Going, going, gone …

Thank you for this interesting article. I’m very sorry indeed to hear of the words that have been expunged from the OUP junior dictionary. It suggests that the editors of the dictionary assume that children are not going outdoors to play or to pick bluebells any more but are glued to their computers reading about “so-called” celebrities. Very sad indeed!

via Going, going, gone ….


Webster and me. Photo taken in the early 1960s.

Webster and me. Photo taken in the early 1960s.

Dawson’s Hotel in Johannesburg was once an establishment of importance in the life of the city and remains one filled with wonderful memories for me. In its heyday, it was one of the city’s best hotels, with perhaps only the Carlton and Langham Hotels being grander. In 1956 the British singing duo, Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, moved to South Africa. They spent their first three months in Johannesburg living at Dawson’s Hotel while they looked around for suitable permanent accommodation.

It was in April 1963 that I first acted as Webster’s accompanist in their singing studio on the eighth floor of Polliack’s Bulding at the corner of Eloff and Pritchard Streets.

Polliack's is the building on the right with the balconies.

Polliack’s is the building on the right with the balconies.

At the time, Anne was away on a trip with broadcaster Leslie Green and I had been delighted and honoured when they asked me to take her place as studio accompanist. During some free time in the studio, Webster asked me if I would like to have lunch with him at Dawson’s. In turn, he accepted my invitation for him to have dinner with me and my parents at our home after we finished our work in the evening.

Tuesday was the red-letter day when Webster took me to lunch at Dawson’s Hotel. After the final morning student lesson was over, Webster announced for the world to hear that “Jean and I are going to blow the family savings today. I’m taking her to Dawson’s.” The poor student looked envious and said, “Oh, I wish I was coming with you.  I have to go back to the office on an apple!”

As Dawson’s Hotel was just around the corner from the studio, we walked there. On our walk to the hotel, Webster seemed oblivious of the curious glances of the lunchtime throng doing double-takes as they recognised his famous face. We were ushered into the sumptuous Edwardian dining room, called the Gold Room Restaurant, on the first floor as though we were royalty. We were greeted by the head waiter who hovered around Webster and then directed us to the best table at the window.

Naturally Webster was at home in this setting. After all, he had frequented the grandest hotels of Europe, the Antipodes and Britain and was used to being fussed over. I, on the other hand, a teenager in a bottle green velvet dress, felt gauche and young, as indeed I was at that time. After studying the menu, Webster ordered grilled trout and I ordered a fish dish also. He had a gin before lunch and was quite disappointed when I refused anything alcoholic. At that stage of my life, the only time I had drunk an aperitif was when my father poured me a thimbleful of sherry on special occasions.

During our meal Webster told me how he and Anne had lived at Dawson’s until they found their flat at Waverley, Highland’s North. Sadly, he also told about several members of the hotel management, who had theatrical connections, who for unknown reasons had seemingly turned against them.

Anne Ziegler & Webster Booth (1956)

Anne Ziegler & Webster Booth (1956) outside their flat at Waverley, Highlands North.

I enjoyed my fish dish very much and felt very much the grand lady having lunch with a world famous singer in that wonderful dining room. Later, over coffee, we had petits fours. Webster insisted I should eat as many as I wanted. I found out later that they were soaked in brandy, so I did not go entirely without alcohol that day.

I remember coming out of that wonderful hotel into the afternoon sunshine and sauntering back to the studio. Fortunately, there was only one pupil due that afternoon. As we waited, Webster soon fell asleep on the couch while I sat in a chair a fair distance away reading Duet, their autobiography, which he had brought in for me to read the week before.

"Duet" by Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, published 1951.

“Duet” by Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, published 1951.

When Webster woke up, he put on one of the reel-to-reel tapes containing his sacred and oratorio recordings. I remember listening to How Lovely Art Thy Dwellings, The Lost Chord, Abide With Me, and Sound an Alarm. I was entranced and sometimes near to tears by the beauty of his singing.

