I am removing all posts concerning Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler from this site to my new site about Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler
It will probably take me some time to do this. Please bear with me!
Writer, Editor, Proof-reader, Musician
14 Mar 2017 Leave a comment
I am removing all posts concerning Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler from this site to my new site about Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler
It will probably take me some time to do this. Please bear with me!
04 Oct 2016 5 Comments
“It’s the big move on Saturday,” said my friend, Helen. “I can’t wait for it to be over.”
“Can I help at all?”
I knew I had to ask although I prayed her answer would be no. Helen is a good friend just surfacing from the morass of her divorce from Charlie. Hence, the move from her elegant home now occupied by his mistress, the soon-to-be Mrs Bryant, Mark 2.
“A red face brick bungalow with a tin roof,” Helen had told me without enthusiasm when she first bought the bungalow. It was all she could afford with the money she had been granted in the divorce settlement.
“Would you really help me?” asked Helen hopefully. “It would be a godsend if you could be at the house to receive the furniture until I get from one place to the other. I’d be quick. You’d only need to be there for an hour – or two at the most.”
“Give me the address and I’ll be there. No problem,” I said, dispensing regretfully with my slothful Saturday plans.
Helen was already fishing around in her copious handbag.
“Twenty-one,” she said, handing a set of keys to me. “Twenty-one Juniper Street.”
It was a very hot day, but a shiver passed through my body.
“Are you sure of the number?” I asked faintly.
“Yes. Look, the address is on this label attached to the keys in case you forget it. Are you all right, Meg? You’ve gone quite pale. You should forget all that dieting nonsense. It doesn’t do you any good at all.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said, taking the keys from her with a trembling hand. “I’ll see you on Saturday at Juniper Street.”
I drove off abruptly, wondering why I hadn’t blurted out the reason for my discomfiture. Forty years ago, I had been nineteen, still living at home with my elderly parents. 21 Juniper Street was our address.
I arrived at the bungalow an hour before the removal van was due. I had passed the house now and again on trips to the shopping centre on the other side of the hill. The thick bougainvillea creeper with heliotrope blossoms still enclosed the stoep where we had sat on hot evenings. As I climbed the familiar steps to the stoep, I felt as though I was a young teenager again, arriving home from school to receive a rapturous welcome from Shandy, our little brown and white dog of indeterminate breed.
I was surprised to see that the same wallpaper my parents had plastered on the walls in 1963 was still in the hallway. I could almost smell the goo that pervaded the atmosphere while we were having the place redecorated. I remembered my mother discussing the wallpaper with my singing teacher and the difficulty they were having in finding something they liked.
“If you manage to do that job yourself you’ll be a better man than I am, Gungadin!” he had laughed.
I had been curious enough to check the origin of the dated expression and traced it back to Rudyard Kipling.
The telephone, where I had sat for hours, chatting to my best friend, Sally in the days when it cost a tickey to make a call and talk for as long as we liked, was in the same place in the passage, although it had been replaced by a more up-to-date model than our sombre black set from all those years ago.
Sally and I studied singing with Marina Baxter and Derek Bailey, the famous English singers who had moved to South Africa from the UK in the mid-fifties. We had both been successful in our auditions to join the SABC choir and, at Marina and Derek’s suggestion, had sought each other out at rehearsals. Sally, like me, was originally from Glasgow. We both loved singing, hoped to make careers in music, and we both thought the world of Marina and Derek. Sally, a soprano, was short and plump with piercing blue eyes and honey-coloured hair. She was the youngest of three sisters and was far more outgoing than me. I, a contralto, the only child of elderly parents, was tall and dark and fairly reserved and reticent until I got to know people.
The house was completely empty but suddenly the phone rang: not the computerised sound of today’s telephones, which, in my advancing years, I cannot always hear clearly. This ring was loud and jangling. No difficulty in hearing it, but did I have the right to answer? I hesitated but the ringing continued. Perhaps it was Helen calling about the movers.Eventually I picked up the receiver.
“Hello,” I said tentatively.
“Is that you, Meg? You sound strange this morning. Did you have a late night?”
It wasn’t Helen after all but the voice was certainly very familiar. It was the voice of a young girl. Usually girls of that age call me Mrs Johnson and ask to speak to one or other of my teenage children.
“Yes, this is Meg. Who’s speaking?” I asked rather suspiciously.
“You’re joking with me,” the girl laughed. “I just wanted to know how your accompanying in the studio went this week. Did you pluck up courage to ask him to dinner? Is he going to come?”
Suddenly I felt cold and shivery. At last I knew who was speaking. I recognised the voice of my best friend, Sally, who had died at the age of nineteen, forty years ago. I was rooted to the spot unable to speak. My younger self took over the conversation, while I, the middle-aged woman, looked on helplessly.
“What did you sing at your lesson today?” I heard myself asking Sally looking forward to a long chat about our heroes.
