George Formby Biography

George Hoy Booth, 26 May 1904, Wigan, Lancashire, England, d. 6 March 1961, Penwortham, Lancashire, England. The son of George Formby, a successful Edwardian Music Hall comedian, George Hoy was an apprentice jockey before following in his father’s footsteps when he died in 1921. At first he worked under his real name and offered what he believed to be an imitation of his father’s act - although he had never seen him perform. He changed his name to Formby and discarded the old image when he introduced a ukulele into his act, and then, just as significantly, married dancer, Beryl Ingham in September 1924. The lady was to mastermind - some would say, dominate - the remainder of his career. In the late 20s he developed a stage personality that was described variously as: ‘the beloved imbecile’, ‘the modern minstrel’ and, ‘with a carp-like face, a mouth outrageously full of teeth, a walk that seems normally to be that of a flustered hen and a smile of perpetual wonder at the joyous incomprehensibility of the universe’. Self-taught on the ukulele, he developed an individual style, that even years later, was difficult to copy.

Apart from a small part in a silent movie (By The Shortest Of Heads) in 1915, Formby’s film career started in 1934 with Boots, Boots, and continued until 1946 with such films as No Limit (1935), Keep Your Seats Please (1935), Feather Your Nest (1937), Keep Fit (1937), It’s In The Air (1938), Trouble Brewing (1939), Let George Do It (1940), Turned Out Nice Again (1940), Spare A Copper (1941), South American George (1941), Bell Bottom George (1943), and George In Civvy Street (1946). As with his music hall act, the films featured a series of saucy songs such as ‘With My Little Ukulele In My Hand’, ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’, ‘Fanlight Fanny’, ‘Auntie Maggie’s Remedy’, ‘She’s Got Two Of Everything’, ‘You Don’t Need A Licence For That’ and ‘Grandad’s Flannelette Nightshirt’. Besides his other ‘identity’ songs such as ‘Leaning On A Lamp Post’, ‘Chinese Laundry Blues’ and ‘Mr. Wu’s A Window Cleaner Now’. His film image was that of a little man, with a very attractive girl friend, fighting evil in the shape of crooks or the Germans, and coming out on top in the end (‘It’s turned out nice again!’) to the sheer delight of cinema audiences: ‘Our George has done it again!’.

During the 30s and 40s, Formby and Gracie Fields were regarded as the most popular entertainers in the UK. Even in the early 30s his annual earnings were estimated at around £85, 000. During World War II Formby toured extensively with ENSA, entertaining troops in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. In 1946, he was awarded the OBE for his war efforts. Five years later, he appeared in his first ‘book’ musical at the Palace Theatre in London’s West End. The show was Zip Goes A Million, a musical adaptation of the George Barr McCutcheon novel, Brewster’s Millions. It gave Formby the biggest success of his career, but six months into the run he had to withdraw after suffering a heart attack, to be replaced by comedian Reg Dixon. A year later he returned to work in the usual round of revues and summer shows, but throughout the 50s he was plagued by recurring illness. In 1960 he made his first record for 15 years. The single, ‘Happy Go Lucky Me’, ‘Banjo Boy’, was also his first to make the UK Top 40. On Christmas Day of that year his wife and manager, Beryl, died. About two months later, his fans, and especially his family, were startled when he announced his engagement to a 36-year-old schoolteacher, Pat Howson. The marriage was arranged for May, but never took place. Formby died in hospital on 6 March 1961. He left most of his fortune to his fiancée, a situation which led to a lengthy period of litigation when his relations contested the will. A musical play set in the period just before he died, entitled Turned Out Nice Again, which was written by Alan Randall and Vince Powell, and starred Randall, had its world premiere at the Blackpool Grand Theatre in March 1992.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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