Recently I heard from Nick Thompson-Wood, who was manager of Dawson’s Hotel from 1964 – 1969. He is now living in Canada. He sent me a photograph of the staff of Dawson’s taken in the Gold Room Restaurant in 1966. Nick, as general manager, is seated in the middle of the front row.

Staff of Dawson's Hotel (1966) Thanks for this photo to Nick Thompson-Wood, General Manager (1964 -1969)

Staff of Dawson’s Hotel (1966) Thanks for this photo to Nick Thompson-Wood, General Manager (1964 -1969)

Over the years, whenever I went back to Dawson’s Hotel with others, I could not help but recall my first visit with Webster and remember our lunch. Unfortunately, because of the high crime rate in central Johannesburg today, I have avoided going into the city for the past ten years. Imagine my sadness when I found Dawson’s hotel on a Google Street map recently and learned that it is no longer occupied. The building is now but a shadow of its former self. It has been abandoned and is dirty and in a state of abject decay. I suspect that it has now become home to squatters and serves merely as a place of shelter from the elements. What a sad end to an elegant hotel, which I will always remember for the happy time I spent there with Webster as a teenager.

Label for Dawson's Hotel.

Label for Dawson’s Hotel.

Dawson's as it is today - no longer a hotel and pretty dilapidated.

Dawson’s as it is today – no longer a hotel and pretty dilapidated. The Edwardian Restaurant was on the first floor.

Jean Collen 3 September 2014.


                                                   GARDA HALL (1900 – 1968)

Today South African soprano, Garda Hall, is hardly remembered in South Africa where she was born, or in the United Kingdom where she lived for most of her life and had a distinguished career as a singer. The only reason why I know anything about Garda Hall at all is that Webster Booth mentioned that he had sung and recorded with her on several occasions.  Her descendant, Quentin Hall, who lives in Western Australia, has shared some of his extensive family research with me so I thought I would write a short article about his distinguished ancestor.

Garda Hall was born in Durban, Natal in 1900 in the middle of the South African War. Garda was given the unusual middle name of Colenso, presumably in commemoration of the Battle of Colenso in 1899. Her parents were George Ernest Hall (1869 – 1933), originally from Torquay, Devon, and Maude Kate Amy Breeds (1878 – September 1959). Quentin presumes that George and Maude married in South Africa rather than the UK and the Breeds surname suggests to me that Garda’s mother was a South African of Dutch origin, rather than British.

Garda moved from Durban to Pietermaritzburg when she was seven years of age and attended the private Girls’ Collegiate School there. Her father owned a bicycle shop in Pietermaritzburg called Hall’s –The Cycle Specialists and sold it to the Jowett family when the family settled in England. The cycling business remained Hall’s – The Cyclist Specialists until 1952 when Walter and his brother eventually changed the name of the business to Jowett Brothers.



Garda was not noted for her musical prowess at school. Apparently the music teacher told her that she was singing out of tune and asked her to leave the music class! It should be pointed out that some children who sing out of tune begin to sing in tune as they mature. Despite being good enough to be accepted at the Royal Academy of Music in 1920 and doing well there, several critics remarked on occasional lapses of intonation when she became a professional singer.

In 1920, she boarded the Norman Castle in Durban with her mother, who was 41 at the time.


They arrived in Southampton on 9 August 1920 and Garda began her vocal studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London at the beginning of the new term in September, taking lessons with the renowned singing teacher, Frederick King who trained many notable singers including Norman Allin, Miriam Licette, Carmen Hill and Robert Radford. T. Arnold Fulton, the Scottish organist and choral director of the London Select Choir and the choir at St Columba’s Church in London where he was organist and choir master, acted as studio accompanist to Frederic King at the Royal Academy. Some years later Arnold Fulton moved to South Africa and taught singing based on the methods he had learnt from Frederic King.

Garda obtained the diplomas of ARAM and LRAM. Interestingly, she apparently trained as a mezzo soprano at the Academy, yet sang as a lyric soprano during her subsequent career as a singer. She was awarded the Gilbert Betjemann Gold Medal at the Academy for operatic singing in 1923.


