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George Formby 348

Black and white of actor/singer/comedian/ukulele player, George Formby, colorized by me.

He wasn't popular in the states during his career but was big in his home country of England.  I found out about him after reading, I think Anthology, and found out that the uke you hear at the end of Free As A Bird (The Beatles -- Of course!) is him playing.  It's from this song -…
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Rebertha's avatar
Speaking of the Beatles and the British Invasion, the Herman's Hermits had a hit with "Leain' On a Lamp Post". Thank you, George Harrison, for turning me on to everyone from Music Hall ukele to immortalist Babaji! The "John Lennon" at the end of "Free as a Bird" is a tribute to John, part of the collage, maybe Lennon dug him too but Harrison openly championed him! Great colour!
ajax1946's avatar
Thank you!  Glad you like it :) 
DeTrixsta's avatar

So-- In 1988 I went a Laurel & Hardy convention. My first one. The international Laurel & Hardy fan group is huge & is known as The Sons of the Desert. (Based on a 1934 film of theirs in which the boys sneak off to a convention in spite of their wives) I had a Tacoma, Wa. chapter for a while & that’s how I got to know Vince Giordano & the work of George Formby Jr.!

There is a huge Laurel & Hardy fan base in England because Stan Laurel was English. I met a fellow at that convention who was a Formby imitator & entertainer named Peter Denmark. I was hooked because he got the big banjo sound out of a little uke! .... (As George Formby called it; a "Banjulele”) amazing little things...I then learned what a huge star Formby was in the UK.

(I also have quite a few of his films on VHS tapes. They were much better than what I expected. The British comedy is rather the same then as it is now, perhaps not as broad, but  warm & funny in many ways & the films hold up along with those antics of Laurel & Hardy or Wheeler & Woolsey. They may not have had a huge budget, but they are entertaining & there was one that was even filmed during the blitz & they carried on! (George was even wearing a dirty looking stained suit in one!) It wasn't Hollywood & you see people with less than perfect dental work! refreshing to see in a weird way...


George’s father was a hugely well-known pre-WW1 Northern music hall star. His style was rather hang-dogged & low-key. Formby Sr. had such a bad cough, that he had to make it part of his act. I have one recording of him from 1919. (I may have another on an LP collection of music hall stuff) He was sickly & sounded it by then, but his public loved him!  

The younger Formby took to the stage after his dad died & at first did his material & even performed in his dad’s clothes. He recorded a couple of those numbers in the mid-20s. I don’t think he was too successful. He only took up the uke after seeing Cliff Edwards perform onstage during his 1925 tour.

Formby Jr. actually wasn't so musically inclined; he could play the regular uke, banjo-uke & banjo-mandolin-- a smaller version of a tenor banjo. I have one of his Dallas-style banjo-mandolins I picked up in an antique store in Portland. I can sort of play, not real well, just enough to fool friends, anyhow.

Most of the Formby songs seem to sound alike, & it’s not by accident; I think they were written to suit his range of talent, but that’s neither here nor there. He almost always got his name listed on every song as one of the composers. However, those credits are a mere courtesy listing. It was due to a bit of shrewdness on his wife’s part. (If you know anything of his private life, you will learn that his wife Beryl kept our cheerful Lancashire lad on tight leash!) So, they got composer residuals on the songs he sang as well, & Beryl insisted the songs wouldn’t come to anything unless her George performed them & to some degree, there may have been truth in that. However some of the composers sold a comedy song to another English comic Tommy Trinder, & was a big hit for him. The famous English composer Noel Gay wrote “Leaning on a Lamppost” for his stage revue “Me & My Gal” and despite Beryl swearing & spitting at him in the streets; Gay kept the Formby name off the composer credit! It was still a big hit for George however & later on, he said he could never get off any stage without performing that one & the Window Cleaner song!

“When I’m Cleaning Windows” was recorded in 1936; after the initial hit was first introduced in Formby’s film, “Keep Your Seats Please” (reworking of the Russian story "The Twelve Chairs").  
“The Window Cleaner record" was banned by the BBC at the time & you did not hear much of George on the Beeb at all.
(I have heard some promos he recorded for Regal/Zonophone records that would be played on commercial Radio 
Luxembourg in the 30's.)
During the War he toured & gave free impromptu performances during the blitz & even in the London underground on night!

