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George Formby: Turned Out Nice Again, And Again And Again



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.

George Formby

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.

George Formby

1. BOOTS BOOTS (1934)
2. OFF THE DOLE (1934)
3. NO LIMIT (1935)
6. KEEP FIT (1937)
7. I SEE ICE (1938)
8. IT’S IN THE AIR (1938)
10. COME ON GEORGE (1939)
11. LET GEORGE DO IT (1940)
12. SPARE A COPPER (1941)
14. MUCH TOO SHY (1942)
17. GET CRACKING (1943)
19. I DIDN’T DO IT (1945)

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



Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess




Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife




McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal




The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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