Not long after she graduated, she sang at the first Grand Ballad Concert of the season at the Guildhall, Plymouth on 29 September 1923, and in 1925 she made a triumphant return to Pietermaritzburg and Durban and gave several successful recitals while she was there. The closing item which she sang at the Pietermaritzburg concert was Poor Wand’ring One from The Pirates of Penzance. I wonder what her disapproving music mistress at ;the Collegiate School thought about this! If she had left South Africa as a second-rate, sometimes out of tune mezzo, she had returned to the country of her birth as an engaging lyric soprano. At the time of her trip her parents were living in Winkelspruit on the South Coast of Natal, but by 1930 the whole family moved to 137 King Henry’s Road, South Hampstead, the address where Garda remained until her death in 1968.

Towards the end of that year Garda sang in Burnley in aid of the Police Convalescent fund. Two of her fellow artistes were distinguished singers of the day – Muriel Brunskill (contralto) and Tudor Davies (tenor). At a concert the following year, the critic remarked on her clean-cut articulation (in English and French) and her ability to sing a comfortable high E. However, he disapproved of “an almost continuous vibrato which adversely affected her intonation”. He suggested that she should work on her breathing to correct this fault – shades of that music mistress in Pietermaritzburg!

1926 was an auspicious year for Garda as she began recording for His Master’s Voice (HMV). One of her notable recordings was the Mozart Requiem with  the Philharmonic Choir and orchestra, conducted by Charles Kennedy Scott on 6 July at the Queen’s Hall.Other singers on the recording were Nellie Walker, Sydney Coltham and Edward Halland. She was also bridesmaid at the wedding of baritone Roy Henderson and Bertha Smyth in March. The couple had met when studying at the Royal Academy, presumably at the same time as Garda herself.

CHERRY RIPE (Arr. Lehmann)



DOWN IN THE FOREST (Landon Ronald)

During the twenties, Garda was making a name for herself as a popular concert singer, recording artiste and broadcaster, although critics were still concerned about her violent vibrato and doubtful intonation as opposed to her vocal good points of agility and wide range. She was singing with the finest singers of the day, as can be seen in this article of 1928:

Eminent singers (1928)

Advertisement for Bath Pump Room.

On 6 March 1930 Webster Booth was establishing himself on record, radio, as the Duke of Buckingham in the West End production of The Three Musketeers, and as a tenor soloist in oratorio, but he was still entertaining at dinners and benefit concerts, such as one at the Finsbury Town Hall for the Clerkenwell Benevolent Society, where South African soprano, Garda Hall was one of the other entertainers. Charles Forwood, who was to become the permanent accompanist of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth when they went on the variety stage in 1940, accompanied at this concert.


A newspaper cutting on 20 March 1930 reads as follows: The Clerkenwell Benevolent Society benefited to a considerable extent as a result of a concert at the Finsbury Town Hall on March 6. There was a generous provision of talent, among those to please a large and enthusiastic audience being Garda Hall, Doris Smerdon, Gladys Limage, Doris Godfrey, Hilda Gladney Woolf, Maidie Hebditch, Webster Booth, Ashmoor Burch, Charles Hayes, Fred Wildon and Lloyd Shakespeare, with Charles Forwood as accompanist. It is interesting that some of these names are still remembered today, while others are completely unknown.

Later  in that year, Garda returned to South Africa and her parents came to England on board the Gloucester Castle to make their home with her. For a short time they lived at 142 King Henry’s Drive, Hampstead, but later moved to 137 King Henry’s Drive, where she remained until her death in 1968.


In March 1932 Garda took part in a broadcast of popular opera with another South African singer who had made a career in the UK, the contralto Betsy de la Porte. In the same year she sang in a concert devoted to Viennese music at the Pump Room in Bath. The conductor was Edward Dunn, and baritone George Baker, Webster’s great friend and mentor, was the other soloist. Several years later, Garda suggested to Edward Dunn that he should apply for the position of musical director of Durban Opera. He was chosen from 200 candidates and remained in South Africa for the rest of his life. The last I heard of him was when he was conducting the Johannesburg Philharmonic Society and giving lectures on musical appreciation in the sixties.

