Billed as the ‘Champagne Soprano’, Lizbeth Webb managed the transition from wartime radio star and dance-band vocalist to the West End with all the sparkling elegance her sobriquet suggested.
Born in Ticehurst, near Reading, Webb was raised by an aunt and uncle following the death of her mother in childbirth. She began her singing career under the name Betty Webber, making her first radio appearance at the age of 16 following a recommendation by the soprano Gwen Catley.
The broadcast was heard by bandleader Jack Payne, who took her under his wing and persuaded her to change her name to Betty Webb. She made regular appearances with Payne, and was soon in demand with other bandleaders, including Max Jaffa, Henry Hall, Geraldo, Louis Levy and the BBC Concert Orchestra.
Webb’s voice was a constant feature of wartime broadcasts. She often sang live on programmes such as Worker’s Playtime, Variety Bandbox, Home at Eight – alongside Hermione Gingold – and Friday Night is Music Night. During the Second World War she also appeared on the BBC’s German Service, where she began acting in sketches.
Signed, on Geraldo’s recommendation, by the impresario Charles B Cochran, she changed her name one last time to Lizbeth Webb, and made her first foray into theatre to understudy Carole Lynn in Vivian Ellis and AP Herbert’s 1946 satire Big Ben, eventually taking over the lead.
The following year she created the role of Lucy Willow in the hit musical Bless the Bride, commissioned for her by Cochran from Herbert and Ellis, at the Adelphi Theatre. The show’s hit song This is My Lovely Day became a long-standing fixture on radio and Webb’s own signature tune.
In 1951, she took the lead in Ivor Novello’s musical swansong Gay’s the Word at the Saville Theatre, where she shared the limelight with Cicely Courtneidge. On the insistence of composer Frank Loesser, Webb went on to become the only British principal cast member in the original London production of Guys and Dolls at the Coliseum in 1953, playing Sarah Brown.
She travelled to far-off, post-war fields of battle to entertain troops, including Cyprus, Korea and Libya, where she met Colonel Guy Campbell, whom she would marry in 1956, having already broken an engagement to a smitten Peter Sellers following an appearance with The Goon Show star on The Light Programme.
Campbell was heir to a baronetcy, and the wedding in 1961 – Webb’s second marriage; her first to an RAF pilot having ended in divorce – ennobled the performer as a lady, prompting her retirement from performing, save for a 1969 appearance in the title role of The Merry Widow at the Cambridge Theatre followed by a national tour.
Lizbeth Webb was born on January 30, 1926, and died – a fortnight before what would have been her 87th birthday – on January 17. She is survived by two sons.