Trailer for 'Keep Your Seats Please'
On The Beat
It Ain't Nobody's Biz'ness What I Do/ Goody Goody/
I Like Bananas << sound clip
Sitting On The Sands All Night
On The Wigan Boat Express << sound clip
Talking To The Moon About You
Some Of These Days/Hard Hearted Hannah/Sweet Georgia Brown/Sweet Sue- Just You/Dinah/Tiger Rag
Hitting The High Spots Now
Home Guard Blues
Goodnight, Little Fellow, Goodnight
The Window Cleaner
A Lad From Lancashire
Oh, You Have No Idea
Riding in The TT Races
They Can't Fool Me
Under The Blasted Oak
I Always Get To Bed By Half-Past Nine
Down The Old Coal Hole
I Wonder Who's Under Her Balcony Now?
Delivering The Morning Milk
Leaning On A Lamp Post << sound clip
It's Turned Out Nice Again
George Formby was born on the 26th of May, 1904, in one of the poorer areas of Wigan, in Lancashire. His father was at that time a variety artist, who was soon to become one of the greatest stars of the Edwardian music hall. George Formby Senior (real name James Booth) had no illusions about the life of a performer. The years of struggle to get to the top, and having got there, the constant travelling, which meant returning home for only a few days at a time, the punishing schedule of theatre tours which exacerbated his severe bronchial condition. George was actively discouraged from following in a theatrical career. 'One fool in the family is enough' said his father, and at the age of seven, George was sent away to train as a jockey. Not surprisingly, he was desperately unhappy to be pushed out of the family, and made many attempts to escape home.
In 1921, George Formby Senior died aged forty-five, a victim of the bronchitis that had plagued him for so long, and George returned home from the stables for the funeral. His mother Eliza told him that despite his father's feelings about his son 'treading the boards', George was to go on stage, imitating his father. His own story, often quoted, that his desire to suddenly embark on a stage career was prompted by shock and indignation after witnessing an inferior comic plagiarising his father's act, is surely only half the story. 'If he can do it, so can I' was probably equally in his mind. His father had been earning very good money indeed, and despite the reputed £26,000 he left in his will, the large family were in real need of a continuing income, and his mother's mind was made up. The major problem was that George had hardly ever seen his father perform, and so for a month, Eliza taught him all she knew of Formby senior's act, and taught him six songs from gramophone records. And so, less than two months after the death of his father, dressed in his altered stage clothes and using his material, George made his first professional appearance, at the Hippodrome Kinema, Earlestown, followed by a short tour, during which, he said 'I died the death of a dog!'. It was a sad and pathetic attempt to make the great George Formby Senior live again. Perversely, he adopted his mother's maiden name, and was billed as George Hoy, refusing to use the Formby name out of respect for his father, who presumably was by now already spinning in his Warrington grave.
In 1923, George met the woman who would change his life. Beryl Ingham, who with her sister May, worked as a clog dancing team, 'The Two Violets', was not impressed with George's act. She had been a professional for ten years, and was one of the most talented dancers in her field. She found George's amaterish, shambolic act painful to watch, but recognised something in him, some quality of which he was unaware, and was ambitious enough for both of them to want to exploit it. They were by now falling in love, and in September 1924, he and Beryl were married, much to his mother's dismay. Beryl now assumed professional and financial control over George, and began to modernize his act, and single-mindedly set out the future path for his career. In June 1926, he made his first records - six acoustic recordings, still imitating his father. But by now, he owned a ukulele that he had bought from another artist for fifty shillings, and it began to be introduced into his routine, as his father's persona and material were phased out completely, to be replaced by a slick, Brylcreemed image, the dead-pan delivery replaced by upbeat cheeky numbers full of double entendre and catchy tunes.
It was in September 1929, when he recorded two sides for the Dominion Record Company, that the ukulele first appeared on disc. (A wooden uke - not a banjulele, which with few exceptions he used on all his subsequent recordings. An example of George once again accompanying himself on a wooden uke can be heard on the 'Quickfire' Medley.) He and Beryl starred together in touring revues during the late Twenties, and in June 1932, he secured a recording contract with Decca, and immediately recorded two titles with Jack Hylton and his band - 'Chinese Laundry Blues', and 'Do De O Do'. Another three numbers were recorded with Hylton later in the year, followed by a further thirty for Decca over the next three years. In 1935 he switched to Regal-Zonophone, and from then until 1946, made over one hundred and sixty titles.
It would be hard to overstate the importance of Beryl to George's career - in fact, without her, it is unlikely he would have achieved anything, instead remaining a poor copy of his father, and eventually giving up. She created George Formby as he is remembered today, detailing every aspect of his act and image. It was Beryl who negotiated and argued on his behalf, demanding, insisting, winning. She was very posessive of George, there is no doubt, and she demanded a share of his limelight, no matter where he went; she had sacrificed her own career to create and run George's, after all. They were a double act, both playing the same game. Beryl had a brilliant business brain, and an effectively abrasive manner in business relationships. George had to be successful, and he had to be liked - liked by everyone. Then he could sit back and be the amiable, dopey Lancashire lad, without a care, while clever Beryl took the blame for doing his dirty work. It was a great routine, and it worked, perhaps too well. Even today, the notion of Formby as a gormless henpecked fool, who only received five bob a day pocket money from Beryl persists. But their own relationship became more and more strained, especially towards the end of their lives, with George feeling ever more trapped in a marriage he felt was a sham, unable to break out of it and discover a new life for himself. Instead, the glitz, the money, the cars, the flirting (when out of Beryl's ever watchful gaze) became a palliative in a career in full swing for a life that was going nowhere.
