You wouldn’t think so to look at him with his gormless toothy grin and lack of style but ukelele playing George Formby was a massive star of British cinema for two decades. From 1934 to 1946 Formby was one the UK’s biggest box office draw cards starring in a whole series of comedies in which he basically played a more accident prone version of himself, sang a few songs and against the odds, got the girl.
Formby was born in Wigan, Lancashire in 1904 and had planned to become a jockey but ended up following his music hall father George Snr onto the stage. Famously it was his wife Beryl who continuously pushed him on in his career and generally kept him on a very tight leash even going so far as to give him a small allowance (five shillings a day) when he was at the height of his earning power.
Quickly making a name for himself on radio and the stage Formby made the transistion into films in 1934 with the very low budget (three thousand pounds low) Boots Boots in 1934, this also co-starred wife Beryl who was always keen to make sure George didn’t get a roving eye where pretty co-stars were concerned.
In 1935 Associated Talking Pictures (soon to be the legendary Ealing Studios) put George under contract. His first film for them, No Limit, in which he won the Isle of Man TT Race and the heart of co-star Florence Desmond set the formula in stone and thanks to a rapid fire sequence of 11 movies in 6 years Formby was a huge star, offering comedic comfort to a British public that was in much need of it as world war II became a reality.
By 1946 Formby’s film popularity was on the wane and his final two movies were in fact B-features although it was more down to changing attitudes in an austere post-war newly realistic British cinema that really put an end to his film career.
The stage was still there for him though as well as the burgeoning TV scene; Sadly though his final years were dogged by ill health and a failing heart. Wife Beryl died in 1960 and Formby was quick to announce that he would remarry young schoolteacher Pat Howson but died of a heart attack on 6 March 1961 before he could do so.
1. BOOTS BOOTS (1934)
2. OFF THE DOLE (1934)
3. NO LIMIT (1935)
4. KEEP YOUR SEATS PLEASE (1936)
5. FEATHER YOUR NEST (1937)
6. KEEP FIT (1937)
7. I SEE ICE (1938)
8. IT’S IN THE AIR (1938)
9. TROUBLE BREWING (1939)
10. COME ON GEORGE (1939)
11. LET GEORGE DO IT (1940)
12. SPARE A COPPER (1941)
13. TURNED OUT NICE AGAIN (1941)
14. MUCH TOO SHY (1942)
15. SOUTH AMERICAN GEORGE (1942)
16. BELL BOTTOM GEORGE (1943)
17. GET CRACKING (1943)
18. HE SNOOPS TO CONQUER (1944)
19. I DIDN’T DO IT (1945)
20. GEORGE IN CIVVY STREET (1946)
Formby performed some truly classic songs in his movies and much of them full of double entendres and furious ukelele solos. The best of them include…
When I’m Cleaning Windows
Chinese Laundry Blues
With My Little Ukelele In My Hand
Riding In The TT Races
Leaning On A Lamp Post
Mother What’ll I Do Now
They Can’t Fool Me
Grandad’s Flannelette Nightshirt
Count Your Blessings And Smile
Mr Wu’s A Window Cleaner Now
Auntie Maggie’s Remedy