George Formby, Jr.
, OBE (26 May 1904 – 6 March 1961) was an
English ukulele player singer and comedian who became a major star of
both cinema and music hall.
George was born at 3 Westminster Street, Wigan, Lancashire, as
George Hoy Booth, the eldest of seven surviving children (four girls
and three boys). His father (James Booth) was George Formby, Sr.
(1875-1921) one of the great music hall comedians of his day, fully the
equal of his son's later success. His father, not wishing him even to
watch his performances, moved the family to Atherton Road in Hindley
(near Wigan) and it was from there that George was apprenticed as a
jockey when he was seven and rode his first professional race at ten
when he weighed under four stone (56 pounds, 25.4 kg).
On the death of his father in 1921, Formby abandoned his career as a
jockey and started his own music hall career using his father's
material. He originally called himself George Hoy (George Hoy was also
his maternal grandfather's name, who originally came from Newmarket,
Suffolk, a famous horseracing town & whose family were involved in
racehorse training). In 1924 he married dancer Beryl Ingham, who managed
his career (and it is said his personal life to an intolerable degree -
see biographies below) until her death in 1960. He allegedly took up the
ukulele, for which he was later famous, as a hobby and first played it
on stage for a bet.
George Formby endeared himself to his audiences with his cheeky
Lancashire humour and folksy north of England persona. In film and on
stage, he generally adopted the character of an honest, good-hearted but
accident-prone innocent who used the phrases: "It's turned out nice
again!" as an opening line and "Ooh, mother!" when escaping from
What made him stand out, however, was his unique and often mimicked
musical style. He sang comic songs, full of double entendre, to his own
accompaniment on the banjolele, for which he developed a catchy musical
syncopated style which became his trademark. Some of his best-known
songs were written by Noel Gay. Some of his songs were considered too
rude for broadcasting. His 1937 song, "With my little stick of Blackpool
Rock" was banned by the BBC because of the lyrics.
He made his first successful record (he had been making records as
early as 1926) in 1932 with the Jack Hylton Band, and his first sound
film Boots! Boots! in 1934 (Formby had appeared in a sole silent
film in 1915). The film was successful and he signed a contract to make
a further 11 with Associated Talking Pictures, earned him a
then-astronomical income of £100,000 per year. A subsequent contract
with Columbia Pictures earned him a further £500,000.
Between 1934 and 1945 Formby was the top box-office attraction in
British cinema. He appeared in the 1937 Royal Variety Show, and
entertained troops with ENSA in Europe and North Africa during World War
II. He received an OBE in 1946. He had received a Stalin Prize in 1944,
prompted by the popularity of his films in the USSR. His most popular
film, and still regarded as probably his best, is the espionage comedy
Let George Do It, in which he is a member of a concert party,
takes the wrong ship by mistake during a blackout, and finds himself in
Norway (mistaking Bergen for Blackpool) as a secret agent. A dream
sequence in which he punches Hitler on the nose and addresses him as a
"windbag" is one of the most enduring moments in film comedy.
Formby suffered his first heart attack in 1952. His wife Beryl died
of leukaemia on 24 December 1960 and he planned to marry Pat Howson, a
36-year-old schoolteacher, in the spring of 1961. However he had a
second heart attack before then and died in hospital on 6 March 1961.
His funeral was held in St. Charles' Church in Aigburth, Liverpool and
an estimated 100,000 mourners lined the route as his coffin was driven
to Warrington Cemetery, where he was buried in the Booth family grave.
On 15 September 2007 a bronze statue of Formby was unveiled in his
home town of Wigan, Lancashire, in the town's Grand Arcade Shopping
Beryl Ingham: wife and manager of George
Beryl Ingham was born in 1901 in Haslingden, Lancashire. She was a
champion clogdancer and actress, winning the All England Step Dancing
Title at the age of 11. Later she formed a dancing act with her sister,
May, which they called themselves "The Two Violets"
. It was in 1923 while they
were appearing in music hall in Yorkshire that she met George Formby.
They married in George's home town of Wigan, Lancashire the following
The couple worked together as a variety act until 1932 when she
became his full time manager and mentor, though she did in fact appear
in two of his films for which George was paid up to £35,000 per
performance. It was Beryl's business savvy that guided Formby to be the
UK's highest paid entertainer (at a time of high taxation he was paying
97.5% of his earnings as revenues).
In 1946 Beryl and George toured South Africa, where he played to
black audiences despite threats from the National Party leader Daniel
François Malan. Beryl embraced a 3 year-old black girl who had presented
her with a box of chocolates.