While researching his life I found some photos of him performing in South Africa, & while I still do not know all the details, the story goes that he agreed to perform but it was for a partide... "What the bleedin' hell is a partide?" Well, it was all explained to him & our cheerful chappie agreed & all was underway...George had his management person arrange that the performance not be segregated, & gave the performance to an exclusive all black audience! The manager was in fact killed, (according to the story) but George got away with it & became a folk-hero in South Africa & the people there loved him for it!  
My favorite Formby story is when all my comedy heroes met...

I was told the story of Laurel & Hardy’s 1947 tour of England & they all belonged to the royal order of water-rats. An English version of the friars’ club or the lambs clubs & it was charitable with membership being made up of show business folks. George would have loved to have met his favorites Laurel & Hardy, but because Beryl had forbidden George to keep company in “a room-full of drunken men”, was not allowed to go to the lunch. Under strict instructions not to enter the premises, Formby was driven to the hotel & had to stay by his car as Stan & Ollie were brought outside to him! They exchanged pleasantries & Formby was driven home. Such was the power of Beryl.

As For the wife, she died & George was a free man. He would insist he’d have been nothing & owed it all to Beryl, but he quickly remarried a woman 20 years his junior! Nice one, George!

I think he died within a year or so after that, if I recall; Poor Fucker!

George Harrison had one of Formby's original Banjo-ukes & in later years he gave it to a nephew of George's. "Back into the family where it belongs" Harrison said... that was really nice I thought... being it belonged to Formby then in the hands of George Harrison makes it a collector's item & a pedigreed treasure! However the nephew sold it within weeks... I suppose the offers were to good to resist!
"Eeeeeee! Champion!" as George might say...
I just uploaded a Formby sheet music cover (with film poster art) to my gallery! Perhaps I could share some songs if anyone wants to hear--?

ajax1946's avatar
Wow!  So much information!  I remember George saying in The Friday Show, he started out using his mother's maiden name, Hoy.  He said that he knew he wouldn't be as big as his dad had been and the Formby name was supposed to be TOP and important.  He said he wouldn't use it until he knew that it would be used for top billing.

I had read an account, somewhere on the internet.  It was that George had been doing his dad's act, but it was he and friends that saw the Richards act and they had dared him to play the uke.  He said he couldn't, they persisted and turns out he could.

I have noticed that the songs do all sound a bit alike, but they're still great, for their lyrics and even the upbeat tempo.  He also mentioned this in The Friday Show.….  I think there are 4 parts, if you've never seen it before.  He does mention that Beryl did a lot for him, but it would take too long to go into at that time.  I think this was filmed a few weeks after she had died and a few years before George's own death.  He has a terrible cough in this one, you can see the years of smoking taking its toll.

Beryl, cunning bitch!  She must have been something evil to come home to if he wouldn't even break her rules.  If I wanted to meet my idols that badly, screw what anyone said! :)  I had read too that she even forced her way into touring with him when he did the shows for the service folks.  No one wanted to see Beryl, I'm sure, but there she was.  She even got herself on a ship during an invasion or something along those lines.  They had asked George to sail along and she said, "If George goes, I go.  No me, No George."  So, Beryl went.  I feel like the marriage was probably just so she could advance her career.  She saw an opportunity and took it.

I don't think he even got a chance to marry the lady that was 20 years younger than he was.  He had announced the engagement and then a few weeks later had passed away.  Too bad that he never got a chance to be truly happy then.

What a shame that the family member sold the uke!  Do we know whatever happened to it?

I will have to check your gallery and find the sheet music cover!  I would love to hear the songs, and those promos, if you have a link or have them and can upload them :)
DeTrixsta's avatar
GAsp! Yeah; sorry about that, but after I learned how huge he was I did some digging & learned quite a bit, it was pre-internet days & I used my UK contacts in the Laurel & Hardy club.. I reasoned that, just because I loved Laurel & Hardy, it didn't mean that I didn't love seeing Wheeler & Woolsey, or Olsen & Johnson ... Or The Marx Brothers... Or The Ritz Brothers ...see? So yeah, there were fans over there that enjoyed the same/like things, but it was all new to me. Films with Formby, Gracie Fields & Will Hay were a revelation to me.... I LOVE Will Hay & sadly nobody today remembers him.... However... It pays off to ask people!