“I cancelled my lesson. I was far too excited to go. Can you keep a secret, Meg? Mum told me not to breathe a word, but I have to tell someone. You won’t believe what has happened to us!”
I waited expectantly. We never cancelled our singing lessons if we could possibly avoid doing so. We’d have to be on the point of going to hospital before we would think of staying away.
“We had a telegram this morning,” Sally said solemnly.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Has someone died?” I asked.
All the telegrams we ever received in our family had born bad news of one kind or another.
“Not that kind of telegram, silly. One from the bank to say we’ve – or rather – Mum has won a prize in the Rhodesian Sweep. Not first prize, you understand, but a fortune all the same.”
She paused tantalisingly.
“How much?” I asked.
“Forty thousand pounds!”
That was a lot of money in 1963. You could retire on the interest of money like that. Sally’s father didn’t retire, but he and her mother bought a bigger car, went on a first class trip back to Scotland, and had a kidney-shaped swimming pool built in the back garden.
After we got over the excitement of her parents having riches beyond our imagination, our conversation reverted to how I got on as a very keen, but inexperienced studio accompanist to Derek Bailey.
“Sally, it was wonderful, the best time I’ve had in my life. He was so kind and understanding. My sight reading has improved so much, and guess what? He was thrilled when I asked him to dinner and he’s going to take me to Dawson’s Hotel for lunch sometime next week as well.”
I was waiting eagerly waiting to hear what she thought of my news, but the line was dead. She was gone and I had no idea how to get her back again.
I looked into the empty lounge still with its Adam ceiling and bay lead-light window. Even the fireplace remained although it was fitted with an anthracite heater now. In our day we had an open coal fire which filled the house with comforting warmth we never enjoy in winter today. Periodically the McPhail’s coal truck would arrive to replenish our coal cellar. ‘Mac won’t Phail you,’ read the slogan on the truck.
Our big radio with its green cat’s eye to fine-tune the stations stood on a table next to the fireplace and was the sole source of our entertainment as the Nationalist government banned TV from South Africa until 1976, fearing that the population might be influenced by radical ideas from the outside world. The piano was in the opposite corner, where I must have distracted the neighbours practising singing and piano scales early each morning.
As I stared round the room remembering the way it had been, bemused at the vivid conversation with dear Sally who had died so many years ago, I suddenly saw my parents and Derek, chatting together over an after-dinner whisky. I was there watching my younger self, clad in that bottle green velvet dress I had thought so attractive. It was the first time I had accompanied for Derek in their singing studio on the eighth floor of a building in the centre of the city, while Marina was away on a trip. He was on his own at home, so my mother had suggested he should come to dinner one evening.
He loved our little dog, Shandy and encouraged her to sit on his lap, shedding her hair on his Saville Row suit.
“My girl friend,” he said contentedly, sipping the whisky, stroking Shandy, and regaling us with tales of their days in variety when they had appeared on the same bill with the likes of Max Miller. Rawicz and Landauer and Albert Sandler.
The scene faded as quickly as it had begun and, once again, I saw myself standing on the bougainvillea-covered stoep with my parents bidding him goodbye after a wonderful evening.
“Thank you for looking after Meg,” said my mother.
He smiled at me in a kindly fashion. “I think it’s Meg who’s looking after me,” he replied.
My heart warmed at his words, just as it had done forty years ago when I had first heard the same words spoken in that very spot. He was a kind and gentle man with none of the conceit one might expect from a great and famous tenor.
We watched him drive his jaunty blue convertible up the hill of Juniper Street. He gave a gentle hoot on his horn to bid us goodbye.
That scene vanished as quickly as it had appeared and reverted to being one of my indelible memories once again. I was alone in a cold and empty house, longing to return to those happy innocent days, sad that my parents, Derek and dear Shandy were gone forever, knowing that the moving van and Helen would soon be here, and knowing too that I couldn’t possibly share what had happened – or what I had imagined had happened – with Helen, or with anyone else on earth for as long as I lived.
1 August 2011
Updated 4 October 2016.
03 Jan 2016 Leave a comment
I arrived in Johannesburg just in time for the last school term of 1957. There were no available places in the Form 2a class at Jeppe Girls’ High so I was placed in Form 2c with the History teacher, Miss Kay as my class teacher.
It was not very pleasant being a new girl again and arriving there in my Vaal High uniform. One of the girls in my new class asked why I hadn’t gone to Queen’s High as my uniform was almost identical to the Queen’s uniform. In those days there was no such thing as off-the-shelf uniforms. There were a number of dressmakers in Kensington who made school uniforms to measure. I went to one of these dressmakers to be measured and my mother bought the required amount of material to have the uniform made. It took at least a week for the dressmaker to make my uniform, but this meant that I had to attend school in my Vaal High uniform for over a week.
