always reminds me of my dear, departed hero, and role-model,
the oh-so-modest, uke-playing movie mega-star, George
Formby...whose, contrivedly-timid and exaggeratedly coy,
catchphrase was: "It's Turned Out Nice Again !"
was around these times, that I always saw him - accompanied
by his imperious and elegant, and devoted wife, Beryl;
and usually in pantomime, or, in excerpts from one, on
than that, I saw him in one of his, score or so, of box-office
money-spinning 'Talkies'...and George, himself, introduced
some of these, on ITV - with accompanying anecdotes, and
souvenirs - in late 1960.
it was in December 1960, that George made his last, and
unforgettable, television broadcast, in 'The Friday Show',
on BBC 1, when - sitting back in an easy chair, and coughing,
ominously, between taking several frequent sips of water,
while he assured viewers, he was alright - he told his
life-story, 'warts 'n' all', interspersing the 35-minute
'confession'-show with some of his greatest ukulele hits.
in a rather uncharacteristic parting message, George -
before the final credits began to roll - turned, full
face-on, to camera, and appealed: "And folks, if you'd
like to have me back again, I've got a lot more stories
to tell, and a couple of hundred more songs to sing."
It was as though, without Beryl standing on the other
side of the cameras - as had always been the case, until
now - George was starting to lose his confidence, and
was in need of an interactive mandate, from his formerly,
the show, George made special emphasis, on the invaluable
part, Beryl, had played, in steering his star to maximum
fulfilment; implying - and quite rightly, so - that, without
her, he would never have made it.
viewers did not know, on that muggy, December 16, evening,
was that, while her hubby was extolling her invaluable
worth - as a wife, manager, and 'Lord Protector' - poor
Beryl was lying on her deathbed, at their Saint Annes-on-Sea
home, propped-up, by half a dozen pillows, swathed in
sable wraps; Max Factored-up, to the Nines; and dripping
in diamonds, as she determined to give her man, one last
boost, before the cancer that was sapping her life blood,
finally drained her of the 'Svengali' commitment, for
'my George', that had always been, her only reason for
Christmas approached, BBC TV West heralded George's imminent
opening, as 'Mr Wu', in 'Aladdin', at Bristol Hippodrome.
In fact, George was 'commuting' , virtually on a daily
basis - driving his brand-new two-tone green S2 Bentley:
'GF 1', to and from, his Fylde Coast home - to take part
in rehearsals, at the Westcountry capital's noted bijou
Victorian Variety theatre.
arriving back home, on Christmas morning - after attending
the dress rehearsal, in Bristol, on the previous evening
- George found that Beryl, his wife, mentor, metaphoric
crutches and friend, had passed away, in the early hours.
channels made scant mention of the event on their Christmas
Day news bulletins, but nothing more: the power behind
the Formby throne - as usual - didn't get much of a mention.
Beryl was cremated, at a muted committal, and George got
straight back into harness, until, that is, heart-strain
caused him to pull out, after only one week, as 'Mr.Wu'.
A spell in hospital, which George interrupted, when a
'get-well' card, from the daughter of Fred Howson - the
man he bought his cars from, at Loxhams, of Preston -
led to George falling 'cap-over-the-windmill' for the
lady, Pat Howson, 36, a Preston convent school teacher.
then went on to shock the world by 'popping the question'
to Pat, so soon after Beryl's passing: Bans were applied
for, including a special Papal licence, to wed, but George
- by now nearly 57, and wracked with pain, from the Coronary
Thrombosis that had first struck him down, nearly nine
years earlier, in 'Zip Goes A Million' - had another gravely
serious heart attack, while dining with the Howsons, at
their Penwortham, Preston, home.
was great optimism, when he rallied, in Saint Joseph's
Hospital, Preston, but, ten days later, on Monday, March
6, 1961 - while happily discussing plans for their future
marriage, with his bride-to-be, at his bedside - George's
face suddenly clouded over, and took on a purple hue.
you alright ?" Pat anxiously solicited, as George made
to clasp his breast.
This time, the comedy king had nothing funny, or unusual,
to say: "No, love", Formby muttered, before slipping away.
than 100,000 mourners attended his funeral, at the tiny
Church of Saint Charles, in Aigburth, Liverpool, and many
more lined the 30-mile plus route, from Merseyside, to
Warrington Cemetery, where George was laid to rest, in
the Family tomb, alongside his equally famous, musical
hall icon father, who died of TB, aged 46, in 1921...and
whose ironic catchphrase was: "I'm Coughing Better, Tonight
the coverage for Beryl's funeral was spartan, then that
marking her husband's passing, was the very antithesis:
in fact, so many hordes of hysterical fans 'invaded' the
cemetery, in a bid to catch of last glimpse of their idol,
that many nearby graves were damaged, as they were trampled
underfoot, including that of the legendary racing jockey,
This, of course, made even more mileage on both news channels,
at the time...and it was months, before television viewers
- or the public at large - got over the passing of George
Formby. In fact, some still haven't, to this day !
for instance, the George Formby Society, who have hundreds
of active members, many of whom meet at regular get-togethers,
all over the country, in addition to attending three major
meetings, in Blackpool, every year.