In May 1932 Garda made a 12 inch recording of Musical Comedy Gems (1) and Musical Comedy Gems (2) with George Baker (C2412) of songs from The Chocolate Soldier, The Desert Song, Rose Marie and The Merry Widow.


                                                George Baker and Garda Hall


On 22 May 1933, Frederic King, Garda’s singing teacher at the academy, died at the age of 80, and on 1 October of the same year, Webster was on the same bill as Garda Hall at the Palladium. Other performers on that bill were Debroy Somers and his band, Leonard Henry (compère), Raie da Costa (the brilliant South African pianist who died at an early age) and Stainless Stephen. Webster had also been booked to sing at the National Sunday League concerts at the Finsbury Park Empire, and the same artistes as those at the Palladium were due to perform at the Lewisham Town Hall later in October.

On 15 March 1934 Garda Hall sang in Torquay with the Municipal Orchestra there and the short newspaper article announcing the date pointed out that her father had been a Torquay man. She sang an aria from Die Fledermaus at the Queen’s Hall on the last night of the Promenade concerts on 6 October 1934, conducted by Sir Henry Wood.

On 5 December 1935, Garda Hall, Webster and George Baker sang in a concert version of Gounod’s Faust and the Beggar’s Opera at the Playhouse, Galashiels on the Scottish Borders. The Galashiels Choral Society (concert master: Robert Barrow) and orchestra were conducted by Herbert More.Webster Booth at the height of his fame.

The following year Webster sang with Garda again on 16 September at a Shrewsbury Carnival Concert. Other performers were Ronald Gourley (entertainer) and the Alfredo Campoli Trio.

In May 1937 Theatreland at Coronation Time was released featuring Stuart Robertson, Garda Hall, Webster Booth and Sam Costa. The critic in Gramophone remarked, “Mr Booth sings gloriously, Mr Robertson defiantly, Miss Hall charmingly, while Mr Costa contributes a fleeting reminiscence of a more sophisticated and yet oh so simple entertainment.” The 12”78rpm, HMV C2903 cost 4/-.

There is an entry for Garda Hall in Who’s Who in Music (1937): Hall, Garda ARAM, LRAM. Born Durban, educated at Royal Academy of Music. Betjemann Gold Medalist. Singing, Chamber music, oratorio, operatic. Recreation: gardening. Address: 137 King Henry’s Road NW3. Telephone: Primrose 4436

Garda continued singing during the war, often at CEMA concerts and in oratorio. She sang Messiah at the Albert Hall, Nottingham in December 1940.


27 March 1942


22 January 1943


The final cutting about Garda Hall appeared on 5 January 1945.

Sunday concert

I could find nothing more about her, apart from her entry in the Musicians Who’s Who in 1949, which was much the same as the 1937 entry. In 1945 she was 45 years of age so I cannot believe that she retired from singing at such an early age. Perhaps she taught singing after she retired from the concert platform, although there is no proof of this.  Her mother died in the late 1950s and she herself died on 7 June 1968. She did not marry. If anyone has further information about Garda Hall, I would be very glad to hear from you.


A Horse, a Singer and a Prince – two busy months in the life of Pietermaritzburg Bill Bizley

British Newspaper archive

Quentin Hall of Western Australia for genealogical research on his relative, Garda Hall

Jean Collen


5 August 2014





A Look at Behind the Lines


This sounds like a fascinating and unusual study.

Originally posted on Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's Blog:

Behind the lines logo

RPO resound’s year of Behind the Lines activities culminates in a four-day creative Summer School this August. Hannah Nepil finds out more.

What was Elgar’s favourite ice cream flavour? And was he ever burgled? These were two of the questions posed by children taking part in Behind the Lines, a year-long education project run by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Westminster Music Library, exploring the music of the First World War. And luckily, Elgar specialist Simon Baggs fielded the answers excellently: whilst there is no documentary evidence about Elgar’s favourite flavour, he could regularly be seen coming out of Woolworths in Worcester with an ice! And he was burgled once, in 1918, by two ex-policemen.

