George Formby Biography
George Formby (May 26, 1904 – March 6, 1961) was an English singer and comedian who became a major star of both cinema and music hall.
George was born in Wigan, Lancashire, as George Hoy Booth, the eldest of seven surviving children (four girls and three boys). His father (born James Booth) was George Formby (Senior) (1875-1921) one of the great music hall comedians of his day, fully the equal of his son's later success. His father not wishing him even to watch his performances, he was apprenticed as a jockey when he was seven and rode his first professional race at ten when he weighed under four stone.
On the death of his father in 1921, George abandoned his career as a jockey and started his own music hall career using his father's material. He originally called himself George Hoy (George Hoy was also his father in-laws name). In 1924 he married dancer Beryl Ingham, who managed his career (and it is said his personal life to an intolerable degree - see biographies below) until her death in 1960. He allegedly took up the ukulele, for which he was later famous, as a hobby and first played it on stage for a bet.
George Formby endeared himself to his audiences with his cheeky Lancashire humour and folksy Northern England persona. In film and on stage, he generally adopted the character of an honest, good-hearted but accident-prone innocent.
What made George stand out, however, was his unique and often mimicked musical style. He sang comic songs, full of double entendre, to his own accompaniment on the banjolele, for which he developed a catchy syncopated style which became his trademark. Some of his best-known songs were written by Noel Gay.
He made his first successful record (he had been making records as early as 1926) in 1932 with the Jack Hylton Band, and his first sound film Boots! Boots! in 1934 (Formby had appeared in a sole silent film in 1915). The film was successful and he signed a contract to make a further 11 with Associated Talking Pictures, earned him a then-astronomical income of £100,000 per year. A subsequent contract with Columbia Pictures earned him a further £500,000.
Between 1934 and 1945 George was the top box-office attraction in British cinema. He appeared in the 1937 Royal Variety Show, and entertained troops with ENSA in Europe and North Africa during World War II. He received an OBE in 1946. He had received a Stalin Prize in 1944, prompted by the popularity of his films in the USSR. His most popular film, and still regarded as probably his best, is the espionage comedy Let George Do It, in which he is a member of a concert party, takes the wrong ship by mistake during a blackout, and finds himself in Norway as a secret agent. A dream sequence in which he hits Hitler on the nose and addresses him as a 'windbag' is one of the most enduring moments in film comedy.
George suffered his first heart attack in 1951. His wife Beryl died of leukaemia on 24 December 1960 and he planned to marry Pat Howson, a 36-year-old schoolteacher, in the spring of 1961. However he had a second heart attack before then and died in hospital on 6 March 1961. His funeral was held in St Charles' Church in Aigburth, Liverpool and an estimated 100,000 mourners lined the route as his coffin was driven to Warrington Cemetery, where he was buried in the Booth family grave.
A fictional George Formby appears in the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. In the "Nextiverse", Formby was part of the resistance during the Nazi occupation of England, broadcasting inspirational songs and jokes to the occupied English on "Wireless Saint George" (essentially the opposite of Lord Haw-Haw). Such was Formby's popularity, Hitler ordered "all banjos and ukeleles burned."
Following the collapse of the occupation, Formby was appointed President-for-Life, to replace the (presumed defunct) Royal Family as an inspirational figurehead for the country (and unlike the Royal Family, was genuinely beloved by the vast majority of his subjects). The Nextiverse version of Formby held the rank until his death in 1988.