And, of course, television has been quick to include details
of these activities in their news and magazine programmes,
and over the years, major documentaries about the society,
and its many and varied acitivities, have been televised
on both channels.
first was narrated by that wonderful character actor,
Gary Marsh, who starred as the villain, in many of George's
box-office busting 'Talkies', and another was narrated
by that lovable Rugby sports commentator, Eddie Waring,
who, alas is no longer with us, either.
In October 1963, I had the pleasure of meeting Gary Marsh,
and talking, informally, with him, in-depth about, George
Formby: 'the Man' behind the mask.
was starring alongside Alistair Sim, in 'Windfall', a
public school-type farce, at Manchester Opera House, and,
as we chatted away, in his dressing room, he recounted
some fascinating stories of film-making, with Formby,
during the 'Platinum Age' of movie making, at Ealing Studios.
however, are all very well, but - if not kept under control
- they can become a very negative addiction. So, here
- as an Easter gift from me - is a word of warning...especially
to those would-be copyists, who have their eyes set on
a star-studded career, wearing the discarded robes of
their favourite performing icon.
is alright, but, the trouble is, if you work in Showbusiness
- as I do - you just cannot look back...if you want to
Matthews - the sylph-like, dancing and singing sensation
of the Thirties stage and movies - went to pains to impress
the importance of THAT upon me, many years ago; but, you
know what stage-struck youngsters are like ? they just
won't take any notice!
Askey ('Before Your Very Eyes'; Mega-Successful, BBC TV
comedy series, of the Fifties, which introduced Sabrina),
warned me to beware of hankering after the past, and trying
to cling-on to other people's stale memories. It was in
Blackpool's Clifton Hotel, in 1981 - just before his death
- and, only now, do I understand the full meaning of what
he was saying.
was trying to persuade him to get back together with his
former partner - Dickie ('Stinker') Murdoch - and reprise
their famous sketch, from BBC radio's immediate pre-war
comedy hit, 'Bandwagon', which was supposed to be coming
from the flat, which 'Big- Hearted Arthur' and 'Stinker'
shared, on the roof of BBC Broadcasting House, in Langham
wouldn't think of it, and laughingly dismissed the idea,
saying I was daft to even suggest it: "You can't go back,
in this business, son", he said, "and, if you try to,
you quickly become unstuck.
"My success - and why I am still working now, even though
I am in my eighties - is because I've always moved on,
and upwards. Not backwards, and down !"
before - just after George Formby's sad death, in March
1961, and while attending the inaugural meeting, of the
George Formby Appreciation Society, the following June
- I met Arthur, accompanied by Richard (Mr Pastry) Hearne,
in a lift, at Blackpool's Imperial Hotel, on the 'ritzy',
I was quite taken aback, then, when - apprised of my intentions
to keep on promoting the Formby message, via my banjo-ukulele
impersonations, and Formby focussed newsprint reportage
- Arthur Askey blurted-out, with an ironic grin: "What
are tryin' to do, kid ? You can't bring him back from
the dead, you know !
the time, I was really outraged at what I saw as Arthur's
brutal candour; but, despite these sage words, I went
my own silly way, to waste several decades, trying to
be 'another George Formby' (ridiculous, really, isn't
it ?: I never looked anything like the man !), - in the
hope that I might be able to keep his memory alive - and
now, at nearly 62, I bitterly regret the sheer stupidity
of it all.
see, there was only ever ONE George Formby; and no professional
could ever hope to duplicate his fame, by copying his
act...no matter how good a uke-player they might be; because
George's success was not merely as an instrumentalist,
but also as a naturally charming, and highly likeable
individual...in addition to being a great, and well-crafted,
Max Miller said, jokingly, of himself: 'there'll never
be another'; and, certainly, where George Formby is concerned,
that is absolutely right ! The same goes - of course -
will say - in my experience - most of the Formby sons
and daughters (he had several brothers and sisters, you
know), have an element of George's unaffected charm: I
believe it was passed on in the Formby genes. George Snr,
particularly, was remembered as a 'naturally-charming',
kindly, and warm human being...as well as a long-suffering
for many people of my generation, and before: George Formby
Jnr. represented the brave hopes and aspirations of the
Northcountry's 'Working Class'; and, frankly, THEY, as
a species, don't exist anymore, either.
