 21 Parsons Street and I was sent to yet another school, a parallel medium school called the Hendrik Vanderbijl Primary School not far from our house. I was put into Mrs McFadjean’s Standard One class and faced yet another group of unknown class mates.

Hendrik Vanderbijl Primary School in the 1940s.

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Good Reads Book Reviews

The Moon And SixpenceThe Moon And Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Apparently Strickland was based on the artist Paul Gauguin, but if this was the case, there is a very loose connection between the two for this in not a novel a clef. The book held my interest while the narrator had personal contact with Strickland and his wife. Almost from the beginning of the novel, before Charles Strickland had appeared, I thought him a thoroughly reprehensible character.

Admittedly his wife was not an imaginative woman and used her established position in society to cultivate the society of writers and artists although she appeared to be devoid of any artistic talent herself. She obviously regarded her "dull" husband as nothing more than a meal-ticket and she had never encouraged his artistic inclinations. It is only after he leaves her to her own devices that she manages to pull herself together, fend for herself and look after her children without being dependent on a man any longer.

The portrait of a completely self-centred, inarticulate Strickland, who does not care about the opinion of others was well-drawn but after the narrator is no longer in personal contact with Strickland and the rest of the story of Strickland's life is related to him by a third person the story is less satisfactory. I have to admit that I did not finish the last fifty pages of the book. Although I like Maugham's work, this was not my favourite Maugham novel.

View all my reviews

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