Tom Howell’s Opieros

tom-howell-back-wearing-boater-and-family-membersAn early photo of Tom Howell (wearing a boater) and family members.

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Tom Howell and his wife Hilda September 1911.

In the nineteen-twenties there were Pierrot shows and concert parties at nearly every British seaside resort during the summer season from May to September. These shows had started in the late nineteenth century when a small troupe of male minstrels took up a pitch on the beach front, and the only payment they received after entertaining the gathered crowd was the money collected by a bottler, who went round the crowd to make a collection. These early minstrels were usually “blacked up” men in the style of the famous George Eliot, but by the turn of the century entertainers abandoned the practice of blacking up, were clad in Pierrot costumes and there were women included in some of the troupes of Pierrots.

By the twenties the Pierrots had given way to the seaside concert party, and some of these performers even wore evening dress rather than traditional Pierrot costume. Some entertained the holiday crowds on a pitch on the beach, while others frequented pier pavilions and theatres. Bigger seaside resorts, like Blackpool, offered a variety of entertainment with top performers from the Music Hall circuit and by the thirties this line-up included popular radio and screen personalities. At smaller resorts entertainment was more modest.

A concert party, usually run by a performing manager, would consist of a pianist, a comedian, a dancer, a soubrette and several straight singers. These performers were competent professionals who spent the colder months of the year at company, livery and Masonic dinners, in cabaret at large restaurants to the accompaniment of clattering plates and loud conversation, and, as Christmas approached, in provincial pantomimes. Most of them were unknown to the wider UK public, but became firm local favourites with holiday-makers who spent their week or fortnight’s annual holiday at the same resort, year after year. Straight singers would sing popular ballads and songs of the day and sometimes take part in skits with the comedian and other members of their party.

Professor Kenneth Morgan of Swansea contacted me recently to let me know that he had photographs of the Opieros Concert Party and individual photographs of Anita Edwards, the daughter of his great-grandmother’s sister, who had been a member of the Opieros in the nineteen-twenties. I was delighted to receive copies of these photographs, unfortunately, taken before Webster Booth joined the party in 1927, but Anita is featured in each one. It seems that she joined the Opieros in 1925 and remained with them until 1927.

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Anita Edwards

Tom Howell’s Opieros was different from the majority of concert parties for although he employed light entertainers, he combined his strong baritone voice with a good tenor, contralto and soprano to present scenes from the opera, hence the name of his group – Opieros – a hitherto unlikely combination of opera and pier. The group also appeared in municipal parks providing entertainment for those who had not ventured to the coast.

Like the leader of the Opieros, Tom Howell from Swansea, and tenor Lucas Bassett from Pontypridd, Anita Edwards was also Welsh, born in Llanelli on 14 November 1900. Anita Edwards was a soprano, who trained at the Royal Academy of Music with Dr Charles Phillips. While she was a student she won many prizes, including the Rutson Memorial Prize and the Westmoreland Prize. While at the Academy she sang the principal roles of Manon in Massenet’s “Manon” opposite Welsh tenor, Manuel Jones and Nedda in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.

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Opieros Tom is in the centre, Anita Edwards(top right).

 In 1924 she sang at a concert on Mumbles Pier, which also featured Frank Mullings, one of the foremost tenors of the day, and Idris Daniels of Pencader,  a popular baritone. Critics praised Anita particularly for her fine singing of One Fine Day from Madame Butterfly by Puccini. On Christmas night 1925, while on holiday from her tour with the Opieros, she sang in a concert at the Llewellyn Hall, Swansea. This concert comprised selections from various oratorios and featured Frank Mullings and the distinguished Australian baritone, Harold Williams, who was considered to be one of the greatest exponents of Elijah in Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah.  During her time with the Opieros Concert Party, she sang soprano solos and featured in the various operatic ensembles presented by the Opieros.  So far we have not found out what Anita Edwards did after she left the Opieros. She married Lionel Beaumont in Wandsworth, Surrey in 1949, and died in Carmarthen in mid-1986.

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Webster Booth

Webster Booth had worked with Tom Howell’s brother, Henry (stage name, Henry Blain) in the D’Oyly Carte company from 1923 – 1927. When Henry heard that Webster was planning to leave D’Oyly Carte, fearing that he might remain in the chorus forever, waiting vainly to fill “dead men’s shoes”, he suggested that Webster should contact Tom, whose tenor had been taken ill. Tom employed Webster as a replacement and he remained with the Opieros until 1930, and also appeared in two Brixton pantomimes with Tom in 1927 and 1928.

Webster’s first appearance with the Opieros was in the Glasgow park pavilions where his salary in 1927 was £6.10s a week. Judging by notices in The Stage the party was very popular and the performers and their excellent accompanist, H Baynton-Power always received good notices. Peggy Rhodes, a promising contralto, was a member of the party for some time, as well as Walter Badham the humorist and Doris Godfrey, a child mimic.

Tom Howell died in the early nineteen-fifties. If anyone can tell me more about any members of the Opieros, please contact me.

Recently I heard from Tom Howell’s great-niece, Sarah Tongue, who was kind enough to send me family photos of the Howell family and give me some information about the family. Their surname was originally Howells, but the “s” was dropped later on. The siblings of Tom Howell were Henry Howell, born in 1895. He was a bass-baritone and sang with the D’Oyly Carte Company under the name of Henry Blain, David,  who died in action during World War One, Emlyn who emigrated to Australia, Jack, and their only sister Maud The youngest Howell sibling was her grandfather, William Howell. They had moved from Wales to Bournville in Birmingham where some members of the family worked at the Cadbury factory before World War One.

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Tom and sister Maud and others while they were working for Cadbury’s, Bournville.

Tom served in the Navy during the First World War. Unlike David, he survived the war and was able to continue his theatrical career when the war ended.

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An autographed photo of handsome David Howell who died in action in World War One.

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Tom Howell in the navy during World War 1

 1924-opieros-1924 

8 May 1924 – The Opieros. A capital entertainment is given this week at the Penarth Pier Pavilion by The Opieros; the vocal talent being remarkably good. A leading item of a fine programme is the Prison Scene from Faust, which is given with considerable ability by Agnes Hirst as Marguerite, Lucas Bassett as Faust and Tom Howell as Mephistopheles… Peggy Rhodes and Hylda Romney add to the evening’s enjoyment.

Webster Booth joined D’Oyly Carte Company in 1923, aged 21. He and Henry Blain are listed in this programme for the London season at the Princes Theatre in 1924.

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Extract from Duet by Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler (1951)

Webster Booth wrote as follows:

One of my friends in the D’Oyly Carte Company was a baritone, Henry Blain, a Welshman, whose real name was Henry Howell. When I was looking round for a new opening in the spring of 1927, after returning from Canada, Henry said: “Why don’t you go and see my brother Tom? He wants a new tenor, I think.”

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Henry Blain (Howell) Henry Blain was born in 1895 in Wales as Henry Howell.Henry was a bass-baritone chorister with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company from May 1920 until June 1931.

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 During this time he played the smaller roles of Second Yeoman in The Yeomen of the Guard, Guron in Princess Ida, Samuel in The Pirates of Penzance, and Luiz in The Gondoliers. He was married to Clarice, the D’Oyly Carte wardrobe mistress.

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Henry and his wife, Clarice

 He died in November 1955 at the early age of 60 and was buried in the Family Grave at Yardley Cemetery, Birmingham.

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Grand Smoking concert, 21 October 1926, the year before Webster joined the Opieros.

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Cannon Street Hotel. The Communist party was founded there in 1920. It was destroyed during the London blitz in World War Two.

Webster continued:

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Tom Howell.

Tom Howell was then running a concert party called the Opieros – because they sang excerpts from operas on piers, as well as giving a fine selection of the usual song-and-dance turns. I decided to follow Henry’s advice. Then, during our four weeks’ leave from the D’Oyly Carte Company, Tom Howell’s tenor went down with shingles and, knowing I was ready to move, Tom wired me from Glasgow, where his Company were playing the park pavilions. I took the first train North, got an engagement, and wired D’Oyly Carte asking for my release. This was granted, and I signed on with Tom at the substantially increased salary of £6.10s a week.

It was grand experience, and taught me a very great deal. Singing extracts from operas, and travelling each Sunday to seaside places, I learned how to hang stage curtains, make stages, work out intricate journeys by train, boat and lorry in some cases, how to pack unwielding stage props and curtains, and above all how to check the money in a “house” without counting the tickets! It matters, believe me! I very soon knew by glancing through the curtain peephole whether a “house” was below £20 or above £50. I was swept into the extraordinary camaraderie of the concert party, which is one of the nicest states on earth – but only if the troupe is well managed! I learned how to avoid causing professional jealousies, how to make the most of my turn without giving offence, how to hold a restive audience of casual holidaymakers worrying about the next boarding-house meal or whether little Tommy (left in charge of someone else) has yet met with a fatal accident.

That was a happy summer, a summer of sunshine and laughter, boy-and-girl light heartedness, a lot of swimming and strolling and fun. When it was over we came to London. I had most of my last week’s salary in my pockets, and nothing else in them except my hands! I had never heard then, of such things as Masonic banquets and Sunday League Concerts, and I was suddenly awfully worried about what to do next. Tom knew this, and took me to his home. Each evening he had such a booking he would take me along with him. Often, when he had sung his first group of songs, he would introduce “a new young singer who will sing a duet with me”.After a time, this resulted in my obtaining some winter bookings of my own, and so I was able to pay back what I owed and make my financial way. I don’t know what I should have done without Tom Howell’s kindness and generosity at that time.

1927-1930 – Tom Howell’s Opieros concert party. The concert party presented operatic excerpts at park pavilions and piers. Webster’s first appearance with them was in Glasgow in the summer of 1927.

By this time Webster Booth was living in Tom Howell’s former apartment, at 103A Streatham Hills, SW2, Streatham 7989. Tom Howell’s new address was: 1 Daysbrook Road, SW2. Telephone: Streatham 1380 .

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Tom (left) in back row, his wife Hilda with baby daughter Miffanwy and other family members

That winter he introduced me to Fred Melville, the famous “pantomime king” of the period, and somehow persuaded him to book the two of us in his pantomime at the Brixton Theatre, St George and the Dragon. I was to be King Arthur and Tom was Sir Mordred de Killingsbury, the villain of the piece. It was my first ventureinto the strange world of pantomime, and I loved it! The whole secret is that the players make a sort of party of it, in which the children (and their parents!) are guests who join in all the songs and play a great part in everything themselves. The show was a great success. I remember a banquet scene when, after a few very fiery words between us, Tom and I stepped out and sang (for no reason at all) the famous old duet Love and War. This always gained enormous applause, and is still remembered by a lot of Brixtonians.