back streets of Wigan and Wakefield, no longer abound
with acrid smoke, and stale sweat, and the stench of horse-manure;
and the cobblestones of Burnley and Burslem, no longer
echo with the clattering of clog-irons, trams, and the
rattling wheels of handcarts: it's all compact discs and
cybernautics, these days, mingled with the ill-perceived,
fanciful notions of 'how it was', according to the naive,
youthful manipulators of the curriculum, at the local
college of knowledge.
truth, most of Formby's film fans, watched his antics
from a frayed, and creaking, red plush-velvet seat, in
the local 'bug-hut': his lean and lanky, almost angular,
Art Deco frame, replicating the geometric contours of
the era, the streamlined green-and-chromium 'Odeonic'
cinematic architecture, and the aspired yearnings of working
class emancipation, borne of celluloid fantasy.
Formby fans, could not possibly 'see him' through those
eyes: today's world is too materialistic, too luxurious,
and too 'Educated', too sophisticated - by comparison
- to be able to appreciate the sense of 'lift' that Formby,
and his films, gave to the queues of bemused, poorly-shod,
often odorous, and simplistic factory folk, who thronged
past the painted lady - with the imitation pearls, the
talcum powdered alabaster bosoms, and the drop-pendant
earrings - in the paybox, to see him.
importantly: they 'saw' him, as one of THEM; he was their
'Great White Hope' - their 'Enabler'; their 'Fixer' -
their 'Hero' - in the days of Junket, Mountie Dried Egg,
headscarves, snoods, bread-and-dripping, wind-up gramophones,
Zambuk, Little Imp firelighters, gas-mantles, Plaster
of Paris 'Cherry Boys', Tripe & Trotters, Panshine, Dolly-Blue,"two
ounces of 'Balm', please ?", bread-queues, Oxydol, and
Uncle Joe's Mint Balls!
contrived naivety, and self-deprecation was synonymous
with his perceived species. He was a fully paid-up representative
of the Lancashire textile, and coal-mining, 'canon-fodder'-culture:
and his encoded mantle of exaggerated humility, and gormlessness,
was instantly recognised, and deciphered for what it was,
by his cultural peers, amongst the grim, and grime-faced
workers of the industrial North.
I once told the late Bill Logan, the founding-president
of the George Formby Appreciation Society, way back in
June 1961, the Workers' George Formby was not - like him
- prone to be met, grotesquely puffing clouds of smoke,
from fat Cuban corona-grandiosas, in the fume-filled lobbies
of swanky metropolitan hotels.
the contrary, George Formby had 'Working Class Simplicity',
written right through him, like the letters in a stick
of Blackpool Rock; and he lived-life that way, right up
to the end of his days.
Oh yes, he did have a suite in Grosvenor House, Park Lane:
but he never left it. And I know, from those close to
him, that, when he HAD to stay there - and that was only
when he was filming, or doing a stage show, in London
- he was utterly miserable, because he was forever at
a loss, for what to do.
may have had up to 13 motorcycles - and a string of expensive
cars - but, he liked them for SPEED - not for prestige,
of all that, he was never more happy, than when he was
putting his feet up, in the kitchen, at home, wearing
some mucky Gabardine trousers; having a Churchman's No
1, and sipping a mug of cocoa, whilst patiently tinkering
with the carburettor, or float chamber, on one, or other,
of his two, Vincent HRD 1000cc 'Black Prince' motorbikes.
with my pal, Norman Wisdom, Formby did not like 'Posh'
hotels, and and all that 'lah-di-dah': they just weren't
his cup of tea.
to the point, Beryl had no time for that lifestyle, either.
And that mattered, because she wore the trousers, and
that's the way George wanted it: he knew, from past, bitter
experience, that - like they say of Guinness - Beryl was
'good' for him !
made this clear to me, in April 1959, in the course of
a number of visits I made to the Formby's Saint Annes-on-Sea,
home, while researching an intended BBC 'This Is Your
Life' programme, on the star, which, in the outcome -
due to one problem, or another - never made it to the
Formby, to me, was - and always will be - 'chips out of
newspaper'...and I loved him for it, along with the wonderful
genre, that he, and his act, epitomised, and encapsulated...until
it all ended with his final bow, one Monday, at 5pm, in
Saint Joseph's Hospital, Preston, on March 6, 1961. What
a pity it all had to change...but, there you are: "That's
life !", as the lovely Esther Rantzen would say.