It was difficult arriving at a new school at a time when everyone was preparing for the year end examinations for which they had been studying all year. Although the Vaal High and Jeppe were in the same province, the schools had different text books and seemed to have been studying entirely different material! I was a very conscientious child and it did not occur to me that the staff might make allowances for me in these exams. Margaret Masterton was kind enough to lend me all her note books and I copied them out and spent all the hours heaven sent trying to prepare myself for the exams.
Vivian Vernon, one of the girls in my new class took pity on me and asked me to sit with her and her friends at break. We sat in the quadrangle to the right of the school. Some older girls stood on the grass above the quadrangle and bullied me because I was new and not wearing the school uniform. They made life very unpleasant for me for a time. One particularly obnoxious girl was called Lindy Wright, but thankfully I have forgotten the names of the other girls in her unpleasant little gang. Even all those years ago there were bullies who delighted in making the lives of those who were not part of the established in-crowd as miserable as possible.
There had never been compulsory sport at the Vaal High. I wasn’t very keen on sport at all. I wasn’t a fast runner and I didn’t enjoy gym either – other girls bounded over the beastly horse while I usually landed on top of the thing and had to do my best to struggle off it while the others giggled at my lack of prowess.
Despite all the upheaval of the sudden move, living in a boarding house, called the Valmeidere Hotel in Roberts Avenue, run by a Scottish couple called Murdoch until we found a suitable flat in Samad Court at the corner of Queens Street and Langermann Drive. Samad Court is still here, but the flats were turned into offices some years ago.
I managed to pass the exams quite adequately at the end of the term and was moved into Form 3a at the beginning of 1958. I was just getting used to the girls in 2c and now I had to face another entirely new class of clever girls the following year.
After my success in the Vaal High play I decided to audition for the school play at Jeppe in 1958, Lace on Her Petticoat by Aimee Stewart, produced by Miss Constance Cox, the French mistress. This was a Scottish play so my authentic accent stood me in good stead for it. I was given the male lead of Hamish Colquhoun. The cast was a small one so we all became very good friends during rehearsals and the run of the play: Margaret Malcolm, Gillian McDade, Elizabeth Moir, Elna Hansen and Winifred Smith and me. As far as I remember, Elizabeth was the only other Scot in the play. I don’t think many people realised that I had a Glasgow accent, while her accent originated in Aberdeen!
Gillian McDade was head girl in 1959 and emigrated to Canada after she left university, where she died of cancer a number of years go. Her mother was a stalwart of Children’s Theatre Productions and Gillian and I ushered at some of these productions and were allowed to watch the show as a reward for our ushering efforts. Elizabeth Moir, as Elizabeth Rankin, became the first woman Dean of Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand and emigrated to New Zealand some time ago. I lost trace of the other girls in the cast, but it would be lovely to hear from anyone involved in that very happy production.
I remained at Jeppe Girls’ High from the last term of 1957 until the end of the second term in 1958 when we returned to the UK on board the Winchester Castle._
We lived in Southampton and I attended St Anne’s Convent for a term as no government grammar school would accept me as I had not done the 11 plus examination. I remember it as a period when I hardly uttered a word to anyone. Most of the subjects and syllabi were different or more advanced than what I had been doing at Jeppe._
Jean Collen (nee Campbell)
23 Nov 2015 8 Comments
in Vanderbijlpark Tags: Helen Suzman, Hendrik Vanderbijl Primary School, Kingsmead College, Margaret Nel Van Heerden, Mr A.S. Nel, Nadine Gordimer, National Party, Oliver Lodge Primary School, Vaal High School, Vanderbijlpark
I was very pleased to hear from Margaret Nel van Heerden, the daughter of the late Mr A.S. Nel, headmaster at the Hendrik Van der Bijl Primary School in Vanderbijlpark in the 1950s. Margaret is a distinguished visual artist and lives in Pretoria. Her article about the school reads as follows:
Margaret Nel – aged 8.
I read your article Vanderbijl Park: Early Fifties with a great deal of interest. I am Margaret Nel, daughter of the first principal of Hendrik van der Bijl Primary School, Mr AS Nel, not a Hollander or “Dutchman” but a highly qualified South African (BA, MA, BEd, MEd, BCom, BEcon), very well regarded by both the staff, parents and pupils of the school. Both he and my mother came from conservative Nationalist Afrikaner farming families. Both were fully bilingual as am I.
My parents had spent some time in the UK a few years before World War Two. My father was an exchange teacher in London and was sent at short notice to different schools, mostly in very poor areas, when one of the teachers was absent for some reason. This experience gave him a better understanding of the backgrounds of his pupils whose parents left after the war and settled in South Africa hoping for a better future for their children. He always believed that any child, no matter what his culture,background, or creed could make a success of his/her life if given a fair chance.
I attended the Hendrik Van der Bijl School from 1951 to 1957. My mother, whose name was also Margaret, was my Grade 1 teacher before she went to Oliver Lodge Primary School and later to Vaal High School. The headmaster at the Vaal High was Mr Thomas whose two daughters, Brenda and Sally, attended Hendrik van der Bijl School during the same period.