The project began last October, and carries on until summer this year – coinciding with the 100th anniversary of July 1914, when the War broke out. Adults, children and teenagers of all musical…

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A stitch of photos!

A stitch of photos!


This is the last episode in a series which concentrated on the lives and careers of famous British duettists, Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, and of my association with them. It was based on my book, “Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth” available with my other books at http://www.lulu.com/duettists

I can hardly believe that it is thirty years since a friend phoned to tell me that she had heard of Webster’s death on “News About Britain” on BBC World Service. I had known that he was ill, but it still came as a shock to hear that my beloved friend had died in Penrhyn Bay, Llandudno at the age of 82. I think this is a fitting day on which to present my final podcast in this series.

These podcasts have largely been created for members of my Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler Yahoo group, the 78rpm Community, and the Anne Ziegler-Webster Booth fan pages on Facebook, but I am very glad that they have reached a wider audience who enjoy their singing and the performance of other artistes of their generation.

In this episode you will hear the voices of Anne and Webster, and some of Webster’s favourites – Dundee pianist, Fred Hartley, Australian bass baritone Peter Dawson, Australian baritone, Harold Williams, soprano Isobel Baillie and his favourite tenor, Jussi Bjorling.

Read more about Anne and Webster: http://ziegler-booth.blogspot.com

I have created a blog about Webster Booth as a solo artist. It includes information about his life, videos, recordings and podcasts. http://websterbooth.blogspot.com

You can see complete playlists of all my podcasts; listen to all my podcasts and recordings, and see selected YouTube videos related to Anne and Webster at:


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

Listen to Webster’s solo recordings (as videos) on the Daily Motion site at:http://www.dailymotion.com/user/duettists1/1

You can also find pages devoted to them on Facebook at:
for Anne and Webster as duettists,


for Webster as a solo performer.

The more people who “like” and join these links, the more I will be inclined to continue posting details about their lives and careers.

The fall of the wild?


I feel very upset about plans to open a coal mine so close to this wonderful wilderness area, and feel for Dr Player who spent so many years working for the preservation of the rhino. I have signed the petition and sincerely hope that the Fuleni Anthracite project will be abandoned!

Originally posted on Save Our iMfolozi Wilderness:

Ian & Ann Player Ian & Ann Player

 This article appeared in the Witness on Wednesday, 28 May
By Sheila Berry

Recent news of the proposed Ibutho Coal’s Fuleni opencast coal mine, sited a mere 40 to 70 metres from the southern boundary fence of the historic iMfolozi wilderness area, sent shock waves that were felt worldwide that this historic reserve could be lost to mining.

Already there is Somkhele mine, a few kilometres from the eastern boundary of the wilderness area, and, on the west, the Zululand Anthracite Colliery’s coal mines. A coal mine on the southern boundary would be the final straw.

One man who received the news as a crushing blow is Dr Ian Player, the 87 years old legendary conservationist, whose name is synonymous with wilderness, rhinos, the iMfolozi, and pioneering the Dusi Canoe Marathon. He has dedicated 62 years of his life to conservation and protecting small pockets of…

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Theatres in early Johannesburg


This is a marvellous article about theatres in early Johannesburg. I am sure it will be of interest to the many people who have followed my post on “life in Kensington and Johannesburg fifty years ago”.

Originally posted on Johannesburg 1912 - Suburb by suburb research:

Just a quick thank you to everyone out there following, reading and commenting on this blog. Thanks also to the Heritage Portal, Past Experiences, Lost Johannesburg, and Candice from Wyatt’s Hairdressing who have all either linked to this blog or mentioned it in some way over the last few weeks. Since moving it to WordPress in March 2013, the increase in visits and views has been phenomenal. The average visitor reads just about 6 pages according to the stats. I’m told that’s a good number…it means the content is engaging.

This out-of-place post is the result of some research into theatres I was doing for a scene in the story. I had to find the right kind of theatre with some outside and inside photographic reference. It also had to be in the right part of town so the scenes that follow are believable. Here we go:

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▶ 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.


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:

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,


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.


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 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


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


 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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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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