Yeah, Beryl was something else again, she was like a domineering stage-mommy-dearest & I don't know if you know an old British actress by the name of Dame Thora Hird? She has done loads of stage, film & TV work in England... Last thing I knew of, she was one of the "old dears" in "Last Of The Summer Wine" a gentle comedy TV show I never quite understood...but she worked with George in the 1940's... I think it was a film called "Trouble Brewing" set in & around a beer brewery. In the film, at the climax of a chase scene, they both fall into vat of brew & share a hug covered in foam....cute..cut...fade out... She recalled George Was freaking out about doing the scene; "Oh God, please Lord, don't let Beryl find it out...She mustn't see this, We will all be dead..." etc.
Even Dame Thora,  shook her head & was like; "Poor Fucker!" She was interviewed on a special about Ealing studios a couple years ago... 

I suppose Beryl was onset most of the time & yes, she did a lot for him I am sure..... but I think she was afraid of losing out on her meal ticket. George would have been a target for women looking to advance their careers or purses...whatever... The talent pool in England was nothing like Hollywood & I suppose he was viewed as Hollywood-type star, as far as that goes... It may have made things difficult for him.

The song must have been "Goodnight Little Fellow, Goodnight"... He sings a little boy to sleep in "Come On, George", I have not watched that one in ages, but he gets saddled with a losing racehorse & an orphan boy in it --- I recall thinking there is something rather sad about that number, I don't mean in a sappy way, but in a wistful way like a parent who had lost a child & it makes you want to cry, it may have everything to do with what you had said... I recall it as odd, being a bit out of character, I guess...

One film to track down is "Let George Do It" (aka "To Hell With Hitler"), the female villain in it, is Coral Browne... the actress who played Auntie Mame's actress friend in the 1959 film with Roz Russell. She's a nazi-bitch enemy agent & in the film she tries to seduce George because the notes in his Ukulele sheet music contain valuable information! They drug him with the truth syruim & George gets cocky! I like seeing films like this that were made during the war & about the war!
The dance band is a front for Nazi nonsense! Hilarious! This was the same Coral Browne who married Vincent Price.... My gay neighbor had a date with Vincent Price years ago & I said I knew he was creepy, but didn't know he was gay! Yes indeed...Coral Browne was a Lezzer & the marriage was indeed one of those "white-lie" affairs! She was great in this BTW, I have never seen her in anything other than "Auntie Mame".
Sad about the new lady friend... Of Formby's, that is... I do think she was buried with him & his parents though, & that they would had to have been with the family blessings for that to happen... the pictures I have seen show the family plot with no mention of Beryl! The "young" girlfriend lived to be well over a hundred according to the headstone!

I think I have seen clips of that final TV appearance of Formby, I recall thinking he put on a few pounds!

As for that Uke that was sold, I think it went into the hands of a Formby impressionist who was active in the Formby society... I want to say Alan Randall, but the name sorta escapes me now... & think the fellow has since passed away! I would imagine someone in the society knows for sure & will look after it... I would hope so... At any rate... 

You ever see the Antique Roadshow UK? It comes on PBS every now & again... but Ovation network shows the whole hour show & one day someone brought a smoking jacket of George Formby's... They say that the film he wore it in, had him getting shot at & that's why there was a hole in it! George liked it & either kept it or they made a gift of it to him.... I KNEW the film & (not that I have seen them all), but it was the one he wore in "South American George", & indeed was the same one.... how great to see something in color from a black & white movie all those years ago....You know what I mean...
ajax1946's avatar
I don't have cable, even over the air service :(  We usually watch Netflix or Amazon Prime.  I do miss PBS though!

Ah, the studio system, where your romances were decided by a team of public relations folks!

I also enjoy war time movies.  There was something about the general "feeling" in America at the time and it reflected in the movies, music, everything. 

Yes, Goodnight Little Fellow, Goodnight.  Very sad!  Poor George though, that brewery story!  I think he did have something of a Hollywood-type following.  I have read of affairs that he had with leading ladies.

Sorry so short, I will be on a bus to Texas in a few hours, and just making sure that I have everything all packed and ready to go.

