By George! What a truly incredible life

George Formby
George Formby
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It is 55 years tomorrow since one of Lancashire’s most famous sons, George Formby, passed away at the age of 56.

Actor, musician and movie star, Formby was THE biggest star of the 1940s but never forgot his Lancastrian roots.

Lost Archives - glass plate negative
George Formby in Victoria Hospital, Blackpool where he was being treated for heart trouble in 1961
historical dated 28/01/1961

Lost Archives - glass plate negative George Formby in Victoria Hospital, Blackpool where he was being treated for heart trouble in 1961 historical dated 28/01/1961

Here are some memorable facts and figures about the man and his ukulele.

l Born on May 26, 1904, George Formby’s real name was George Hoy Booth.

l Like most children of his generation, he was born at home, 3 Westminster Street, Wigan.

l He was born blind because of an obstructive caul, a piece of membrane which covered his face, which was removed when the infant Formby suffered a violent sneezing fit.

l His father was also a music hall performer, who performed under the stage name, George Formby Snr.

l Despite his family connection, George started his career as a jockey and stable boy.

l His father was vehemently against his son following in his footsteps on to the stage, insisting: “One fool in the family is enough”.

l He worked as a jockey in Yorkshire and Ireland from 1914 until 1921, never once winning a race.

l He only took to showbusiness after the death of his father in 1921, making his professional debut in a two-week run at the Hippodrome in Earlestown. He received a fee of £5.

l His first two years as professional performer were unsuccessful, with the soon-to-be chart-topper having to rely on his mum for financial support.

l His breakthrough came in 1923 when his married fellow performer and clog-dancing champion Beryl Ingham.

l It was Beryl, who went on to become George’s manager, who encouraged him to play the ukulele on stage.

l It only emerged recently that George was illegitimate. His father was briefly married to a woman from Halifax and never divorced her before wedding George’s mother. The entertainer is believed not to have known of his own illegitimacy.

l Beryl was no fan of George’s early performances. “If I’d had a bag of rotten tomatoes with me I’d have thrown them at him,” she once said.

l The feeling was mutual. After Beryl died on Christmas Eve in 1960, George publicly stated: “My life with Beryl was hell.”

l By the 1930s, he was a popular stage performer but his burgeoning film hopes appeared slim when a Warner Bros executive described him as “too stupid to play the bad guy and too ugly to play the hero”.

l In 1934, Formby proved the doubters wrong when his film Boots, Boots! became a huge hit. The film enjoyed its glamorous premiere in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent!

l Perhaps his biggest silver-screen hit was 1936’s Keep Your Seats, Please, which contained the song The Window Cleaner (better known as When I’m Cleaning Windows).

l When I’m Cleaning Windows was banned for several years by the BBC. Director general John Reith branded it a “disgusting little ditty”.

l At the outbreak of World War Two, Formby signed up to make films for the military. One 1940 film, Let George Do It!, saw Formby parachuted in to the Nuremberg Rally and punch Adolf Hitler.

l Throughout the war, George made several films and made countless tours, performing to service personnel. His performances are said to have made a massive boost to the war time morale.

l In 1943 he was involved in a spate with a Christian group who wanted to stop stars performing on a Sunday. “I’ll hang up my uke on Sundays only when our lads stop fighting and getting killed on Sundays,” he said.

l He was hit by a bout of depression after the war when his popularity waned.

l His health declined from 1952 onwards when he suffered a heart attack. It took doctors five days to diagnose the coronary and admit him to hospital.

l He got engaged to Pat Howson just seven weeks after his wife died from cancer and he promptly suffered a massive heart attack eight days later. He died on March 6, 1961.

l Formby was buried alongside his father in Warrington Cemetery with over 150,000 mourners lining the route.