30 December 1927 – The Stage. Saint George and the Dragon, The Brixton. On Monday, December 26 1927, Mr Frederick Melville presented here his twentieth annual pantomime, written and produced by him, the music composed and arranged by F. Gilmour Smith.

St George of England: Miss Vera Wright,

St Patrick of Ireland: Miss Eileen O’Brian,

St Andréw of Scotland: Miss Maggie Wallace,

St David of Wales: Mr Lloyd Morgan,

St Denis of France: Miss Marie Fontaine,

St Anthony of Italy: Miss Lily Wood,

St Michael of Russia: Miss Agnes Moon,

King Arthur of England: Mr Webster Booth,

Sir Mordred de Killingsbury: Mr Tom Howell,

Stephen Stuffingley: Mr C Harcourt Brooke,

Tricky Dicky: Mr Willie Atom,

Princess Guinevere: Miss Doris Ashton,

Fairy Starlight: Miss Hilda Goodman,

Mary Fairly: Miss Marjorie Holmes,

Demon Ignorance: Mr Fred Moule,

Dame Agatha Lumpkin: Mr Leslie Paget,

Jerry Lumpkin: Mr Larry Kemble.

There is a fine patriotic flavour, to say nothing of sundry allusions to the need for keeping old England healthy, both bodily and mentally, by sweeping out the germs of disease and distrust, all worked in the usual deft Melvillean fashion in this year’s Brixton pantomime. Choosing the unusual subject of St George and the Dragon, Mr Melville has written a story at once original and arresting.

Mr Webster Booth adds stateliness and a pleasing tenor voice, heard in England, Mighty England and Tired Hands, and with Sir Mordred, Tenor and Baritone, to the part of the King. Mr Tom Howell’s Sir Mordred is a sound piece of character work, though he finds small scope in the part for his powerful baritone.

Pantomime and Tom Howell’s kindness saw me through that winter, and then came another summer of concerts on the piers. We had a clever humourist in Walter Badham and a fine child mimic in Doris Godfrey. One of the best singers we had, for whom we all expected a great career, was Peggy Rhodes. St Anne’s, Sheerness, Lowestoft, Yarmouth, Paignton, Broadstairs, Whitley Bay – I can shut my eyes today and see the sun on the rippling water, smell the dust in a dozen pier pavilions, hear the shuffle and chatter of the audience die away as the curtain swings up for our opening chorus, and recapture all the excitement, triumph and heartbreak, and taste for just a moment once again the lost elixir of youth.

19 January 1928 – Gallery First Nighters’ Club. Dinner to Mr Miles Malleson. The seating and eating capacity of the Comedy Restaurant was strained to its uttermost on Sunday evening, when that happy band of playgoers, the Gallery First-Nighters’ Club, had Mr Miles Malleson as their guest of honour at dinner… Mr Major, responding, paid a tribute to the artistes for the wonderful concert they had given them.

It was indeed a wonderful concert. The artistes included Miss Betty Chester, Miss Dora Maughan, Mr George Metaxa, Miss Dorrie Dene, Mr Ashmoor Burch, Misses Grace Ivell and Vivian Worth, Messrs Webster Booth and Tom Howell, Miss Winifred Howie, and Mr Algernon Moore, and Miss Elsa May, Miss Nora Drake was at the piano.

24 May 1928 – Cardiff – At Roath Park Pavilion Tom Howell presents his Opieros. The programme ranges from opera to modern burlesque. Webster Booth’s tenor numbers are very well rendered, and Doris Francis (soprano), Olive Turner, Dorothy Denny, Harry Williams, Tom Howell, and H Baynton-Power give enjoyable performances.

7 June 1928 – Tom Howell’s Opieros meet with their usual welcome at the Olympian Gardens, Rock Ferry, where their popularity increases with every visit. Doris Francis is a delightful singer of soprano songs, and Webster Booth’s tenor solos meet with appreciation. Harry Williams is a mirth-maker who never fails to keep his audience in merry mood. Olive Turner and Dorothy Denny are favourites, and their participation in the concerted sketches adds to the enjoyment. Tom Howell directs the programme with his usual skill.

30 August 1928 – The Opieros Tom Howell’s Opieros are at the Adelphi Gardens, Paignton. Good singing plays an unusually prominent part in the entertainment, and it is provided mainly by Tom Howell, a robust baritone, Doris Francis a soprano with a pure voice, and Webster Booth, a rich tenor. They score in excerpts from grand opera. Olive Turner gives some clever imitations and smart soubrette songs. Dorothy Denny wins much favour with her low comedy songs. Admirable phonofiddle playing and humorous contributions make Harry Williams popular. The Opieros owe a deal of their success to the talent of their pianist, H. Baynton-Power.

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Tom, Hilda and family (older). 

27 September 1928 – At the Summer Pavilion, Sheerness, Tom Howell is presenting his Opieros. This talented company attract large audiences and the show is well produced. The programmes include an excellent mixture of straight and comedy numbers, ranging from burlesque to grand opera. The high class vocal contributions by Tom Howell, Doris Francis and Webster Booth, all of whom are cultured singers, make a decided appeal to a delighted house. By way of contrast, Olive Turner entertains in several clever impersonations and sings a catchy song. Dorothy Denny is a comedienne of no mean ability, and has a style of her own. Harry Williams is the chief fun-maker of the party, and besides keeping everyone in a good humour with his patter and gags, he pleases the house as an instrumentalist, and coaxes melody from unlikely objects. H. Baynton-Power is a composer-pianist and artistically accompanies the performers and musically brightens the entertainment.

.20 December 1928 – Pantomime forecasts The Brixton. The Babes in the Wood, written by Frederick Melville. Principal boy, Vera Wright; principal girl, Teresa Watson; principal comedians, Tom Gumble and Jimmy Young; Fairy Queen, Gwen Stella, baritone Tom Howell; tenor Webster Booth. Specialities by Euphan Maclaren’s Operatic Dancers, Babette, Grar and Grar. Principal scenes: The Village, The Schoolroom, Ballet, Children’s Bedroom, Sherwood Forest, and Palace. Stage manager, Fred Moule. Produced by Frederick Melville on December 26, at 2pm, for run of about 7 weeks.

Webster continues:

The following Christmas we were booked again for Brixton, this time in Babes in the Wood. I was Will Scarlett and Tom was Little John. My big moment was in the wood scene when I entered in a blackout with a red glowing fire, and sang with heartrending passion Chloe. This always stopped the show, and an encore was demanded.

Broadcast – The Opieros

2ZY Manchester, 6 April 1929 19.50

Synopsis

TOM HOWELL’S CONCERT PARTY Relayed from the Central Pier, Blackpool

WALTER BADHAM (The popular Comedian)

  1. BAYNTON-POWER (Pianist and accompanist)

Doris GODFREY (Comedienne)OLIVE TURNER (Entertainer)

WEBSTER BOOTH (Tenor)

Doris FRANCIS (Soprano)

Tom HOWELL (Bass-Baritone)

 27 June 1929 – The Opieros At the Pergola Pavilion, Bexhill, are Tom Howell’s Opieros. Their entertainment is of high quality, and the programmes contain a series of operatic scenes, all well sung. Tom Howell is a melodious baritone, Webster Booth is a tenor of rare ability, and Doris Francis is a delightful soprano, and the work of these vocalists sets the high standard of the company’s serious work. Walter Badham is well known to Bexhill audiences, having formerly played a resident season there, and his Lancashire humour is more welcome than ever. Dorothy Denny is a piquant comedienne, and Doris Godfrey presents some kid numbers well. Jack Upson is at the piano. Will Tissington and Katharine Craig are the directors of the Pergola, and next week they will present their own Poppies for their seventeenth season.

5 September 1929 – The Opieros Tom Howell and his Opieros are fulfilling an engagement at the Adelphi Gardens, Paignton, this week. The company includes several artistes who have appeared with Mr Howell in previous years, and established themselves warm favourites. These are Doris Francis, a fine soprano; Webster Booth, who has a strong tenor of good quality; and Dorothy Denny, an excellent comedienne. Doris Godfrey gives clever child impressions and Walter Badham is a talented humorist. The piano is in charge of Jack Upson, who excels in syncopated music. Features of the programme include excerpts from grand opera, and duets by Webster Booth and Tom Howell, baritone.

19 September 1929 – The Opieros Tom Howell’s concert party, the Opieros, are playing to good houses this week at the Sheerness Pavilion. Webster Booth and Tom Howell combine pleasingly in tenor and baritone duets, and also score individually in vocal items. Doris Francis’ soprano solos are rendered with good effect and Doris Godfrey is a clever impersonator. In Dorothy Denny the party has a bright and popular comedienne. Jack Upson is the skilful accompanist. Walter Badham causes much amusement with his quaint and mirth-provoking numbers. The party also score in excerpts from opera, which make a strong appeal to the audiences.

I spent three summers with the Opieros, and enjoyed them enormously. I learned a good deal about stagecraft, touring and management. I was getting known to some extent in London and the provinces, and by this time I was making a fair amount of money from gramophone records.I had always had a great ambition to make them – somehow, in my early days, they seemed to me to be the mark of Fame with a capital letter.

Tom Howell introduced me to a director of Edison Bell Records, who arranged for me to make a test at their City Road studios. I was to ask for Mr Harry Hudson. Off I went, walking on air, met Mr Hudson and sang The English Rose from Merrie England. Out came Mr Hudson from the inside room. I wonder if he remembers what he told me!“I’m afraid your voice won’t record!” he said.

Now I had been inside a recording studio before, and I knew that through a small glass window was a room where the engineers put small round waxes on a turntable, and when a needle was lowered on to the wax it reproduced what went on in the studio. I felt sure no wax had been put on. I was young in the profession then. I do not know what anyone had against me, or had been told. I only knew that my voice had apparently not been tested.I walked out of the studio into the sordid squalor and noise of City Road, wondering furiously and miserable what it was all about. I had gone in such a short time before with such high and eager hope.