I am also left handed but my mother’s attitude was that I lived in a right handed world and taught me to sew, knit, crochet and cut with a pair of scissors with my right hand. I write with my left hand however and remember left handed children in the school class being made to sit next to each other at a desk to prevent accidentally bumping the hand doing the writing.
My father was a keen sportsman who coached school cricket, rugby and athletics in addition to his duties as head master.
The names of many of the children mentioned in your articles are familiar to me. Bridget (Biddy) Lawrence was the younger daughter of my family’s GP who lived for some time opposite the headmaster’s house, which was located almost next to the school. One of my best friends was Stephanie (Steffie) Daniel, younger sister of Joy. Other children who were in your Standard 3 class and whose names you may recognize are Kathleen Richardson, Geraldine Black, twins Walter and Jackie McGuicken, Darryl Pile, older brother of my best friend Jennifer Pile, Michael Beisly, who died of leukemia in 1956, Merle Aronstam, whose family owned the local hotel and Jennifer Forbes.
The end of year concerts that you mention were enormous fun even though at primary school level no auditions were really considered necessary. Mothers and teachers made the costumes while my father, who painted (rather badly, as he had no training) as a hobby, supervised the construction of the sets. The Standard 5 teacher Frances Bird, usually wrote the script if it was an English play, often a version of a fairy tale such as Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. Every year we would go to Johannesburg to a shop called Carnival Novelties to buy stage makeup and false hair for the wigs and beards. Needless to say, as the headmaster’s daughter, I only ever had a very small part and was never selected for a leading role as that would have been considered favouritism. After the final evening performance, all the staff members who were involved with the concert gathered at our house for refreshments while the children of the teachers played Blind Man’s Buff in the dark on my double bunk bed.
His Majesty’s Theatre, Commissioner Street.
We often visited Johannesburg as it was the only place where we could access book shops and go to the theatre. Ballet performances were always held at His Majesty’s Theatre, with the corps de ballet selected from local dancers while principals were always imported from Sadlers Wells. The library had a small theatre below ground level where Children’s Theatre productions were performed. A visit to Joubert Park and the National Art Museum near Park Station were always included on our visits. We didn’t have a car so traveled to Jo’burg in the red railway buses and stayed at the Victoria Hotel for the weekend. We often went to the East AfricanPavilion for curry or to the wonderful restaurant within Park Station where one could also see the massive Pierneef paintings.
Standard 2 class (1952)
I have all the photographs of the school buildings and of the primary school class included in your articles. As a year end gift for my father, his staff compiled a photograph album of all the classes, both English and Afrikaans of that particular year, as well as photographs and programs of the concert which was held every year at the Iscor Recreation Centre quite close to the school, and also of school sporting events. These albums, seven in total, dating from 1951 to 1957, with every child’s name inscribed under the class photograph, are very precious to me, as they are the only record of a very special period of my life. Many of the teachers, including Joyce McFadyen, whose daughter Dawn was one of my friends, Mrs Hicks, whose two children Muriel (who was in your class) and Edwin also attended the school, Mrs Erasmus, my Standard 3 teacher, and Irmgard Verhoop, the sewing teacher, who was German and whose husband Daan was Dutch, were all family friends as well as colleagues of my parents. The Verhoops were good people, their daughter Mareliese and I great friends although she was a year younger. Mrs Verhoop studied in Germany before the war and a great treat for us was when she took out all her beautifully sewn and embroidered handwork which she had completed for her exams.
Some members of staff off-duty!
Because we lived in a government house next to the school I was friends with children from various cultures living in the neighborhood, from very very poor Afrikaans children who were originally part of farming communities and whose parents couldn’t afford school clothes, to immigrant children, and children who lived in more affluent suburbs, albeit many of these in very modest homes. Almost all their fathers were connected to Iscor in some way, either at management or blue collar level. My earliest friends were Afrikaans children who lived in small pre-war houses in the same street, while also being taken by my parents to visit the luxurious riverside home of Mrs Erasmus, the Standard 3 teacher whose husband was a manager at Iscor.
My parents were acutely aware of possible family problems affecting the immigrant children whose fathers were employed by Iscor and Vecor and who came from the UK, from war-torn Europe, and Hungarians after the occupation of Hungary by Russia in 1956. There was no effective social network for these people to make up for their absent family members and friends.