As he became established as a recording artist, George's name began to become known outside the limits of the music halls. He was approached by John Blakely, who ran a small film company in Manchester, and asked if he and Beryl would like to make a film. Even by the cinematic standards of 1934, the completed film, 'Boots! Boots!', was dreadful, despite the inclusion of four songs and a long sequence of Beryl clog dancing. Formby was so disillusioned he swore he would never make another picture. As a distributor for the film could not be found, Formby went off again around the variety theatres. To everyone's surprise, the film was eventually sold, and became a huge success in the provinces.
In 1935, George made a follow up film for Blakely, again with Beryl as co-star, 'Off The Dole'. Basil Dean, head of Ealing Studios, visiting the north of England, saw large crowds queuing outside cinemas where the two films were showing. He had never heard of George Formby, but was astute enough to sign him up on the strength of the audience reaction he had seen.
His first film for Ealing, 'No Limit', was well written with tuneful songs and an excellent supporting cast, Beryl being replaced as his leading lady by Florence Desmond. His part, that of a Lancashire chimney sweep who builds his own motor-bike and wins the Manx TT Races, was ideally suited to him. He was a very keen motor-cyclist himself, refusing adamantly to let anyone else do the stunts for him. The film was very well received, and was the start of a lengthy series of comedies for Ealing, featuring many of his most popular musical numbers, many of which appear on this collection. By this time, largely as a result of Beryl's shrewd and ruthless management, George Formby was the biggest attraction in British show business, and for six years was the top box office star in Britsish pictures, and was earning over £90,000 a year.
At the outbreak of war, he joined the Blackpool Homeguard as a dispatch rider, and launched into an exhaustive series of troop concerts. With Beryl as ever at his side, George toured the country raising money for blitzed families, encouraging and sponsoring salvage drives. He also wrote newspaper articles and made broadcasts of a serious and sometimes controversial nature in aid of the war effort. On top of this, he toured the battle fronts of North Africa, India, Burma, Malta, Gibraltar and Italy, and was in Normandy less than a week after D-Day. In 1946 he was awarded the OBE for his war services, a modest reward for the personal courage he had shown, and for the incredible uplift in morale he created everywhere he performed.
His wartime exertions had left him with a weak heart, but had given him a taste for travel. He had been booked to tour Australia in 1940, but the war delayed his arrival until September 1947, and from then until the late Fifties, he appeared in New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, Denmark, Japan, Sweden and Norway.
For many years, Formby had been earning a colossal amount of money, and the return of a Labour government in 1945 was a personal disaster. Income tax was 19/6d in the pound. In almost every interview in the Forties, the Chancellor, Stafford Cripps, is mentioned! 'Why should I work for bloody tanners?' was his cry in 1949. At home it seemed pointless to perform. He adopted all kinds of subterfuges - he would ask a theatre to give him a carpet for his lounge, rather than take a fee. He bought cars and motor bikes, had them repaired and painted, and re-sold them at a profit. He even repaired watches for the stage hands - and charged them for it!
In 1951, George starred in his first West End musical at the Palace Theatre, 'Zip Goes A Million', a new version of 'Brewster's Millions', which became the hit of the season. Driving home after a performance in 1952, George suffered a massive heart attack, and most thought his career had come to a premature end. But eighteen months later, he made a comeback in Bulawayo, and a few months after that, he was topping the bill at the Palladium in the revue 'Fun and the Fair', with Terry-Thomas and Billy Cotton. In 1956, he was back at the Palace Theatre for a pantomime season in 'Dick Whittington', but had to leave the show due to bronchitis. From then until the end of his life, he fought a losing battle with ill health.
Beryl had also been very ill for several years with pernicious anaemia, and she had nursed George through several heart attacks, and was worn out. She gradually deteriorated, and developed cancer. On Christmas Day, 1960, she died. George immediately threw himself back into his work, appearing in 'Aladdin' in Bristol. In many ways, Beryl's death was a release for George. They had not lived together as man and wife for fifteen years. But not since his stable days had he been emotionally and literally alone. This new freedom wouldn't last - George, as he himself admitted, needed looking after.
Just six weeks later, he astounded everyone by announcing his engagement to Pat Howson, a Preston school teacher nearly twenty years his junior, whom he had known since she was nine. Predictably, perhaps, he got a very bad press, and a lot of criticism from friends who felt that to become involved with a younger woman so soon after Beryl's death was indecent. Formby was shattered, and had yet another thrombosis, and was rushed into hospital. With the excitement of the engagement, and the stress of his friends' reactions it all proved too much for him, and on 6th March 1961, George Formby died, aged fifty-six. At his own request, he was buried beside his father, in the Manchester Road Catholic cemetery, in Warrington.
The greatest thing about George Formby was that he just was. His great gift was understanding the thoughts and feelings of ordinary people, and expressing them in a natural, spontaneous way. Thanks to Beryl recognizing this extraordinary side of him, and encouraging it, he seems more natural than any of us. 'A good clear star has ceased to shine in our firmament' wrote Harry Lauder after Formby Senior died in 1921. The same could almost be said of his son, of whom, no doubt, his father would have been proud indeed. Except that the second 'fool in the family' - who became the biggest star of his generation - continues to shine to this day.
MICHAEL DALY & ELI BICKERSTAFFE