Shortly afterwards, Lawrence Wright (Horatio Nichols) wrote a song called My Inspiration is You. He told Tom that if I would sing it at the coming Sunday League Concert, he would come along and perhaps arrange a test session for me with the Columbia Graphophone Company. Chastened and uneasy this time, I awaited his arrival, and saw him drive up in an enormous white Rolls-Royce to the Empire Theatre, Croydon, where the concert was taking place. He stepped out, noticed me, and patted the car. He was wearing a magnificent fur coat.“All out of one song, me boy!” he said cheerfully.It was true – it had come from his Toy Town Parade. It sold over a million copies!

After three summers I left the Opieros and signed a contract to join Muriel George and Ernest Butcher in their concert party at the Central Pier, Blackpool. It was a change that cost me a pang, for Tom Howell had been very kind to me, and I had made some good friends in his Company. Tom is a Welshman from near Llanelli. He spent his early days in Cadbury’s at Bournville. He excelled in oratorio and Grand Opera, and had he stayed in Grand Opera he must have become a star. But, like me, he had to live by his voice, and Grand Opera needs some sort of independent income at first.

Tom became a Blackpool concert-party idol, and sang concerts in London and the provinces in the winter. He founded his Opieros Company in 1924, and it presented famous scenes from Faust, Bohème, Butterfly and the rest. Tom was a tough personality, and his voice was like steel. He was too generous to spot his enemies, who flocked round him when he had money or drink to dispense. He kept me in his home when I was more or less on my uppers, and he never begrudged a young singer advancement – indeed, he helped with absolute unselfishness in every way he could. I owe him a lot.I signed up with a fresh concert party because I was offered more money and a better place on the bill. Tom wished me the best of luck when I said good-bye. Webster Booth

In 1936 Tom spent a considerable time in hospital.

6 November 1936 – Tom Howell. Friends of Tom Howell, who was well known in concert and concert party circles, and has recently been appearing in musical plays in the West End, will be sorry to hear of his illness. He is a patient in Guy’s Hospital.

He was still in hospital at Christmas in 1937 when Hilda sent this charming Christmas card with a photograph of her and Tom with their lovely wire-haired fox terrier.

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 24 April 1952 – Tribute to Tom Howell. Our Great Yarmouth correspondent writes: The late Tom Howell was well remembered in Great Yarmouth, for it was at the Wellington Pavilion that he first presented his Opieros. They made their debut in June, 1922, playing a resident season, followed by a return in 1923. In the first company were Harold Wilde, Yarmouth-born Evelyn Ray, Lilian Rickard, Eric Howard, Violet Field, Donald Hatton, Charles Hayes and Tom Howell himself. The 1923 company had but two changes in its personnel, Peggy Rhodes and Kathleen Burchell replacing Miss Rickard and Miss Field…In subsequent seasons the Opieros were regular visitors to the Britannia Pavilion, which in those days was a popular venue for the leading touring concert parties.

Compiled by Jean Collen 20 February 2017

With thanks to Professor Kenneth Morgan and Sarah Tongue for sharing their photographs with me.

Extract from Duet by Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler published in 1951, Stanley Paul.

My digitised copy of the book is available as a paperback and E-book at: Duet by Webster Booth and Anne Zieglerduet-cover2

ANNE ZIEGLER (22nd June 1910 – 13th October 2003)

On the occasion of the thirteenth anniversary of the death of Anne Ziegler (Tuesday 13 October 2003) I am posting a picture of her posing as Mrs Siddons in the famous Gainsborough painting. This photograph first appeared in The Star (Johannesburg) in 1962.

Hear Anne singing in Noel Coward Vocal Gems (1947)

 

 

Anne as principal boy in panto.

13 OCTOBER is the anniversary of the death of Anne Ziegler in Penrhyn Bay, Llandudno, North Wales. It seems no time since I received the sad phone call from her friend, Sally Rayner to let me know that Anne had passed away. Anne had a bad fall in her home in Penrhyn Bay, North Wales on 8 August 2003 and spent the last few months of her life in  hospital. She died on 13 October, 2003, at the age of 93.

I am posting this beautiful photograph of Anne dressed in a rose-trimmed crinoline. During Anne’s singing career in the UK in the days of fame and glory during the forties and early fifties, Anne was noted for the beautiful crinolines she wore in the Variety act with her husband, the renowned British tenor, Webster Booth, and in stage and film performances. The gown in this photograph is an excellent example and the roses allude to Anne and Webster’s signature tune, Only a Rose from The Vagabond King. The couple starred in a revival of this Rudolf Friml musical at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1943.

While the generation who remembers Anne and Webster from those far-off days is growing smaller with the passing years, I hope new generations will discover them by listening to their recordings, many of which are available on CD. I have uploaded a number of rare 78 rpm recordings by Anne and Webster on YOU TUBE, and you may listen to these by clicking on the links to the right, or go directly to Duettist’s YouTube channel. Anne did not make many solo recordings, but Webster made recordings of oratorio, opera, ballads, musicals and art songs as well as medleys and duets with other singers as well as numerous duet recordings with Anne.

There is a group on Facebook dedicated to the lives, recordings, photos and careers of Anne and Webster. Many of their 78rpm recordings have been perfectly restored by Mike Taylor, the co-administrator of the group. We have 83 members at present and would welcome anyone who is interested in the couple. Click on the link below to join our group.

The Golden Age of Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler and Friends

Jean Collen – 12th October 2016.

WEBSTER BOOTH – The thirty-second anniversary of his death – 21 January 1902 – 21 June 1984

Today is the thirty-second anniversary of the death of Leslie Webster Booth (21 January 1902 – 21 June 1984). Sadly missed, but always remembered. 

The song on the clyp is: 

Sylvia by Oley Speaks.

Extract from SWEETHEARTS OF SONG: A PERSONAL MEMOIR OF ANNE ZIEGLER AND WEBSTER BOOTH (JEAN COLLEN)

EARLY DAYS IN BIRMINGHAM AND LINCOLN

Leslie Webster Booth was born on 21 January 1902 in a three storey home above his father’s ladies hairdressing business at 157 Soho Road, Handsworth, Birmingham. He was the youngest son of Edwin Booth and his wife Sarah (née Webster) in a family of three sons and three daughters. Edwin was a hairdresser, who had served in the Royal Staffordshire Regiment as a Barber Surgeon. Sarah was from Chilvers Coton, Nuneaton, where her parents and later she and her sister, Hannah, had been handloom silk weavers. Her brother, William Thomas Webster was a partner in Foster and Webster, a successful gentlemen’s outfitters with branches throughout the Midlands. Sarah’s brother eventually left the firm, but it continues to this day under the name of Foster Brothers.

Leslie was the youngest of six children and his eldest sister, Doris, (known as Nellie), played as big a part in his upbringing as his mother. All three sisters doted on their young brother, who, from an early age, possessed a singing voice of outstanding quality. The family held musical evenings at home and delighted in their father’s robust rendition of The Veteran’s Song, while his mother and sisters were moved to tears when young Leslie sang the mournful ballad, Valé in his beautiful treble voice.

At nine years of age Leslie’s voice elevated him from St James’ Church choir in Edwardian Handsworth to the choir stalls of Lincoln Cathedral as a chorister under the direction of Dr George Bennett. Dr Bennett was a fine musician, but a stern taskmaster, who insisted that choristers sang with flat tongues: he was not averse to flattening an errant tongue with his ever-ready broken baton. Just as today’s Cathedral choristers are disciplined hard-working musicians of the highest order, so they were in the first decades of the twentieth century also. Christmas holidays for the choristers commenced only after they had completed the Christmas Eve services to Dr Bennett’s satisfaction.

Lincoln was a good training ground for young Leslie Booth. Although he did not make great progress on the piano and thus did not advance to learning the organ, an instrument he longed to play. The Willis organ at Lincoln Cathedral had been opened in 1898, eleven years before Leslie went to Lincoln, and is still considered as one of the finest organs in England. Leslie did, however, learn to sight-read vocal lines with ease. This ability stood him in good stead as a professional singer, especially at recording sessions.

When he went to HMV studios for a recording session he would be given six to eight songs to record at a time. These he would sight-read and record in one or two takes. After the session the songs would soon be forgotten: a different approach to recording from today’s pop singers who seem to spend months recording their new “album”! Years later, people often appeared before him clutching one of his old records, assuring him of their great attachment to the particular song, but he often had no recollection of making it in the first place.

After his voice broke at the age of thirteen, he returned to the family home in Birmingham to study accountancy at Aston Commercial School. He was set for the steady job of accountant like Uncle Jim, his father’s brother, but at fifteen, when his voice had settled, he began his vocal studies as a tenor with Dr Richard Wassall, the musical director at the Midland Institute in Birmingham. Leslie was an avid supporter of West Bromwich Albion football team and was goalie in the Aston Commercial School team. He was a promising enough goalie to be offered a place with the Aston Villa Colts, but this idea did not meet with his headmaster’s approval. Despite his accountancy studies, he secretly dreamed of the more glamorous callings of football and singing. Luckily for the world, singing eventually won.

With his great natural vocal gifts, his striking good looks and winning personality, performing came easily to him. He sang duets with Uncle Jim’s daughter, his cousin Lily Booth, a promising mezzo soprano, and soon he was also singing at concerts and oratorio performances all over the Midlands and Wales. By this time he was a tall, imposing young man, who realised that appearance and stage presence were nearly as important to a professional singer as an exceptional voice. Although he had perfect diction in song, he felt it necessary to take elocution lessons with the Shakespearian actor Sir Robert Atkins, the founder of the Open Air Theatre at Regents Park, to smooth the Brummy intonation from his speech.

His adult voice was a distinctive lyric tenor, with an exceptionally wide range and a baritonal quality on the lower notes. His diction was clear and lacked the idiosyncratic pronunciation and bleating quality of many of his contemporaries, which marked them as refined English singers, not quite able to compete with their more virile Italian and German counterparts. In my opinion, Heddle Nash and David Lloyd were the only two British tenors of Webster Booth’s generation who had comparable voices.

At twenty-one Leslie auditioned for the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company and was immediately accepted after a London audition. Although he had been doing well in accountancy, he abandoned his job with little regret to become a professional singer, making his debut with the company in The Yeomen of the Guard at the Theatre Royal, Brighton on 9 September 1923. He stayed with the company for four years, but made no great advancement from the chorus and small parts. In Duet, his joint autobiography, with Anne Ziegler, he complained that the only way one could advance in the company was to wait to fill “dead men’s shoes”. Despite this observation, he was one of the few singers allowed to record individual songs from the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire without the prior approval of the D’Oyly Carte family.