The Nationalist Party came to power in the 1948 general election and decided to do away with parallel or dual medium schools. My parents together with the proactive Parent-Teacher Association were appalled by this retrogressive move and in 1956/57 decided to take the State to court in an attempt to retain the status quo of the school so that children would continue to be educated in the language of their parents’ choice while both language groups remained free to play together at break and practise sport together on the sports fields. The State lost the court case and there was much jubilation amongst many parents and teachers. The staunch Nationalists were extremely unhappy with this outcome so the State appealed the case in 1957. This time the verdict went in favour of the State and against the School. It was a sad day for everyone connected with the school, especially for my own family, as my parents were much loved and respected by the community. My father was forced to resign his post and we moved to Swaziland where he took up the post of headmaster at the Evelyn Baring High School. From 1958 the Hendrik Van der Bijl school became a single medium Afrikaans school with the vice headmaster, Mr Schroeder becoming headmaster of the school in my father’s place. When my mother died just over three years later, my father and I returned to the Transvaal, where he taught Mathematics at a Pretoria high school and later at Jeppe Boys High, where Haldane Hofmeyer was headmaster.
Because of my parents’ public opposition to the policies of the Nationalist Party I was given a place at the then politically progressive girls’ high school in Johannesburg, Kingsmead College. The daughters of the political activist Braam Fischer, and Helen Suzman’s nieces attended Kingsmead, as did Nadine Gordimer’s daughters some years later. My father was amongst the few brave people during the era of Grand Apartheid who stood up for what he believed in despite possible dire consequences. Most people simply went along with the system essentially knowing that it was wrong.
Later, as a mark of protest towards the government of the day, we spoke only English at home and all my friends were English speaking children from the neighborhood as well as from the suburbs nearer the Vaal river. Having such a wide circle of friends was beneficial to me for I have an understanding and empathy for people from different backgrounds and can easily accommodate myself when meeting people from areas as divergent as Houghton and Saxonwold to Pretoria West and Capital Park.
I have visited the school twice, the last time with my daughter about eight or ten years ago. The area is still essentially a poor white area, but the school, which became a prosperous Afrikaans-only institution and acquired a state funded school hall, administration block and swimming pool after we left, is now again, ironically, a dual medium school. This time it caters for a minority of white Afrikaans speaking pupils remaining whose parents wanted them to complete their schooling there before going to high school, and the majority of black pupils who were taught in English despite their native vernacular being a black language such as Sesutu. Sadly the buildings and grounds had deteriorated badly, the swimming pool unused and empty. I suspect that it now enrolls only black pupils.
My father fought for equality and friendship amongst the two predominant white cultures. Never in his wildest imagination could he have foreseen the path the school would follow after he left.
Margaret Nel van Heerden
Read more about appeal at:Hendrik Van der Bijl School appeal
21 Oct 2015 Leave a comment
in Articles and Essays, Current affairs Tags: City Parks, Jean Collen, Johannesburg City Council, Kensington, Kensington Spring Fair, Mr Z.P. Kella, Rhodes Park, South African Police, Westbury Secondary School
Kensington residents were shocked and saddened to hear of the atrocity committed in Rhodes Park, Kensington on Saturday evening. Two young couples were strolling around the lake after having a picnic in the park when they were set upon by a gang of 12 barbarians. One of the women was gang-raped, while the men were tied up, dumped in the lake, and drowned as they could not free themselves from their bonds. The second woman managed to escape from her attackers and was able to raise the alarm.The gang of 12 has not yet been apprehended. Apparently they made their escape through a stormwater drain.
Kensington residents, both past and present, have fond memories of going to this beautiful park over the years – to the library, to the recently refurbished swimming pool, to the restaurant, where many couples held their wedding receptions when the place was functioning, to listen to the various brass bands which played in the bandstand once a month, or just to go to the park for a walk, to relax after a stressful day, to play or to walk their dogs. Latterly, as there have been a number of muggings and robberies there, many of us only went to the park once a year – to attend the popular Spring Fair in early September.
The Spring Fair, Rhodes Park. 2012
The park has been maintained by the City Parks department, but there are no attendants present to ensure the safety of visitors. The derelict buildings apparently house hoodlums, drug addicts and drug dealers, and possibly homeless people into the bargain.
Now that this shocking incident has taken place there are vain attempts to make the park a safer place – too little, too late, in my opinion. I think the following things should be done immediately:
An official said that people should be “vigilant” when going into the park. People in this country have to be vigilant from morning to night – vigilant when they drive in or out of their driveways in case they are attacked and held up; vigilant on the roads for fear of being hijacked; vigilant at shopping centres in case there is an armed robbery; vigilant in their homes in case burglars break in to steal their possessions, or worse. Crime is all around us these days in South Africa. Surely it is not too much to ask that we should be able to go to the park and know that we are safe, that we will not be mugged, raped, robbed or killed?
Tomorrow a memorial service will be held at noon for one of the young men who was drowned by these barbarians last Saturday. This service is for Mr Z P Kella who was a teacher at Westbury Secondary School. I have seen a beautiful photo of him and his partner. It is a tragedy that this shining young man and his friend were killed in such a brutal manner, and that their partners will never recover from the unimaginable experience. This incident reminds me of some of the brutal terrorist behaviour of ISIL members in Syria. I sincerely hope that the gang of 12 is caught and punished appropriately. I’m afraid that “rotting in jail” is too good for these monsters.
