”It’s turned out nice again!” – George Formby
I hadn’t heard of George Formby until discovering one of several websites dedicated to his memory a few years ago. He was a British actor, comedian, and singer-songwriter who sang comical songs, usually accompanying himself on his ukulele or banjo ukulele. He appeared in 21 films, had 230 hit records, made hundreds of appearances (sadly, none in the US), entertained an estimated three million Allied troops during World War II, performed in two Royal Command performances, and was awarded the OBE, all in a forty year career. Not bad for a man who couldn’t read or write. It was a combination of personality, talent, and his wife Beryl’s relentless management that were the keys to his success. IMDb’s biography calls him “the archetype ‘cheeky chappie’ Northern British comedian.”
He was born George Hoy Booth in Wigan, Lancashire, not far from Manchester, the oldest of seven children. His father, James Booth, was an established stage actor and comedian who called himself George Formby Senior; he sent George off to become a jockey at age 7, never wanting any of his children to go into show business.
When his father died in 1921, George, at his mother’s urging, went into show business, first as George Hoy, then as George Formby. He met and married Beryl, who became his manager, and his career took off.
In 1932, George made a record with the Jack Hylton Band. The A side was “Do De O Do,” but it was the B side, “Chinese Blues,” that really caught on and became his first hit. He later renamed the song “Chinese Laundry Blues” and introduced us to “Mister Wu.” Here’s that song.
George appeared in the movie Keep Your Seats, Please in 1936, from which our second tune, “When I’m Cleaning Windows” is taken. As a bonus, here is a link to Peter Sellers doing the same song. You can see what influence George had on British comedy.
There is a veritable plethora of George Formby on YouTube, including several full-length movies and a number of documentaries. Please feel free to browse.
I hope you’ve enjoyed George Formby, your Two for Tuesday, April 1, 2014.