His recordings of Take a pair of sparkling eyes and A Wand’ring Minstrel under the baton of the gifted conductor Leslie Heward, who died tragically young, remain unsurpassed and are now available on CD. He went with the D’Oyly Carte Company on a memorable and successful tour of Canada. Winifred Lawson, the principal soprano, heard him singing Your Tiny Hand is Frozen from La Bohème at the ship’s concert and was deeply impressed with the beauty of his voice. She was not surprised when he left the company soon after its return to England, to eventually become a deserved success in his own right.

In 1924 he had married Winifred Keey, the daughter of Edgar Keey, his headmaster at Aston Commercial School. Winifred borrowed £100 from a relative, with no intention of repaying it, and used the money to follow Leslie to London against her parents’ wishes, or possibly without their knowledge. They might have approved of the match had Leslie remained a respectable accountant like his elder brother, Norman, but they were against her taking up with a chorus boy in the D’Oyly Carte. Her family would have no more to do with her, annoyed at her, partly because of her defiance of their wishes and partly because she had borrowed such a large sum of money under false pretences from a member of the family. Because they disowned her they never knew that she and Leslie had married or that she gave birth to a son and imagined that she and Leslie were living together in sin.

Winifred and Leslie’s son, Keith was born the year after their marriage on 12 June 1925, and his birth was registered in Birmingham North. Leslie was on tour for fifty weeks of the year and Winifred, left alone with her small son, was estranged from her parents although living in the suburb of Moseley in the same city. After several years she suddenly deserted Leslie and his son. He had suspicions that all was not well at home when he came home from a tour with D’Oyly Carte to find Keith sitting by himself on the doorstep. Winifred had left her small son to his own devices while she went dancing.

Leslie searched for Winifred in every town where he was singing, but despite his desperate attempts to trace her, he never found her, and eventually divorced her in 1931, citing Trevor Davey as co-respondent. Leslie was granted custody of Keith, who never saw his mother again after his sixth birthday.

After the stability of a regular – if small – salary from D’Oyly Carte, he was now a freelance performer with a small son to support and no regular money to his name. In the D’Oyly Carte Company he was known as Leslie W. Booth, but now he adopted his middle name, and became Webster Booth on stage, although his family and close friends continued to call him Leslie for the rest of his life.

During this precarious period of his life before he achieved fame and stability in the profession, Webster joined Tom Howell’s Opieros, a concert party with a difference, as some of its members sang operatic excerpts while others were comedians and light entertainers found in the usual concert party. Tom Howell was a baritone from Swansea and he and Webster often sang duets together in the shows. For several years Webster toured all over the country with the Opieros during the summer season, performing on piers and in municipal parks. H Baynton-Power was the Opieros’ excellent accompanist.

In winter Webster sang in cabaret at various large Lyons’ restaurants and cafés, at many Masonic concerts and staff dinners, often with the pianist Gladys Vernon as his accompanist. Gladys Vernon was to marry another well-known tenor, Walter Midgeley.

During the winter seasons of 1927 and 1928 he and Tom Howell appeared in Fred Melville pantomimes at Brixton. The first pantomime in 1927 was St George and the Dragon. St George was played by principal boy, Vera Wright, while Webster played King Arthur. 1928’s pantomime at the Brixton Theatre was a freely adapted version of Babes in the Wood. Once again Vera Wright played principal boy, this time in the role of Robin Hood.

Webster made his West End debut as the Duke of Buckingham in Rudolph Friml’s The Three Musketeers at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1930. The leading role of D’Artagnan was taken by Dennis King, an actor and singer Webster greatly admired for his great energy. Other distinguished cast members were Lilian Davies, Marie Ney, Adrienne Brune and Raymond Newell. Unfortunately Webster could only appear in this show for three months as he had already signed a contract for a Blackpool summer show for Ernest Butcher. Despite Sir Alfred Butt’s best efforts to get him released from this contract, Ernest Butcher would not budge. Webster’s part was taken over by the well-known Yorkshire tenor, Robert Naylor. When Webster set off sadly and reluctantly to fulfill his engagement on the Central Pier, Blackpool, his one consolation was that he could continue singing Queen of My Heart, one of the hits from The Three Musketeers with which he had scored such a success on the West End.

Webster met his second wife, Dorothy Annie Alice Prior (stage name Paddy Prior) in the early nineteen-thirties. He was singing One Alone at a Concert Artistes Association concert and happened to notice her sitting in the audience. Paddy Prior was born in Fulham in 1905, the daughter of Hubert Prior, an ironmonger, and his wife, Annie Jane (née Henderson). Paddy went on the professional stage while still in her teens. She was a light comedienne, dancer, and a soubrette with a charming mezzo soprano voice and appeared on television in its early days in The Ridgeway Revue with Philip Ridgeway and Hermione Gingold. By the time she met Webster she was a veteran of many concert parties, musicals and pantomimes, and always received good reviews for her work. Despite her talent she had periods of unemployment and placed occasional advertisements in The Stage, such as this one in April 1926, which read as follows:

In 1931 Webster divorced Winifred, citing her affair with Trevor Davey and on 10 October 1932 he married Paddy at Fulham Registry Office, where he had married Winifred Keey in 1924. Around the same time Winifred married James L. Haig at the Lambeth Registry Office. Webster and Paddy went to Newquay for their honeymoon.

Webster sang for several seasons in Papa Pinder’s Sunshine concert party at the Sunshine Theatre, Shanklin on the Isle of Wight.

In 1933 he and Paddy appeared together for the summer season in The Piccadilly Revels Concert Party at Scarborough. The following year, Webster managed to arrange for Paddy to obtain an engagement with him in the Sunshine show. Appearing on the same bill with them was Arthur Askey, and he and Webster became great friends. After hearing Webster sing To Anthea by J L Hatton at one of the shows, the Askeys decided to name their baby daughter Anthea…

See more in my bookstore at: JEAN COLLEN’S BOOKSTORE

 

Jean Collen

21 June 2016.

DUET by Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler

https://clyp.it/rbifk0dz/widget

Click on the above link to hear a recording of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler singing one of their most popular duets, Will You Remember? (Sigmund Romberg)
I have digitised Duet, the autobiography of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler, published by Stanley Paul in 1951. It is available as a paperback and an epub book at: My Lulu bookstore

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The introduction to the book reads as follows:

England’s most popular duettists, who have sung in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and America, and are loved by millions of radio fans, have written their love-story together.

The provincial choirboy and the little Liverpool pianist have come a long way. Webster Booth ran away from an accountant’s stool to tour England at £4 a week and sing on the piers. Anne Ziegler’s father was ruined on the cotton market, so she sang in restaurant cabaret. They met playing the lovers in “Faust” – and fell in love. But he was married already.

Concert-party struggles, pantomime rivalries, fun and peril in early films, adventures at Savoy Hill and parts in stage “flops” were followed by great successes. She was hailed as “Radio’s Nightingale”, and as a leading lady in New York and London, a film star and BBC favourite. He sang at the Albert Hall and Covent Garden, starred in the West End and on films and radio. They went half round the world together, singing.

There are two-fisted criticisms and fascinating glimpses behind the scenes in film-land, stage-land and the mad and magic world of music. The authors laugh at themselves, each other and the world as they take you with them – this boy and girl who made good in one of real life’s most moving romances.

The links are as follows:

Paperback:

DUET by Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler

 

E-book (Epub)

DUET by Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler.

John Marwood, a member of The Golden Age of Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler and Friends group on Facebook wrote the following interesting review of the book:

I’ve just read Duet, Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth’s autobiography, published by Stanley Paul & Co. in 1951.

My plan was to read it over several days, but once I’d started, I could not put it down.

In the opening chapter Webster says that ‘Someone must begin even a duet. The die is cast and I am the victim – though, no doubt, the ladies will have the last word!’

The first chapter and all subsequent odd numbers are simply headed ’Webster’; and all the even ones are headed ‘Anne’.

The last chapter of the 25 is headed ‘Webster and Anne’; and so the autobiography ends neatly with a joint effort – a duet.

The remark by Webster about ladies sets the tone. It is light, witty and amusing. There is no chapter without entertaining anecdotes.

Apparently the book was ghost-written by the late Frank S. Stuart [Frank Stanley Stuart]. Frank was adept at presenting amusing tales that were based on factual events. Mention is made of precise events in diaries, so I imagine both characters lent their diaries to the writer and spent many hours relating tales, adventures and anecdotes about the past. The two personae sound entirely plausible.

I was surprised by the strong anti-war remarks in the book; and it seems the ghost-writer was a pacifist. Apparently Webster and Anne were not happy with these remarks, and it seems surprising that the publisher allowed them to remain. Only 6 years after the end of the terrible world conflagration many readers must have felt uncomfortable about some of these remarks.

The book was published 5 years before the couple left for South Africa. It is pity we never get to hear them speaking about their years there, but perhaps 1951 was when they were at the peak of their fame. We read of the couple’s delight to be told that Queen Mary had herself picked out their act as a favourite one which she wished to hear at a Gala Variety to mark her eightieth birthday. We read of other encounters with the royal family.

It is a tale of fun and glamour, tails and crinolines, a most entertaining story – a must-read for everyone who remembers the couple, or for anyone who has just discovered them recently.

John Marwood

I might add that John Marwood proofread the digitised copy most meticulously. I am very grateful to him for his help.

Here is a short review of the book, published in The Age, an Australian newspaper, on 16 February 1952.

16 February 1952 - The New Age

Review of “Duet” (1952)

Review by Fiona Compton: 

By Fiona Compton
May 31, 2016
I read this book many years ago and am delighted that it has been digitised and once again available to those who are interested in reading about the illustrious careers of tenor Webster Booth and soprano Anne Ziegler. Although the book was written by a ghost-writer, the tone of the alternate chapters written in turn by Anne and Webster captures the personalities of both writers – Webster’s writing is more measured and thoughtful than Anne’s enthusiastic, spontaneous writing. Webster Booth had one of the finest British tenor voices of the twentieth century and had a distinguished career in oratorio and recording in his own right. Anne Ziegler had a pleasant light soprano voice and a charming personality, but she was never in the same vocal class as her husband. This book is entitled “Duet”, so the emphasis of the book is on the work the couple did together as duettists on the concert and variety stage. I thoroughly enjoyed the book but I would have liked to have heard more about Webster’s distinguished solo singing career. No doubt this book was responsible for giving people the idea that Webster was merely a romantic duettist in partnership with his wife, doing nothing more than singing light songs together with her. Despite this reservation, the book moves at lightning pace and is most enjoyable. I recommend it highly.