When Malan started shouting at the Formbys, threatening to throw the
couple out of the country, Beryl, with a typical northern response,
replied "Why don't you piss off you horrible little man?"
 Beryl continued to manage
George's career until she contracted leukemia. She died on Christmas
Eve, 1960 in Blackpool, Lancashire. He also had a dog called Willie
Waterbucket. For many years my grandfather - Fred Knight - was George's
chauffeur,driving him to the studios and Music Halls across the country.
At that time George had a Lanchaster, a make long gone, but considered
quite the limo of its day. George's famous ukelelee was often left at my
mother's house. I did have a number of signed photographs from George
and Beryl but sadly these were "lost" when grandfather had to move in a
care home. I would dearly love to know if any such photographs still
George Formby's trademark was playing the ukulele-banjo in a highly
syncopated style, collectively referred to as the 'Formby style'.
Among the several syncopation techniques that he used, the most
commonly emulated stroke of Formby's is a clever rhythmic technique,
called the "Split stroke", a technique which produces a musical rhythm,
that is easily recognised as Formby. He sang in his own Lancashire
accent. Other strokes that are included in George's repertoire include
the triple, the circle, the fan, and the shake.
- "Auntie Maggie's Remedy"
- "Chinese Laundry Blues"
- "The Isle of Man"
- "Imagine Me on the Maginot Line"
- "The Window Cleaner"/"When I'm Cleaning Windows (media:George
Formby--Cleaning Windows-sample.ogg|Audio sample)
- "Leaning on a Lamppost"
- "With my Little Ukulele in my Hand"
- "With my Little Stick of Blackpool Rock"
- "Mother, What'll I do Now?"
- "Mr Wu's a Window Cleaner Now"
- "Mr Wu's an Air Raid Warden Now"
- "Our Sergeant Major"
- "My Granddad's Flannelette Night Shirt"
- By the Shortest of Heads
- Boots! Boots!
- Off the Dole
- The Song That Made a Star
- No Limit
- Keep Your Seats Please
- Feather Your Nest
- Keep Fit
- I See Ice
- It's in the Air
- Trouble Brewing
- Come On George
- Let George Do It
- Spare a Copper
- Turned Out Nice Again
- South American George
- Much Too Shy
- Get Cracking
- He Snoops To Conquer
- Bell Bottom George
- I Didn't Do It
- George in Civvy Street
- Peter Sellers, whose parents, Bill and Peggy Sellers, were music
hall artists, recounted on Michael Parkinson's show that it was his
father who introduced George to the banjolele.
- One of his most popular films is No Limit and used to be
shown every year in the Isle of Man TT week. George rides a 'Shuttleworth
Snap' in the film. The Shuttleworth Snap was actually a disguised
1928 AJS - it was the Rainbow that was the disguised Ariel Red
Hunter. In real life Formby owned a Norton International 500cc OHC
single sports model, one of the most desirable machines of the day.
- There is a bronze statue of George leaning on a lampost on
Ridgeway Street in Douglas, Isle of Man. Another bronze statue was
unveiled in Formby's hometown of Wigan, Lancashire in the Grande
Arcade Shopping Precinct.
- In his last TV appearance in December 1960, Formby admitted that
he had never learned to read or write music.
- His father, George Formby (Senior), had intended to retire from
music-hall and buy some horses, employing George to train them, but
died before he could put this plan into effect.
- In the British radio programme, The Bradshaws, all of
Formby's songs were said to have been written by Uncle Wally
- The British comedian Peter Kay makes reference to George Formby
in a comedy sketch. Kay describes how his 'Nana' finds it difficult
to pronounce product names. Examples include: "VD Player" instead of
"DVD Player", and "George Formby Grill" instead of "George Foreman
- George is referenced in many episodes of the Marks and Gran
sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart, and is portrayed, with his wife,
Beryl, in the series 3 episode "Turned Out Nice Again".
- Appears in the back cover of Alice in Chains self-titled album,
also known as Tripod, with a Computer Edited third leg.
- A fictional George Formby appears in the Thursday Next series by
Jasper Fforde. In the "Nextiverse", Formby was part of the
resistance during the Nazi occupation of England, broadcasting
inspirational songs and jokes to the occupied English on "Wireless
St. George" (essentially the opposite of Lord Haw-Haw). Such was
Formby's popularity that Hitler ordered all banjos and ukeleles
burned. Following the collapse of the occupation, Formby was
appointed President-for-Life, to replace the (presumed defunct)
Royal Family as an inspirational figurehead for the country (and
unlike the Royal Family, was genuinely beloved by the vast majority
of his subjects). The Nextiverse version of Formby held the rank
until his death in 1988.