So, I will be back in 16 days but will be on here if my phone lets me haha.
DeTrixsta's avatar
Would it not be for my Mom, I'd drop the cable TV too, not worth what they want for it & I find I am listening to more old radio shows & sinking deeper into the past! See ya... There is one on Tumblr that posts some good episodes... "Down These Mean Streets" it's called. Mostly noirish thrillers & detective shows... Murder has always been popular entertainment it seems...
Ha ha I guess old George did have a bit of fun on the side...well, let's hope so... :D
Have fun! I'll hear from you when you get back here to D A land...
ajax1946's avatar
I will have to check that out on tumblr!  Thank you for being such a wealth of information and resources when it comes to these things!  :)
DeTrixsta's avatar
Turned out nice again, hasn't it? That was his catchphrase & it was in reverse on the video... He was a childhood favorite of the Beatles as he was a huge film/recording star in the UK during the 1930s & 40s. George Harrison had owned one of his original ukes! I have an autographed photo of him on my wall hanging up with my banjulele! Some of the stuff in his films were hilarious & some of his films are pretty entertaining today!  I love the double entendre lyrics of his songs & I think I need to answer your previous posts Megg, but we were talking about obscure references in Seth Macfarlane shows----  In an episode of American Dad, the boss who (is voiced by Patrick Stewart) asks to have his calls held & pulls a banjulele out of drawer & starts singing "When I'm Cleaning Windows", Formby's  signature song..How random was that? I thought; who over here would get/know that? He was a big fave of Stan Laurel & Peter Sellers too... I have a story about a meeting of Laurel & Hardy with George Formby, but I cannot stay up... Tune in tomorrow children & I shall tell of that bitch of a wife poor George had...
ajax1946's avatar
Yep, that was the catchphrase.  And weirdly, it sounds like "John Lennon" on the video there at the end.  OMG!  How lucky of you to have an autograph! :)  

I really want to see a George Formby film, I'd love to see all of them actually!  I have found 4 on Amazon Instant Video.  Once I have some time I want to purchase them and have a nice long viewing session!  All I've seen so far are little snippets from his films, the bits where he sings and plays, on youtube.  

This is one reason I love George Formby, the double entendre lyrics.  Besides, I don't think he's so bad looking ;)  I remember seeing that episode of American Dad.  I saw that and thought, "I'm probably one of the few people in America that actually get that reference!"  I had to explain it to my boyfriend and then introduce him to George Formby.  Not really his style, but he doesn't mind it.

Yes, Beryl was a complete bitch!  I've read some things here and there on the internet.  What a shame though!  I ha read that George had wanted to have children and Beryl went and had a hysterectomy because she never wanted them.  I had watched something called The Friday Show, which had a segment of George Formby, on youtube.  He seems so sad when he says, "I wasn't blessed with children of my own."  Then he sang a lullabye sort of song.  She did a lot for him career wise, I'm sure without her we wouldn't have known of George, but it's a shame that he had to go through all of that.  I know she was in some of the early films with him, they look like they're so much in love.  Guess it was good acting or maybe there really was something in the beginning, I guess we won't know.

Now I will read and respond to your other post :)
DeTrixsta's avatar
Ha! I love him too! We are truly strange creatures! 

Well, one advantage of him not being known here; you might find some of his stuff rather cheaply... I did! They had cigarette cards & the vintage magazine (in the UK) called "Film Fun". Those were neat. They feature film comics as comic book characters with cute artwork. Stan & "Olly" (sic) were done from 1930 until the 60's I guess...
I picked up Some of Formby's best known songs on sheet music & I just love the movie-type graphics really! The autograph was $10.00, so how could I not?
In England, many of his recordings are in the public domain ---or they were.. I don't know really if that's still the case...but some CD compilations are available at discount/bargain-bin prices, but be forewarned; Many have the same content.... What I have noticed, is I have a few CDs & some songs appear in each collection, but sometimes he re-recorded different versions of the same title for different record labels!  I have 3 versions of "When I'm Cleaning Windows" & all are different & different lyrics too! So that's nice to know... There are also CDs that English collectors have put out on their own & those may cost more as they often have rare recordings on them...or even songs from the films or live performance stuff. The George Formby society there has a huge following of banjo-uke duffers of all ages, I'm sure you ran into that on you tube, there are many who do dead-on impressions! 

