George Formby’s death turned a love story into a tragedy
George Formby’s fiancee Pat Howson’s life story is to be published in December. Here author Andrew Atkinson recalls the heartbreaking tale of the former religious education teacher from Preston
Leyland Grammar School pupil Pat Howson was a religious education teacher, the daughter of Fred Howson, from whom ukelele star George Formby bought luxury cars at Loxhams car showroom in Preston during 1940-50s.
A lover of speed, Formby had always promised once he topped the bill at the London Palladium that he would buy a Rolls-Royce for his wife Beryl and a Bentley or Jaguar for himself.
Such was his income that on each wedding anniversary they regularly changed cars. It has been calculated that through his career he bought 26 Rolls-Royces, worth more than £4m in today’s money.
Each had the number plate GF1 or GF2 and were supplied by local car dealer Fred Howson. The Formby and Howson families became close friends and spent time together on holiday at Formby’s luxurious home on the Norfolk Broads.
Formby, Britain’s biggest star in the 1940s-50s, lived in Fairhaven, Lytham, with his Accrington-born wife Beryl.
Following Beryl’s death, in December 1960, Formby, 56, embarked on a whirlwind romance with Pat and the couple got engaged on St,Valentine’s Day 1961.
In many ways they made a rather odd couple, with Formby enjoying a glamorous career in showbusiness and the cinema, while 36-year-old Pat was a deeply religious woman who taught at St Wilfrid’s School, Preston, and at one point in her life considered becoming a nun.
They planned to marry in March 1961 at St Francis Church Chapel, Goosnargh, near Preston, and had bought a Georgian Manor in Lea, Preston, to enjoy their married life.
Their engagement caused a national press scandal with many people criticising the star for planning to marry again so soon after Beryl’s death, although Formby insisted it simply happened.
Eight days after their engagement Formby suffered a heart attack at Pat’s home in Liverpool Road, Penwortham, and was rushed to St Joseph’s Hospital, Mount Street, Preston.
It seemed he was recovering but on March 6, as Pat was winding up her daily hospital visit, the funnyman suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 56.
It was reported that just minutes before his death, he was chatting to Pat, who served in the Wrens during the Second World War, about their future and her wedding ring they had bought just that week.
Pat told the Evening Post at the time: “When I went to see George I had never seen him looking better. He was in high spirits. We had been chatting for half an hour about our plans for the future when I noticed a sudden change in his condition”
The Wigan-born star left Pat the modern day equivalent of £2.25m in his will and in the following decade there was nothing but tears, stress and sadness for Pat Howson – right up to her untimely death in 1971.
Pat and George were hoping for a happy married life together, thwarted by his death. What followed must have been heartbreaking for Pat.
Upon George’s death Pat arranged his funeral at St Wilfrid’s Church, Preston, while he was Resting in Repose at McKenna Funerals, Preston.
But Formby’s mother Eliza stopped the funeral and arranged to have Formby’s body removed from the funeral parlour.
There was nothing Pat could do about it. And Pat was labelled a ‘Flossie’ by George’s mother.
His funeral was held in Liverpool and attracted 100,000 mourners while a memorial service was held for Formby at St Wilfrid’s Church.
Within a decade of Formby’s passing, Pat’s mother Katy Howson died, and Pat herself was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died, aged just 46, in 1971 in an Ansdell nursing home and her funeral was held at St Wilfrid’s Church.
Meanwhile, her dad Fred Howson, who was estranged from the family, went from being Britain’s top car salesman to living in a caravan in a field.
Andrew says, “Many people have wondered what drew them together and a lot said it was his money or fame, but I don’t think that was the case.
“I think it came from the first time he cast eyes on her as a young girl, and when she wrote to him that reignited his fondness for her. He also said he needed someone to look after him as he got older.
“I don’t think there was anything going on between them while he was married, as Beryl was very strict and kept him by her side and it wasn’t Pat’s style to do something like that either.”
“I have met Pat’s solicitor John Turner, spoken to her golf colleagues at Penwortham Golf Club, and interviewed ex-employees of Loxham’s, who worked under Fred.
“It is an intriguing story, and one that I am sure will catch the imagination of Lancashire folk. George Formby was the most loved star in the country – a down to earth Lancashire lad – who fell in love with Pat.
“George and Pat knew each other for nearly 30 years, from her being a young eight-year-old girl. It’s a fascinating untold love story,” said Andrew.
* ‘Formby’s Lost Love’ is available priced £10. If you are interested in ordering a copy of the book ‘Formby’s Lost Love’ email [email protected] for