 

 

Jean Collen

5 May 2016.

 

 

 

DuetDuet by Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler were my singing teachers in Johannesburg. While I was studying with them I acted as Webster’s studio accompanist when Anne (who usually played the piano for students) had other engagements. We became good friends, a friendship which lasted until they died – Webster in 1984, and Anne in 2003.

I first read “Duet” when Webster brought it into the studio and gave it to me to read. I was fascinated by the lively story of their rise to fame, their romance which was fraught with difficulties because Webster was married to Paddy Prior already, and their popularity as duettists during the forties and early fifties.

This book was written when they were at the height of their fame, some years before they had income tax difficulties and eventually moved to South Africa in 1956. Perhaps it was as well that the book ended before they experienced any hardship.

I have always tried to keep Anne and Webster’s singing and illustrious careers before the public. I am sure that anyone who reads their autobiography will get a good idea of their charming personalities from reading this fascinating book. Several people who have read it recently, have described it as “unputdownable”. I hope whoever reads this review and is tempted to read the book will share that opinion of it!

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WEBSTER BOOTH’S ASSOCIATION WITH THE QUEEN’S HALL.

QUEENS HALL, LANGHAM PLACE
 
 
 
The Queen’s Hall had seventeen entrances in Langham Place, Riding House Street and Great Portland Street and originally seated 3000 people, although, after alterations in 1919, housed only 2,400. It was considered to have excellent acoustics. There was also the Queen’s Small Hall, seating 500 people. This hall opened in November 1893.
 
While Webster Booth always considered this hall to be his favourite as a singer, he was associated with it as early as 1935 when the unusual film written and composed by Friedrich Feher in which he appeared as a troubadour, was first shown in the Queen’s Hall. The film was called The Robber Symphony. Not only was Webster required to pull a piano through the snow in the Alps during the making of this film, but he also sang several songs written by Mr Feher, one in creditable Italian.
 
ROMANCE from THE ROBBER SYMPHONY (FRIEDRICH FEHER)
 
Webster Booth in The Robber Symphony with Magda Sonja
 
 
Webster sang many oratorio performances in the Queen’s Hall, including a Messiah, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham on 17 December 1938. It was at this performance that Australian, Joan Hammond sang the soprano solos in one of her first engagements in England. At that time Joan Hammond had a beautiful lyrical soprano voice, but after further training Webster was surprised to discover that her voice had become very much heavier when he recorded the duet from Madame Butterfly with her in 1943. In order to balance the duet, Miss Hammond had to stand quite a distance behind Webster during the recording, conducted by the (then) Dr Malcolm
Sargent. 

Australian Soprano, Joan Hammond.

Australian Soprano, Joan Hammond.

 
DUET FROM MADAME BUTTERFLY: JOAN HAMMOND, WEBSTER BOOTH
 
By the time this recording was made, the Queen’s Hall had been destroyed by an incendiary bomb. On the afternoon of 10 May 1941 Webster had sung the part of the Soul in Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius at the Queen’s Hall. The other soloists were contralto, Muriel Brunskill (the Angel)  and baritone, Ronald Stear (The Priest and Angel of Agony). The soloists, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Choral Society were conducted by Malcolm Sargent. 
Contralto, Muriel Brunskill

Contralto, Muriel Brunskill

 

Interior of Queen’s Hall
I have always regretted that no recording was ever made of Webster singing Gerontius, as he was notable in this role. When he immigrated to South Africa he sang in the first South African performance of The Dream of Gerontius in 1957, conducted by a very young Keith Jewell, who became the Cape Town City Organist. Keith Jewell accompanied Anne and Webster in (what was meant to be) their farewell concert in Somerset West, Cape Province in 1975..  
 

 

The day in 1941 had been pleasant and sunny, but only a few hours after this performance of  The Dream of Gerontius, the Queen’s Hall was destroyed by a German incendiary bomb. Webster Booth always considered the hall to be the finest concert hall in the
world for a singer. The Promenade Concerts had been held there, but after the destruction of this beautiful hall they transferred to the
Royal Albert Hall. Webster Booth said in his joint autobiography with Anne Ziegler, Duet (1951), that many singers were terrified to
sing in the Albert Hall after the warm acoustic of the Queen’s Hall, but although he adored the Albert Hall, the Queen’s Hall would always remain his favourite London Concert Hall.
 
Jean Collen Revised 23 April 2016 ©
 
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Welcome to “The Drawing Room”.

 

 Webster Booth, seated left, Peggy Haddon and Anna Bender (at piano), Gé Korsten and Jean Gluckman (singers), Kathleen Alister (harp) and studio audience.

 

Nearly fifty-four years ago, in April 1962, Webster Booth presented a short series of drawing room concerts on the English Service of the SABC before an invited studio audience. He and
Anne sang solos and duets in several programmes, and a number of guest
artistes took part. Webster also sang duets with bass, Graham Burns.
Among the guest artistes were Doris Brasch and Rita Roberts (sopranos)
Gert Potgieter and Gé Korsten (tenors), Graham Burns (bass) Jean
Gluckman (contralto), Kathleen Allister (harp), Maisie Flinck and Peggy
Haddon (pianos) and Walter Mony (violin). A trumpeter also appeared in
one of the programmes, but I do not remember his name after all this
time. The accompanist was Anna Bender, the official accompanist at the SABC.

 The idea was to create the atmosphere of a polite middle-class Victorian or Edwardian
drawing room concert, where singers and instrumentalists performed their
party pieces such as In a Monastery Garden, The Maiden’s Prayer, O Dry Those Tears and
the like. Sounds of polite conversation and laughter between the items,
with restrained applause for the musical offerings were required, so a
studio audience was invited to provide these “noises off”.

Shortly before this programme started, Webster wrote an article for the SABC Bulletin on
17 March 1962.

A Nostalgic Half-hour of Memories by Webster Booth

“Do you remember those Drawing-room concerts our Grandparents used to hold in the afternoons and evenings way back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s? There were of course, the Society At Homes. These were rather serious affairs, when artistes of repute were engaged. Such artistes as Ben Davis, Madame Patti, Charles Santley and even Madame Melba were paid huge sums of money to entertain the guests.

However, in this new series, to be called Drawing-Room, we want to concentrate on the homely atmosphere, with those lovely old ballads, such as Parted, Little Grey Home in the West, The Rosary, Tosti’s Goodbye, Friend o’ Mine, A Perfect Day, etc., together with those grand pianoforte solos which were all in the Star Folios, and without which no one was considered a pianist. Items like The Maiden’s Prayer, Destiny Waltz, In a Monastery Garden etc. Then the fiddle solos and fiddle obbligatos, vocal duets such as Watchman, What of the Night? Moonlight and Roses and Battle Eve. I so well remember my father, who was Barber-Surgeon to the Royal Staffordshire Regiment, dressing up in his red and gold uniform and singing The Veteran’s Song, and I would be induced to sing in my treble voice, songs like Valé and The Song of Hope, while my mother and sisters had a wonderful evening crying their eyes out. Those were the days when composers wrote songs for the voice, and singers learned to sing ballads. Believe me, those songs needed singing.  They had a story to tell, usually in three verses, all different tempos, portraying passion, joy and tears, and finishing up on a hefty top note.

We intend to invite a small studio audience to help to catch the atmosphere of the drawing-room, and to have well known South African artistes, both vocal and instrumental, to sing and play to us. This  programme will, I am sure, bring to the older listeners a glorious nostalgic half-hour of memories, and will let the younger generations realise there was real music in the home before the advent of the Cinema, Radio and the gramophone. Do tune in to the English programme at 8.30 pm on Wednesday evenings and join us in our Drawing-room. I shall be in charge of the entertainment and Miss Anna
Bender will be our Hostess at the pianoforte.”

For the first recording, Webster invited pupils and friends to form part of the Drawing Room in one of the smaller recording studios at Broadcasting House, Commissioner Street. I was very excited when he asked if I would like to attend the recording. My great friend and fellow pupil of Anne and Webster’s, Ruth Ormond, and I were there with our parents and we noticed Lucille Ackerman, another pupil,  accompanied by a large family contingent.

2011-08-13_205936AW

Anne Ziegler & Webster Booth (1963)

 

Anne and Webster looked particularly glamorous for the occasion. Anne was wearing a beautiful evening gown, a mink stole – not yet a politically incorrect item of dress  – her fair hair in a chignon, while Webster was in full evening dress, all set to act as compère for the evening and to sing some drawing room ballads into the bargain. The accompanist for the series was Anna Bender, the official accompanist for the SABC. Anne and Webster received their guests graciously. Anne told Ruth and me to save her a seat in the front row, where she sat between us and played her full part in chatting to us between the items on the programme to evoke the atmosphere of a drawing room at the beginning of the twentieth
century.

My dear friend, Ruth Ormond, 1963

Ruth Ormond and me (below).

Photo Album

 I’m afraid that this was not the atmosphere conveyed to those listening in to these broadcasts. The polite studio audience applauded vigorously, suggesting the city hall rather than a drawing room. Fifty-four years later I still remember Miss Rita Roberts (soprano) singing Christina’s Lament to the tune of Dvorak’s Humoresque, Mr Walter Mony (violin), Miss Anna Bender (accompanist) and finally Webster himself, aged sixty and still in fine voice, singing The Kashmiri Song, The Sweetest flower that Blows, Parted, O Dry Those Tears and finally If You Had But Known with violin obbligato by the excellent Mr Mony, a French Canadian, who became a professor and head of the music department at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Ruth and I were entranced to have spent such a happy evening and to see and hear Webster singing only a few feet away from where we were sitting. As we were leaving I told Anne breathlessly that Webster’s singing was wonderful and she replied, “Yes, we’re both very proud of him, aren’t we, darling?” which made me feel rather naïve and childish although I was all of eighteen at the time.

The Drawing Room series was recorded over a number of weeks and we attended another recording when Anne, in a sleeveless black evening dress, sang If No One Ever Marries Me, The Little Damozel and a Handel aria from the opera Xerses, He’ll Say That For My Love. Anne had sung the last song at her Wigmore Hall recital in 1933. Later in that programme she and Webster sang duets together: Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes and The Second Minuet.