27 Aug 2015 Leave a comment
in Fiction books, Fiona Compton Tags: Faint Harmony, Fiona Compton, I Can't forget you, Just the Echo of a Sigh, Love Set to Music, Malcolm Craig series, music, singing, The Song is Ended and other stories
In order not to cause confusion between my non-fiction writing (published in my own name of Jean Collen, I am publishing fiction under the name of Fiona Compton. I have created a Facebook page for FIONA COMPTON – WRITER
If you are registered on Facebook, please like this page and follow it. All my novels and a collection of short stories have a musical theme. They are available at FIONA’S STORE – FICTION WITH A MUSICAL THEME
I have created a separate wordpress page for my fiction writing at: FIONA COMPTON’S FICTION
I have completed the third novel in the Malcolm Craig series and have published the book as a paperback and as an Epub E-book. Read more about the new book and the two previous books at: Fiona’s Store – fiction with a musical theme
Here is a random sample from the book:
Kate – April 1962
After I finished my secretarial course I was working in the cables department of a city bank in Simmonds Street. I was taking lessons in piano and singing and preparing for various exams so I had to get up at the crack of dawn to practise my scales in singing and piano before I went to work. I was exhausted by the end of the day! Liz was on her April school holiday but I was working a five and a half day week in the bank with no sign of any holiday in view. My father had promised that if I did well in the exams he might allow me to leave the bank and study singing and piano full time until I completed my diplomas in both subjects so I was determined to do well no matter how exhausted I was. Becoming a professional musician was far more appealing to me than spending the rest of my life typing out letters and cables in the bank, and working overtime when the Rhodesian Sweep cables arrived and had to be decoded so that the bank could notify all the lucky winners that they had won a lot of money in the sweep.
One day Liz phoned during my lunch hour. She was very excited.
“Malcolm needs a small studio audience for his Edwardian programme tomorrow night and he’s just phoned to ask if I’d like to go. I suppose he’s been in touch with you too, Kate?” she asked.
My heart sank for he hadn’t asked me. I felt a stab of pure jealousy that my friend had been asked to go to the recording and Malcolm hadn’t bothered to ask me.
“No, he hasn’t phoned me,” I replied, barely able to speak for my mouth had dried up completely. “Perhaps he’s not planning on asking me at all.”
Liz was silent for a moment. She had probably assumed that Malcolm would invite me and she must have known that I was feeling very hurt not to have been invited.
“Well, it’s still not too late. Maybe he’ll phone you once you get home,” she said brightly, and then found an excuse to ring off quickly rather than commiserate with me any further. I continued eating the sandwiches my mother had made for my lunch, although I could hardly swallow them because there was a persistent lump in my throat. I did my best to keep a brave face and not let the tears that were welling up in my eyes run down my cheeks.
Marina and I were having a snack lunch in the studio. Eunice always managed to think of something interesting to put in our lunch boxes. As far as I was concerned the lunch break was the best part of our day in the studio. I really was not cut out to teach other people how to sing. I had managed to get out of most of the morning’s lessons by spending time in the office telephoning friends to invite them to the recording the following evening.
“I think I’ve contacted enough people for the recording tomorrow,” I said to Marina.”We don’t want too many in that small studio otherwise the applause will sound like Wembley Stadium at the cup final instead of a few genteel guests in a refined Edwardian drawing room. I had to laugh at Liz. She was so terribly excited about it. She could hardly contain herself!”
“Did you manage to get through to Kate?” asked Marina. “I know it’s sometimes difficult to get through to her at the bank when it’s busy.”
“Kate? I didn’t think of phoning her at all. I stopped phoning when I reached the right number.”
“But you know she and Liz are such great friends now. She’ll be terribly disappointed if you don’t ask her and she finds out that Liz is going. I wouldn’t be surprised if Liz didn’t phone her right away to tell her the exciting news. You know how they both adore you!”
I hadn’t even thought about whether Kate would be disappointed, but I realised that Marina was quite right. Kate would be very hurt indeed if I didn’t invite her to the recording. Despite her reserve, I didn’t need Marina to tell me that she thought a lot of me. She was probably as fond of me as I was of her. Why on earth hadn’t she been the first person I phoned instead of leaving her out altogether?
I looked up her number in the studio diary and made the call. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone happier to hear my voice in years.
“Will it be you and your parents, Kate, or do you want to bring your boyfriend with you too?”
I hoped she didn’t have a boyfriend, but if she did, I’d have to put a good face on it and receive the spotty youth with good grace.
“I haven’t got a boyfriend,” she replied in a small voice. For some reason I was very pleased to hear this. “It’ll just be me and my parents. Thank you so much for asking us, Mr Craig.”
There was a pause and she added, “I thought you had forgotten me.”
“Never, darling,” I lied bluffly. “Marina and I will meet you in the foyer of Broadcast House at half past seven. You won’t be late, will you?”