Yes, the autograph/ photo has George dressed in his hat & raincoat just like the guy on the "Free as a bird" Video & his little banjo-uke... It was taken at the time of his film; "Spare a Copper" (1940).
Now I was also lucky to find copies of films because I had some  Laurel & Hardy friends in England who were kind enough to transfer the PAL system videos to our VHS & then I was sort of hooked.

Here's a hint tho'.... look up to Canada for DVDs as they A.) have the demand for British shows up there and B.) they have our North American DVD power/currency. I got several VHS copies as bootlegs from an awesome lady in Canada. I may still have her contact info, she dose DVDs now too from what I understand... 
Yeah; I think he's cute too! (We really ARE freaks) But,  I Notice in the films they usually have a shirtless scene included of him (so we can't be the only ones) & ...while he was skinny ; he had wire-y definition... abs & such.... He used to be a jockey & I find he reminds me of a young Stephen Baldwin in a way.. (Baldwin in "Threesome" circa 1994) OmG! Lol...IDK..
Okay... Now I will go to your next post..
ajax1946's avatar
Nah, we aren't strange, we just have good taste in men! ;)

I don't really buy music much anymore.  I am an iphone user and have become addicted to Apple Music.  I have found that a lot of the stuff is the same from album to album.  Although, on some, one might have been recorded later in his career and another earlier. 

I never thought of checking Canadian DVD's and I honestly wasn't sure if VHS would be the same from country to country.  I still have a VHS Player haha, so there's a possibility of actually seeing a film or two :D
DeTrixsta's avatar
Yeah, it Apple Music sounds amazing, when I heard about it, I thought it sounded like a game-changer... I have heard some things I really like on spotify & pandora... but they have ads & some files don't play or even have skips in them & when I play them over again the same bits are missing, so... I dunno... it's okay, but not always a smooth listening experience... but some older albums you can't always find might be there.. :) It's good to have choices... 

Yeah, The "North American" Canadian signal for VHS/DVD is the same-- So, you might find supa cheap used VHS Formby  films, (via Canada) but some people were selling the whole cannon on DVD's last time I looked on Ebay, they might be "bootlegged" copies, but they were for "all regions" players & those DVD players were pricey & hard to find... but that stuff is around anyway... 
ajax1946's avatar
It definitely is good to have choices :)  That sucks about the skipping on pandora and spotify.  I think that's probably why I stopped using those services.  I used to have slacker radio on my phone and even paid for the upgraded version, but it suffered the same issues.  Lots of lag and skips but I think it didn't have as much to choose from.

Good to know on the Canadian/US VHS/DVD!  I will have to check out ebay :)
FlapperFoxy's avatar
Nice work-I'm into collecting old records,so I know who he was!:D (Big Grin) 
ajax1946's avatar
Awesome!  I want some of his records!  I love the sound of them :)
FlapperFoxy's avatar
I have a c d with one of his songs on it-I'm still looking for a original record!:iconfurrydanceplz: 
ajax1946's avatar
That's awesome! :)  I have saved a bunch of songs on my itunes library.  I would love to have an original record.  I love the sound of records!  I did find some on Ebay some time ago but I'm nervous to buy records from Ebay, who knows if they skip or aren't all scratched!  Good luck with the record hunt though! :)
FlapperFoxy's avatar
Thanks! If you are looking for old records that don't cost a lot,I suggest you try your local thrift store-I have found a lot of them at mine!That way if they're not in good shape,you haven't spent a lot of moneyJust a tiny fox 
ajax1946's avatar
Thanks!  I have found a few good ones at Goodwill.  I ran across a book like album of Mills Brothers 78's and one of Bing Crosby.  I don't know if that makes any sense but, something like this:…

Those were the only good ones I've found.  It's mostly Liberace or opera records at our Goodwill :(
FlapperFoxy's avatar
Keep checking at Goodwill-I've found a few complete "books" there myself!I usually check once a week-I found some '78s from the 1915-1925 era a few weeks back=P (Razz) =P (Razz) 
ajax1946's avatar
I haven't been in awhile, I will definitely have to make a trip!  What a find, 1915 to 25!  I hope I can find something like that :)
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Nat-ti's avatar
Oh, I didn't know that, thanks !
Very nice and soft colorization.
ajax1946's avatar
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