One evening Ruth and I were at a choir practice with the SABC choir and she decided that during our interval, we should go to the Drawing Room studio to say hello to Webster during the break in his recording session. The first programme was not quite finished so we slipped into the studio quietly and listened to Kathleen Alister playing two solos on her harp.

Webster came out of the studio after the recording and appeared delighted to see us and kissed us both in greeting. He asked what we were doing there, and then said, “Oh, of course, you’re working aren’t you? It’s a pity you can’t stay for the next recording to hear the wonderful trumpeter.”

We were both so excited at meeting Webster (not entirely unexpectedly) and being kissed into the bargain, that Ruth walked into the men’s cloakroom instead of the women’s, only to have him politely point her in the right direction. We were both blood red with embarrassment by the time we got back to our seats at our now rather tame choir practice.

I thought Drawing Room was a lovely programme, but the critics had their misgivings about it, saying that the atmosphere created was not quite right, so it was taken off the air after a relatively short time. I once made enquiries at the SABC as to whether any of the programmes existed in their archives, but apparently they had not been kept. I had recorded several programmes via a microphone on my newly-acquired reel-to-reel tape recorder. The sound quality of these recordings is not very good, but when I listen to them all these years later, I am transformed into an excited and optimistic teenager, back in that SABC studio with Ruth and Anne, completely entranced with the music of the Drawing Room.

Sadly, it has occurred to me that most of the people mentioned in this article are now dead and gone, but the memory of that happy time remains vividly in my mind.

Here are links to some of the songs Webster sang on that programme.

Click on the links to hear him.

Friend o’ Mine (Restored by Mike Taylor) https://clyp.it/2hupnyrm

Parted (Tosti) https://clyp.it/qriewsgs

O, Dry Those Tears (del Riego) https://clyp.it/llblyizd

The Sweetest Flower that Blows https://clyp.it/0iftdnlr

Jean Collen –  April 2016

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Paddy Prior – Webster Booth’s Second Wife.

 

Paddy Prior in Newquay

Paddy Prior at the Old Vicarage, Newquay after World War 2

Webster Booth married his second wife, Dorothy Annie Alice Prior (stage name Paddy Prior) on 10 October 1932 at the Fulham Registry Office. He had married Winifred Keey there eight years earlier but had divorced her in 1931 after she deserted him and their small son, Keith, several years before.

Marriage Henderson Prior

Marriage certificate of Hubert Edward Prior and Annie Jane Henderson on 25 October 1902.

Paddy Prior, was born in December 1904, the daughter of Fulham ironmonger, Hubert and his wife, Annie Henderson. Paddy began her professional stage career while still a teenager. She was a talented soubrette, comedienne and dancer, and possessed a pleasant mezzo soprano voice into the bargain.

Paddy’s parents lived at Disbrowe Road when they were first married.

Disbrowe Road

Disbrowe Road, Fulham (today)

Paddy’s birthplace in Fulham. Her baptism on 29 January 1905 at St Peter, Fulham.

Baptismal certificate.

Baptismal certificate – Dorothy Annie Alice Prior.

 

1911 Census

1911 census Paddy Prior

1911 census

George William Henderson was a relative of Annie Jane Prior (nee Henderson).

In 1924, at the age of nineteen, Paddy spent nearly a year as a member of the travelling Rogues concert party from April to January 1925. In various reviews Paddy was praised for her comedy talent and her speciality dancing with comedian Fred Roper. They were appearing at Leas Pavilion, Folkestone in January 1925, but by the 5 February Paddy had left the Rogues to join the Gamblers and Their Tipster concert party at the same venue. This party also toured extensively, so before she was twenty-one, Paddy had seen much of the country and gained valuable professional experience into the bargain.

Whitehall Court

Whitehall Court, Fulham

Whitehall Court, Fulham – Paddy’s home in the 1920s.

In November 1925 Paddy appeared at the Taunton Lyceum in Little Miss Muffet as Dolly Dimple. The pantomime toured various towns until early 1926.

Little Miss Muffet (1925)

Little Miss Muffet – Paddy played Little Dolly Dimple.

By April Paddy was out of work and obliged to put an advertisement in The Stage as follows:

8 April 1926 PADDY PRIOR, SOUBRETTE AND DANCER, VACANT: First class offers for CP, Revue, and Musical Comedy. PA 37 Arundel Mansions, Fulham SW6

By July Paddy was working again, this time with Leslie Fuller’s Whitby Pedlars, and a review pointed out that, “Paddy Prior is a charming and dainty soubrette, who uses her mezzo voice effectively.”

The pattern of Paddy’s stage career was set: concert party, after-dinner entertainment, pantomime and musical comedy. Towards the end of the twenties she was also on television at Daventry, first in De Courville’s Hour in 1929.

Albert de Courville.

Albert de Courville

then in the early thirties in Philip Ridgeway’s series entitled The Ridgeway Parade, which included Janet Lind, Dorothy Dampier and Hermione Gingold in the cast. She starred in the Cicely Courtneidge role on a Scottish tour of Lido Lady in 1929.

31 January 1929 – Advertisement in The Stage. PADDY PRIOR – Playing Lead LIDO LADY Co. This week, Theatre Royal, Inverness, next His Majesty’s, Aberdeen

Selection from LIDO LADY

Stage adverts

Stage adverts

Cast of Ridgeway ParadeDress Rehearsal

The Ridgeway Parade – Regional Programme London, 7 October 1931 21.15 (New Series. No. I) Sweep Night – A Song and Dance Show Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical Arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN
Devised and Produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY
FRED CURTIS , BERTHA WILLMOTT, IRENE VERE, HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, SINCLAIR COLE, BERT MEREDITH, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON, LOLA GORDON, BEATRICE GALLEWAY, JACK HODGES, JOHN CHARLTON, PADDY PRIOR, ARTHUR JAY, WALLACE NORFORD. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA. PHILIP RIDGEWAY.

THE FIRST OF THE NEW SERIES OF RIDGEWAY PARADES – National Programme Daventry, 9 October 1931 20.00 SWEEP NIGHT – A song and dance show, written by Holt Marvell and Philip Ridgeway. Musical arrangements by Dorothy Hogben. Devised and produced by Philip Ridgeway. Fred Curtis, Bertha Wilmott, Irene Vere, Hermione Gingold, Gerald Osborne, Dorothy Dampier, Anna Day, Sinclair Cole, Bert Meredith, Douglas Pemberton, Lola Gordon, Beatrice Galleway, Jack Hodges, John Charlton, Paddy Prior, Arthur Jay, Wallace Norford, Dorothy Hogben and her Orchestra. Philip Ridgeway.

Singing, dancing, burlesque-and Mr. Ridgeway. The producer is the life and soul of his own shows. It is Philip Ridgeway who designed costumes for his Paraders to wear in the Studio, who makes his whole company dance furiously for a minute before the red light goes on in order that they should start their broadcast warmed up, who created and impersonated Joe Ramsbotham of Rawthenstall, of the unsteady Lancashire accent. These Parades, of which the present series is the third, are among the most generally popular light entertainments ever broadcast. They may lack the subtlety and satire of the revues of Gordon McConnel, John Watt, Denis Freeman; their aim is otherwise—broad humour, popular songs, vitality, rather than finesse. Many of the members of former Parade companies are taking part in the present series. Mr. Ridgeway’s musical director, Dorothy Hogben, is again in charge of the orchestra. Philip Ridgeway is well qualified to possess an acquaintance with the popular taste in entertainment. Still in his thirties, he has been connected with the theatre since he was a boy, as actor, author, producer and manager in turn. It is typical of his lively versatility that the two most widely acclaimed achievements of his career have been his introduction of Chekhov to London, at the Barnes Theatre, several years ago, and the invention last autumn of the Ridgeway Parades. Tonight he will be beside the microphone as usual, the inevitable flower in his buttonhole, waving his company on, a cross between Sir Henry Wood, Francois Descamps and Grock. So on with the show. We’re a lot of little songs to chase the blues, Dancing shoes to amuse. We’re the lightest and the brightest of revues, We’re the Ridgeway Parade.

The Ridgeway Parade – National Programme Daventry, 22 October 1931 20.00 (New Series-No. II) Sweetheart Night – A Song and Dance Show Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical Arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN. Devised and Produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY. DOROTHY DAMPIER, HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, FRED CURTIS, SINCLAIR COLE, BERT MEREDITH, LOLA GORDON, JOHN CHARLTON, PADDY PRIOR, JACK HODGES , DORIS YORKE, ALEXANDER HENDERSON, WALLACE MORFORD, BEATRICE GALLEWAY, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA.  PHILIP RIDGEWAY

The Ridgeway Parade – Regional Programme London, 4 November 1931 20.30 (New Series-No. Ill) – Old Soldiers’ Night – A Song and Dance Show Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical Arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN. Devised and Produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY. HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, BERT MEREDITH, SINCLAIR COLE, JOHN CHARLTON, FRED CURTIS, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON, LOLA GORDON, PADDY PRIOR, JACK HODGES, WALLACE MORFORD, DORIS YORKE, ALEXANDER HENDERSON, BEATRICE GALLEWAY.BL_0000381_19321224_010_0001

Ridgeway Parade2

Ridgeway Parade

The Ridgeway Parade— V Regional Programme London, 2 December 1931 20.00 (New Series) Typists’, Brunettes’, and Dukes’ Night – A Song and Dance Show Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP Ridgeway.  HERMIONEGINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, BERT MEREDITH, SINCLAIR COLE, JOHN CHARLTON, FRED CURTIS, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON, LOLA GORDON, BEATRlCE GALLEWAY,  ALEXANDER HENDERSON, PADDY PRIOR, JACK HODGES, WALLACE MORFORD, DORIS YORKE. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA, PHILIP RIDGEWAY.