“No – we’ll be sure to be there on time,” Kate assured me solemnly.
We were usually pretty casually dressed when we went to rehearsals for the choir. Sometimes Liz was still wearing her blue school uniform if she hadn’t had time to change after some activity at school in the afternoon. We had never seen any of the other broadcasters formally dressed when they arrived at Broadcast House to record their programmes or read the news, although we had heard that BBC news readers had worn evening dress to read the news in the nineteen-thirties – and possibly beyond.
I was glad that Liz and I had dressed smartly for this particular trip to Broadcast House. When we arrived in the brightly lit foyer, there was Malcolm Craig clad in evening dress with a flower in his lapel, while Marina Dunbar wore a low-cut red evening dress, with a mink stole around her shoulders. Their great friend, widower Steve Baxter, a well-known broadcaster on Springbok radio, was obviously going to attend the recording too for he was also formally clad for the occasion although his usual attire for his own broadcasts was a sports jacket and open-necked shirt.
Although she was not taking part in the broadcast Marina was playing hostess to the people Malcolm had assembled for the recording. She ushered us all into the small studio where the recording was to take place and urged everyone to take their seats.
“Keep a seat for me in the front row, won’t you darlings,” she said to Liz and me.
Our parents sat together further back while Liz and I took our seats in the front row on either side of the coveted seat we were saving for Marina, or Miss Dunbar as I still called her. We were beside ourselves with excitement. Malcolm seated himself at a small table to the right of us, ready to begin the recording when he received the nod from the controllers who were seated in the enclosed glass booth at the back of the studio. He took a sip from the glass in front of him and glanced around at the audience.
Liz’s father asked in joking tones, “What’s that you’re drinking, Malcolm?”
“Water,” he replied dryly!
There was no further repartee between them after that exchange. Malcolm told us to clap politely after the items and talk in undertones to each other to create the atmosphere of a refined Edwardian drawing room. Although most of the audience applauded after the violinist and soprano had finished performing, it was only Marina who chatted to us brightly about the performers, and Liz and I did our best to respond with the necessary degree of ladylike decorum. For some reason everyone else seemed overwhelmed by the occasion and uttered not a word.
Malcolm got up from his chair in the corner and walked over to a spot directly in front of us to sing two ballads. Of course I had heard some of his recordings on the radio and I had heard his voice in the studio when he was showing me or one of the other pupils how to sing something properly. I had even heard him singing the Messiah when I was 13, but to experience him singing right in front of me was something I would never forget. Oh, Dry Those Tears and Parted – both sad Edwardian ballads, which he sang in his beautiful voice with all the feeling he could muster. I was completely mesmerised! I almost forgot that I had to chat politely with Marina and Liz after he stopped singing.
At the end of the recording everyone surged around him, congratulating him on his performance. Liz and I were the last in a long line of his admirers.
Malcolm asked us jokingly, “Well, was I all right?”
“All right? You were brilliant, Malcolm!” said Liz with all the confidence of youth.
“I’m glad you approve,” smiled Malcolm. “Perhaps you’ll come to some of the other recordings if you enjoyed this one.”
We nodded eagerly. I certainly couldn’t wait for the next time!
As we left the studio, I caught sight of Marina chatting to Steve Baxter while Malcolm was having a serious discussion with the accompanist. I thought I should say goodbye to her before we left, but I had the impression that she was not pleased that I had interrupted her intimate conversation with Steve Baxter.
“I’m so glad I was able to attend the recording,” I said. “Mr Craig was wonderful.”
“Yes, darling. We’re both very proud of him, aren’t we?” she replied in mocking tones, patting me on my arm. My face grew hot with embarrassment. and I suddenly felt deflated and childish. I realised then that I would be well advised not to offer such fulsome praise in future! Marina and Steve must have thought me very young and gauche.
After that magical evening it was difficult to settle down to sleep and it was a particularly dull thud that I had to force myself awake early in the morning to be in time to catch my regular bus with the other workers on their way to spend all day in shops and offices in the city.
Several months later, I did my music exams in piano and singing. Liz and an Afrikaans girl called Sonette du Preez, another pupil of Malcolm and Marina’s did their exams at the same time and Marina accompanied us all. Liz and I were suitably impressed by Sonette’s beautiful soprano voice when we heard her singing through the door of the the exam room. We decided that she had a much better voice than either of us and would probably do brilliantly in the exam
On Friday I went up to the studio apprehensively, wondering whether the exam results might have arrived. Malcolm answered the door and said heartily:
“I believe you sang very well on Tuesday, my gel!”
I looked at him intensely and said, “No, I was absolutely awful.”
“How do you think you did?”
“I’ve probably failed,” I replied with conviction.