The Ridgeway Parade – Regional Programme London, 16 December 1931 20.00 (New Series-No. VI) HAPPY NIGHT. A SONG AND DANCE SHOW Written by HOLT MARVELL and PHILIP RIDGEWAY. Musical arrangements by DOROTHY HOGBEN. Devised and produced by PHILIP RIDGEWAY.  HERMIONE GINGOLD, GERALD OSBORNE, IRENE VERE, BERTHA WILLMOTT, BERT MEREDITH, SINCLAIR COLE, JOHN CHARLTON. FRED CURTIS, DOROTHY DAMPIER, ANNA DAY, ALEXANDER HENDERSON , DORIS YORKE, WALLACE MORFORD, JACK HODGES, PADDY PRIOR, BEATRICE GALLEWAY, LOLA GORDON, DOUGLAS PEMBERTON. DOROTHY HOGBEN and her ORCHESTRA. PHILIP RIDGEWAY

MURRAY ASHFORD’S ENTERTAINERS – Regional Programme Midland, 17 June 1932 18.30 From THE PAVILION, JEPHSON GARDENS, LEAMINGTON SPA. WINIFRED SCOTT-BAXTER (Soprano), EDWARD WARD, (Baritone), CLIFFORD WARREN (Entertainer), PADDY PRIOR (Soubrette), MARIE GROS (Comedienne), DOROTHY BRADSHAW (at the Piano), FRANK RYDON (Light Comedian), WILBY LUNN and CONNIE HART (Living Marionettes).

MANY interesting personalities are associated with Murray Ashford’s Entertainers. Paddy Prior is familiar to admirers of the Ridgeway Parade, Marie Gros is the niece of the late Marie Lloyd and sings many of her songs, while Edward Ward has appeared in several Drury Lane successes.

Webster Booth divorced his first wife, Winifred Keey, in 1931.

 

February 1931 – IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE PROBATE DIVORCE AND ADMIRALTY DIVISION (DIVORCE)

Between Leslie Webster Booth (Petitioner) and Winifred Dorothy Booth (Respondent) and Trevor Davey (Co-respondent)

TAKE NOTICE that a Petition has been filed in this Division endorsed with Notice to you to appear and answer the charges in the Petition of Leslie Webster Booth of 151 Biggin Hill, Upper Norwood, in the County of London, praying for a dissolution of marriage. In default of your so appearing, you will not be allowed to address the Court, and the Court will proceed and hear the said Petition proved and pronounce sentence. AND TAKE FURTHER NOTICE THAT for the purpose of the aforesaid within one month after the date of this Publication an appearance must be entered at the Divorce Registry, Somerset in respect thereof AND TAKE FURTHER NOTICE THAT House, Strand, London. W INDERWICK, Registrar, Solicitors for the Petitioner:-W H Speed & Co., 18 Sackville Street, London, W1

Like Webster, Paddy was a member of the Concert Artistes’ Association, and it was there that she first heard Webster sing. In an interview with W.S. Meadmore in Gramophone in November 1935, Webster described his meeting with Paddy. He was singing One Alone from The Desert Song when his attention was drawn to her seated in the audience, obviously enjoying his singing. They were introduced after the concert and married on 10 October 1932.  They spent their honeymoon in Newquay, Cornwall.

10 October 1932 – Marriage. Webster married Dorothy Annie Alice Prior on 10 October 1932 at Fulham Registry Office, the same registry office where he had married Winifred Keey in 1924.

While married to Dorothy (Paddy) Prior, the couple lived at 5 Crescent Court, Golders Green Crescent, NW11. They were listed separately in the telephone book as Webster Booth, tenor, Speedwell 6608; and Paddy Prior, soubrette-entertainer, Speedwell 6608

Although Webster was living with Anne at her flat in Lauderdale Mansions in 1937, Paddy and Webster remained listed in the telephone book at the same address until their divorce was made final in October 1938.

13 October 1932 – Wedding Bells. Paddy Prior and Webster Booth were married at the Fulham Register Office last Monday. A reception followed before the bride and bridegroom left for a honeymoon at Newquay, and several professional friends were in attendance to toast the happy couple.

One Alone

5 Crescent Court

5 Crescent Court, Golders Green Crescent, Golders Green

Paddy and Webster lived at Crescent Court, Golders Green Crescent, Golders Green during their marriage (pictured above).

May 1933 – Piccadilly Revels. Murray Ashford and Wilby Lunn’s Piccadilly Revels will open a fortnight’s engagement at the Pavilion, Bournemouth, next Monday, with a visit to the Argyle, Birkenhead, to follow. The company will start their long resident season at the Floral Hall, Scarborough, on Whit Saturday. The Western Brothers, Ena Broughton, Webster Booth, Paddy Prior, Vilet Stevens, Edgar Sawyer, Andrée Conti, Isolde, Alexis and Carlo, and the Euphan Maclaren Girls form the cast.

Piccadilly Revels, Scarborough 1933

1933 Piccadilly Revelsa

Piccadilly Revels scan0004

Piccadilly Revels. Webster is seated in middle row with Paddy to the left.

Paddy Prior (middle row left), Webster Booth (seated next to her)

In 1934 they were members of Powis Pinder’s Sunshine concert party at the Sunshine Theatre, Shanklin. Arthur Askey and Bernard Lee were also in this company.

Paddy Prior (extreme left) Webster Booth (standing behind Arthur Askey) Sunshine Concert Party, Shanklin 1934

Sunshine Shanklin 03

Sunshine, Shanklin.

At the end of 1934 Webster was chosen to play Faust in the film, The Faust Fantasy and Anne Ziegler was chosen to play Marguerite. Filming began in December and, according to Anne and Webster’s joint autobiography Duet, they fell in love almost at first sight. Paddy’s marriage to Webster was about to end before it had properly begun.

Filming Faust (1934/1935)

2014-12-23_232120

Webster and Anne meet during the filming of Faust

1935 – Fred Hartley’s wedding. Mrs Webster Booth (Paddy) is mentioned as being one of the wedding guests present.

https://clyp.it/ovf2ai2i Roses of Picardy. Click on the link and listen to Webster singing this song with Fred Hartley’s quintet.

Fred Hartley's wedding 1935Mention of Mrs Webster Booth as one of the guests at the wedding.

In May 1935 Webster and Paddy did an extensive broadcast from Daventry entitled A Musical Comedy Pot-Pourri. Harry Bidgood and Sydney Jerome accompanied them on two pianos and played several piano duets. Paddy and Webster sang several duets together.

Webster Booth and Paddy Prior Daventry broadcast

Webster Booth and Paddy Prior Daventry broadcast – May 1935

So this is love

So this is love – Paddy and Webster sang Just Suppose as their first duet.

Two of the duets which Webster and Paddy sang in the broadcast were: Fancy Me Meeting You (Hit the Deck by Yeomans) sung here by Binnie Hale. Click on the link to listen.

Who? (Sunny by Jerome Kern) sung here by Binnie Hale and Jack Buchanan. Click on the link to listen.


As Binnie Hale is the archetypal soubrette, I dare say that Paddy’s mezzo soprano voice was similar to Binnie’s.

In October of the same year Webster sang in an early broadcast with Anne Ziegler, several years before Paddy divorced him – the programme was called Musical Comedy Moments.

Broadcast from Daventry - Webster and Anne Ziegler

Broadcast from Daventry – Webster and Anne Ziegler

Webster and Paddy continued to work together for several years after his meeting with Anne. Their last  professional appearance was on 30 April 1936 when they performed together at the City Musical Union’s 84th Annual Dinner at the Holborn Restaurant. At the end of May they were guests at the wedding of their friends, Violet Stevens and Bryan Courage.

30 May 1936 Hastings and St Leonards pp

Special Concert in 1936

But in July 1937 Anne and Webster sailed for New York together, where Anne had been engaged to play in the musical, Virginia at the Center Theater. She had changed her name to Anne Booth for this production, after being advised that Americans disliked German-sounding names at that time also anticipating her eventual marriage to Webster. Webster returned to Southampton onboard the MV Georgic and gave his address as 74 Lauderdale Mansions, Maida Vale (Anne’s flat), although he was still listed in the telephone directory as living in Crescent Court, Golders Green, where he and Paddy had spent their short married life.

From the beginning of 1938 Anne and Webster began taking engagements together, while Paddy filed for divorce on 29 March 1938 “on the grounds of his adultery in April 1937, with Miss Irene Eastwood, otherwise Miss Anne Zeigler (sic), singer…”

29 March 1938 Decree nisi (1)

Decree nisi March 1938

In September 1938 before Webster’s divorce from Paddy had been finalised, Anne was featured on the cover of Radio Pictorial sporting an opulent diamond solitaire engagement ring:

Radio Pictorial

and on 7 October 1938 the absolute decree was granted to Paddy Prior against Webster Booth. Anne was named as the co-respondent in the divorce.

After the divorce Paddy moved to 14 Muswell Hill Road, sharing her new home with a young Welsh singer, Bettie Bucknelle, who had sung on the radio show, Band Waggon, which starred Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch. In January 1939 Bettie was featured in a show with Charlie Kunz and Denny Dennis.

Bettie Bucknelle

Bettie Bucknelle was singing with Denny Denis in a Charlie Kunz show on Radio Luxembourg and Radio Normandy in early 1939.

Bettie Bucknelle at Newquay

Bettie Bucknelle after World War 2

Anne and Webster were married on 5 November 1938 and went on to even greater success as romantic duettists on the variety stage during the war. I always felt very sorry for Paddy having to watch Anne and Webster obtaining great fame in the theatre while she never achieved great fame despite being a talented and hard working performer.

Witcock and Rutherford’s WEST-END VANITIES  – Regional Programme London, 21 December 1938 16.30 Helen Hill, Paddy Prior, Jean Forbes-Macintyre, Lucas Bassett, Bradley Harris, Derek Moreland, Frank Wilcock, Tubby Harold . Introduced by Harry S. Pepper.

Paddy Prior (2)

The Folkestone Bouquets. Paddy Prior, middle row (extreme right) 1939.

Bouquets' concert party Paddy Prior

ROUND THE CONCERT PARTIES, No. – Regional Programme London, 28 July 1939 20.30 A composite programme of excerpts from three concert parties –DAZZLE Presented by Eric Ross from Pierrot Land, Bognor Regis – Ida Williams, John Lovering, Barbara Wells, Fred Gibson, Eric Ross, Ted Andrews, The Dazzle Girls, Joan Pendleton, Violet Shute, Beryl Pryer and Phyllis Revell.

SUMMER FOLLIES Presented by Will Catlin, Devised and produced by Harry Bright from the Arcadia Theatre, Llandudno. Phil Strickland, The Carlyle Cousins, Terry and Doris Kendall, Ross Eaves, Marion Francis, Sydney Snape, Vera Kitchen, Leslie Moorhouse, Joan Cowley, The Mayfair Dancers,Wagstaff’s Zelo Orchestra.