He gave a little chuckle and marched back into the studio, leaving me to wait in the kitchen till Sonette finished her lesson. He called me in excitedly and handed me my card. I had obtained honours for Grade 8. I always expected the worst so I was always surprised if I did well. When I heard that Sonette with her brilliant voice had only managed 72 per cent for Grade 5, a mere pass, I felt disproportionately pleased, while congratulating her. Liz had passed Grade 6 with 72 per cent also. Marina and Malcolm seemed delighted with my results, and for most of that lesson, we drank tea and made firm plans for my diploma. Marina was wearing a black derby style hat and looked particularly striking in it. We all got on so well together that day.
I got honours for the piano exam too. My father was suitably impressed and agreed that I could stop working in the bank soon and study music on a full time basis.
The first and second books in this series, Just the Echo of a Sigh
The second novel in the series is Faint Harmony
Other fiction books by Fiona Compton are: I Can’t Forget You:
The Song is Ended and other stories:
26 August 2015.
29 Jul 2015 2 Comments
in Articles and Essays Tags: A Lesson from Aloes, Athol Fugard, Bill Curry, Holy Trinity Church Kalk Bay, Jean Collen, Jonathan Rands, Marius Weyers, Market Theatre, Michael Richard, Nicholas Ellenbogen, Sheila Holliday, St Andrew's Kensington, The Handspring Puppet company, The Indian Wants the Bronx
Bill Curry 26 March 1931 – 27 July 2015
Many years before I met Bill Curry I saw him in a play at the Laager in the Market Theatre, Johannesburg. The play was called The Indian Wants the Bronx, a three-hander with Michael Richard, Jonathan Rands, and Bill as the eponymous “Indian” being brutally harassed by two yobs at a bus stop in downmarket New York. A few years later I saw him again in Athol Fugard’s A Lesson from Aloes, with Marius Weyers and Sheila Holliday. On both occasions I was deeply impressed by his fine acting. Market Theatre, Newtown, Johannesburg
It was an unexpected pleasure to find him reading the lessons at the 7.30am service. He and I had arrived at St Andrew’s at about the same time in 1993. I had been appointed as the music director there and after the Nine Lessons and Carol Service he had congratulated me on the choir’s singing. I discovered that he had played the organ in Cape Town many years before my early fumblings on the instrument as a piano-organist. He was always willing to play the organ if I was ill or away. Later still he joined the choir, first as a bass, later as a tenor. He often took the men in the choir for special rehearsals when we were working on something difficult. I do not know how I would have managed without his constant support, kindness and enthusiasm.
I was delighted when he asked me to give him some vocal tuition. He visited me each week at my home in Derby Road, Kensington and he worked diligently at everything I gave him. We played Schubert duets on the piano and often interesting conversation got the better of us and we would find that considerable time had passed without a note of music being played or sung. He told me about an amusing encounter at the Festival Hall when he was studying at the Central School in London in 1956. He had gone to hear a recital by the great contralto, Marian Anderson.The woman next to him assumed that he was Indian and asked what he thought of Western music. Bill replied in his pristine actor’s voice, “Madam, I have known no other!” Marian Anderson (contralto)
St Andrew’s presented a Christmas in July dinner and he gave some infectious performances for the entertainment of the guests with him singing and me accompanying him.
I was very sad when he told me he had decided to sell up in Kensington and return to the Cape where he had been asked to stay in a cottage on the property of Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones who ran the Handspring Puppet Company in Kalk Bay. He had been instrumental in helping them when they were launching their company in the 1980s. In recent years the Handspring Puppet Company have become internationally famous with their creation of the War Horse for the play and film. Before he left Johannesburg he gave me his vast collection of LPs and a number of books and scores.
I missed his warm presence and his life-enhancing personality when he moved to the Cape. He appeared in a play at the Kalk Bay Theatre for Nicholas Ellenbogen and played the grandfather in the film, A Boy Called Twist, a South African adaptation of the Dickens’s book. We exchanged letters and phone calls for a while and I had hoped to visit him in his new home, but that visit did not materialise.
Earlier this month I was sad to hear that he was ill and in the frail care section of a home for the elderly. Yesterday I had news of his death at the age of 84. I will never forget our wonderful friendship. May he rest in peace.
I had a call from Jill in Cape Town to let me know that Bill’s Memorial Service will take place on Tuesday, 4 August at 4pm at Holy Trinity Church, Kalk Bay.
Jean Collen (29 July 2015)
30 Mar 2015 Leave a comment
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 ….
26 May 2014 Leave a comment
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”.
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:
View original post 2,564 more words
06 Dec 2013 2 Comments
in Articles and Essays Tags: Anne Ziegler, Brian Morris, Clare Marshall, Eve Boswell, Harry Seftel, Jane O'Byrne, Jean Collen, John Robbie, Michael Todd, Paddy O'Byrne, Peter Cleaton-Jones, Peter Lotis, Radio Today 1485, SABC, Talk Radio 702, Tony Verriker, Vuyo Mbuli, Webster Booth
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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