1939 FOLKESTONE BOUQUETS Presented by Wilby Lunn from the Marine Gardens Pavilion, Folkestone. Betty Pugh Bruce Clark, Dorothy Bradshaw, Harold Stead, Paddy Prior, Stock Wynn, George Carden, The Mariajanos, Marguerite Lome, Eileen Lome, Hylda Burdon, Ruby Savage, Wilby Lunn and Connie Hart.  The programme presented by Harry S. Pepper

A show in 1941.

1941 show

23 August 1941 Hastings1jpg

Variety concert (1941)

Paddy continued with her theatrical career and when war broke out she joined ENSA. Here is a photograph of Paddy entertaining the troops during World War 2.

Paddy Prior (2)

Paddy entertaining the troops during World War 2

Signatures of Paddy and other members of ENSA after entertaining at

Clare Hall, South Mimms in 1943.ENSA Canadian Legion, Bolton Camp

Ensa signatures

ENSA signatures

7 November 1946 PPBB

bettie-bucknelle

So Deep is the Night, with Bettie Bucknelle’s photo on the cover

November 1946.

She and Bettie Bucknelle entertained British forces in the Middle East, and returned to England in 1946. In 1947 she did a summer season with the Oval Entertainers, Margate, where a reviewer described her as “a gay young lady with a sparkling sense of humour as fresh as Margate’s famous sea breezes.”.

1947 2012.04.16_22h35m44s_043

Bettie Bucnelle and Paddy Prior at Newquay

Bettie Bucknelle and Paddy Prior at the Old Vicarage, Newquay, Cornwall

Paddy Prior at the Old Vicarage, Newquay, Cornwall shortly after the war. She and Webster had spent their honeymoon in Newquay in October 1932.

On 22 April 1948 she and Bettie Bucknelle sailed for Australia, where they intended to make a new life. Paddy’s brother had settled there some time earlier. It must have been upsetting for Paddy to see Webster and Anne as established stars while, despite her considerable talent, she had not made a big and lasting name for herself.

Extract from passenger list to Australia.

Dorothy Prior Betty bucknell

Passenger list to Australia – April 1948. Bucknell and Booth

25-may-1948-paddy-bettie

A  newspaper photo regarding their arrival in Australia in 1948.

Later that year Anne and Webster made an extensive and triumphant concert tour of New Zealand and Australia. They heard that Paddy and Bettie had booked seats in the front row for one of their concerts in Sydney. Webster feared that they might be planning an unpleasant demonstration against them at this concert. He was asked whether he could recommend Paddy as understudy to Cicely Courtneidge in the play, Under the Counter, which meant she would have to leave for New Zealand to rehearse the understudy role. Paddy had played the lead in a Scottish tour of Lido Lady in the late twenties, the same role in which Cicely had starred in London a few years earlier. He had no hesitation in making this recommendation, so Paddy was not able to attend the concert as she had to go to New Zealand right away to begin understudy rehearsals.

There is evidence of Bettie Bucknelle singing in a number of broadcasts, including broadcasts with the famous band leader Jay Wilbur, but I could not find out anything about Paddy’s Australian theatrical career. In a 1949 electoral register, she is listed as a housewife!

20-february-1949-bettie-bucknelle

Shortly after Anne and Webster returned to the UK from South Africa in 1978, a letter arrived for Webster from Paddy who was still living in Australia. She said he would be welcome to visit her if he ever decided to go out there. Anne did not show this letter to Webster!

I was pleased to hear from Paddy’s niece, Beverley June McLachlan (née Prior) and her daughter, Paddy’s great-niece, Cheryl Willits recently. Paddy married Harold Bradshaw and the couple lived in Hobart, Tasmania where Paddy continued to entertain at their bowling club, singing and doing comedy skits. Cheryl mentioned that Paddy had sung on the radio with Ross Higgins,

Ross Higgins

Ross Higgins

the well-known Australian actor and entertainer who died at the age of 86 in October 2016. I am happy to know that Paddy’s subsequent life in Australia was a happy one.

Jean Collen

April, 2016.

Updated 20 January 2017

The Atrocity in Rhodes Park, Kensington – 17 October 2015

The lake at Rhodes Park. Photo: Errol Collen

The lake at Rhodes Park. Photo: Errol Collen

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

Kensington Spring Fair, Rhodes Park. 2013

Kensington Spring Fair 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:

  1. Demolish the derelict restaurant if nobody is going to refurbish it. It has been standing empty for years so I do not think anyone is ever going to turn it into a restaurant again.
  2. The Johannesburg City Council or the South African Police should provide park attendants to keep order in the park – not just for a few months until people forget about this atrocity – but for good.
  3. Nobody entering the park should be allowed to take alcohol, firearms or drugs in with them. Everyone should be searched by the attendants before entering the park.
  4. The storm water drain should be closed  with iron girders so that nobody can enter or leave the park by that means.
  5. Someone suggested charging a small entry fee to go into the park – R2 was suggested.

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.

Jean Collen

 

THE GOLDEN AGE OF WEBSTER BOOTH-ANNE ZIEGLER AND FRIENDS

 

Recently I closed the Booth-Ziegler Yahoo Group. I created a group on FACEBOOK to replace the defunct Yahoo group. If you belong to Facebook, click on the following link and request to join:

THE GOLDEN AGE OF WEBSTER BOOTH-ANNE ZIEGLER AND FRIENDS

Here is some information about the group. I hope you will be tempted to join!

Welcome to this group for admirers of the singing and the careers of British duettists Webster Booth (1902 -1984) and Anne Ziegler (1910 – 2003) and related artists. We will add duets and solos by Anne and Webster and related artists, share photos, links to related sites, and information about them.
Please feel free to post, start discussions, add videos, recordings and ephemera featuring Anne and Webster and related artists, comment, ask questions – and answer them if you can.
I began my singing studies with Webster and Anne at their studio in Johannesburg at the end of 1960 when I was 17 years old. Early in 1963 they asked me if I would accompany for Webster in their studio when Anne was unavailable to do this. That was certainly one of the most fulfilling and life-changing experiences of my life. I did my associate and licentiate diplomas with them and we remained close friends until their deaths – Webster in 1984, and Anne in 2003. They played a very important part in my life and I will always remember them with love.
Anne and Webster were an unassuming couple who did not boast about their achievements. I found out much more about these when I began researching their careers after Anne’s death in 2003 and published my book, Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth. All my books about Anne and Webster may be seen at: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/duettists
I started this group hoping to keep the memory of their lives, voices and careers alive and have gladly shared recordings, photos and other ephemera here and I hope that the group will continue long after I am dead and gone. I have bequeathed my collection to the Museum of English Literature in Grahamstown, South Africa.
Mike Taylor, the other administrator of the group, has shared his restored collection of 78rpms. We are very lucky to have these restorations in our collection. You will be able to hear many rare recordings featuring Anne, Webster, and artists with whom they were friendly or with whom they worked. If you look at the group photos many have links to these recordings, which may be downloaded for your own pleasure (and NOT for commercial usage).
RULES
There are many recordings, photographs and articles here. You may download these for your own pleasure, but they may not be used for commercial purposes.
Do not post adverts unrelated to the group. If anyone posts an advert he/she will be given a warning and the advert will be removed. If the person posts a subsequent advert he/she will be removed and blocked from the group.
If you wish to publicize a concert or event in which you are taking part, please ask the administrators for permission first.
Please limit your posts about related artists to a maximum of two a day otherwise Anne and Webster’s contribution will be swamped.
Please make sure that the recordings you post actually have some connection to Anne and Webster’s work – either by the music with which they were associated, the artists they knew and admired, with whom they worked, or who were working in the same musical sphere at the same time.
Please treat fellow members with courtesy, and do not blaspheme.
If you wish to contact me off-line, my email is: booth-ziegler@outlook.com
RELATED ARTISTS:
Essie Ackland,  Arthur Askey, Isobel Baillie, Owen Brannigan,  George Baker, Basil Cameron,  Alfredo Campoli, Gwen Catley, Noel Coward,  Joan Cross, Harry Parr Davies, Bebe Daniels,  Peter Dawson, Mary Ellis, Nancy Evans, Kathleen Ferrier,  Flotsam and Jetsam/ Malcolm McEachern, Will Fyffe, Gert and Daisy,  Olive Gilbert,  Leon Goosens, Harry Gordon, Martyn Green, Frederick Grinke, Herbert Greenslade, Olive Groves, Garda Hall, Joan Hammond, Tommy Handley, Fred Hartley, Stanley Holloway, Tom Howell,  Winifred Lawson, Evelyn Laye, Janet Lind, David Lloyd, Mark Lubbock, Ernest Lush, Ben Lyon,  George Melachrino, Gerald Moore, Elsie Morrison, Alice Moxon, Heddle Nash, Oscar Natzke, Robert Naylor,  Dennis Noble, Ray Noble (pre USA), Ivor Novello, Derek Oldham, Geoffrey Parsons,  Rawicz and Landauer, Gladys Ripley, Stuart Robertson, Eric Robinson, Stanford Robinson, Albert Sandler, Malcolm Sargent, Elsie Suddaby, Richard Tauber, Inia te Wiata,  Tommy Trinder, Jack Warner, Harry Welchman, Harold Williams.
Other artists from the same period, but not necessarily related to Anne and Webster in any way: Jack Buchanan, Gracie Fields, Layton and Johnstone,  Melville Gideon, Jessie Matthews, Gladys Moncrieff,  Anna Neagle.

 

Webster and Anne on the Russell Harty TV show (1981)

 

Webster on Saturday Night Revue (1937)

 

Webster and Anne in The Faust Fantasy (1935

 

 

 

Jean Collen – October 2015.


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BILL CURRY (26 March 1931 – 28 July 2015)

Bill Curry 26 March 1931 – 27 July 2015

Bill Curry and Denise Newman in a play in 1981.

Bill Curry and Denise Newman in a play in 1981.

The late Jonathan Rands, Michael Richard, and Bill Curry (1981)

The late Jonathan Rands, Michael Richard, and Bill Curry (1981)

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

St Andrew's, Ocean Street, Kensington. Photo: Rev. Fr. Stewart Peart

St Andrew’s, Ocean Street, Kensington. Photo: Rev. Fr. Stewart Peart

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.

30 July

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)

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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.

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