George Formby
George Formby, Jr.
b. George Hoy Booth, Wigan, Lancashire, 26 May 1904;
d. London, 6 March 1961
Near the height of the Music Hall, at a time when the British middle class was beginning to accept it, George Booth (born in 1875, in Ashton-Under-Lyne as James Booth), a music hall singer and comedian, adopted the stage name George Formby (from a railway goods car). He had started his professional career (after running away from home at 13) as the soprano half of "The Brothers Glenray – the songbirds of the Music Halls." When his voice broke, he became a comedian who parodied middle-class protestant (Methodist) Britain.
Like many performers, he had a catch line, "I'm coughing better tonight" (a result of his tuberculosis). He also regularly used the line, "It’s not the coughin’ that carries you off; it’s the coffin they carry you off in!" He grew in importance, influencing (among others) Charlie Chaplin.
26 May 1904. George Hoy Booth (George Formby, Jr.) was born in Wigan, the eldest of seven children. His father did not want any of his children entering show business, and so he arranged for his oldest son to become an apprentice jockey for Lord Derby at the age of seven. While hanging around the stables, he gained some notoriety playing harmonica and singing. (See Tracy 1994 and The George Formby Society.)
1914 [aged 10]
World War I demanded horses and men and severely limited horse racing. The Formby family temporarily moved to Ireland seeking work.
1921 [aged 15-16]
8 February. When George, Sr. died at Stockton Heath, Warrington (age 41), he left his family an inheritance of £21,000 and George Jr. and family moved to London. One evening at a music hall, they saw a comedian using some of George Sr.'s material, which inspired George Jr. to give up being a jockey and—contrary to his father's wishes—become an entertainer.
He learned some of his father's music from recordings and tried on his father's clothes. He used his mother's name (Hoy) at singer Harry Lauder's suggestion and worked the music hall circuit, though not very successfully. Eventually, he began performing as George Formby.

George Formby Sr.
1925 [aged 20-21]
One of the most important things that happened to Formby was his marriage to Beryl Ingham with whom he performed and worked for decades. Around this time, they took on a manager, Thomas Connery (of Newcastle) who signed them to a review for 5-years.
Another transforming event for Formby happened while playing the Alhambra Theatre in Barnsley. There he bought (for £2.10s) a fellow performer's ukulele and, taking up a bet from other performers, played the instrument that was to become his signature the first evening (to great applause). He continued performing a combination of songs and comedic sketches, including a "park bench" routine together with Beryl.
Through the 1920s, he remained a stage star largely in the north of England (Liverpool, Manchester, and Newcastle), but not in the south. The London entertainment scene resisted the idea that anything of value could come from the north, unless it was made of steel or iron. Formby would change that.
1926  [aged 21-22]
11 June. Formby records "I Parted My Hair in the Middle" ( David/Murphy), "I Was Always a Willing Young Lad" (Hargreaves/Dammerell), "John Willie Come On" ( George Formby, Sr.), "John Willie’s Jazz Band" (Hargreaves/Dammerell), "Rolling around Piccadilly" (Hargreaves/Dammerell), and "The Man Was a Stranger to Me" (Connor) for Edison Bell/Winner.
1929  [aged 24-25]
20 October. Formby records "All Going Back" and "In the Congo" for Dominion.
1932  [aged 27-28]
June. Formby successfully auditions with Decca Studios located on Thames Street) for a film role. He had been trying to break into the film business, but his previous film contracts (with Edison Bell Winner and with Dominion) had been unsuccessful. Around this time, John Blakeley approaches him about making a movie.
1 July. Formby records "Chinese Blues" and "Do De O Do" for Decca.
13 October. Formby records "I Told My Baby with My Ukulele" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "If You Don’t Want the Goods Don’t Maul ‘Em" (Cottrell), and "The Old Kitchen Kettle" (Woods/Campbell/Connelly) for Decca.
18 October. Formby records "John Willie at the Licence Office (Part 1)" and "John Willie at the Licence Office (Part 2)" (Cottrell) for Decca.
9 November. Formby records "I Could Make a Good Living at That" (Cottrell/Lawton) and "Let’s All Go to Reno" (Cottrell) for Decca.
1933 [aged 28-29]
29 January. Formby records "Levi’s Monkey Mike" (Cottrell/Rick), "Running Round the Fountains" (Cottrell), "Sitting on the Ice in the Ice Rink" (Cottrell), and "Why Don’t Women Like Me" (Cottrell/Bennett/Formby) for Decca.
7 July. Formby records "As the Hours and the Days and the Weeks and the Months and the Years Roll By" (Gifford/Cliffe) and "With My Little Ukulele in My Hand" (Cottrell) for Decca. [Decca withdraws the latter.]
27 August. Formby records "She’s Never Been Seen Since Then" (Cottrell), "Sunbathing in the Park" (Gifford/Cliffe/Kendall), and "Swimmin’ with the Wimmin" (Cottrell) for Decca.
12 November. Formby records "Baby" (Cottrell), "I Went All Hot and Cold" (Cottrell, arr. Formby), "My Ukulele" (Cottrell, arr. Formby), and "The Wedding of Mr Wu" (Cottrell) for Decca.
1934 [aged 29-30]
21 March. Formby records "Believe It or Not" (Gifford/Cliffe) and "In a Little Wigan Garden" (Gifford/Cliffe) for Decca.
22 April. Formby records "You Can't Keep a Growing Lad Down" (Gifford/Cliffe) and "It's No Use Looking at Me" (Cottrell/Gifford/Cliffe) for Decca.
Blakeley and the Formbys make their first film using a script written by George and Beryl with Arthur Mertz, production assistance from Beryl, £3000, and a studio above the Albany car garage (off Regent Street).
30 July. Boots! Boots! released featuring Formby as a hotel worker in a number of comedic skits and Beryl in a dance number. They earn enough money to make a second movie.
13 September. Formby re-records "John Willie's Jazz Band" (Hargreaves/Dammerell) and records "There's Nothing Proud about Me" (Gifford/Cliffe) for Decca.
11 October. Formby records "The Best of Schemes" (Gifford/Cliffe) and Madam Moscovitch (Gifford/Cliffe) for Decca.
11 November. Formby records "John Willie Goes Carolling (Pts 1 & 2)" (Gifford/Cliffe) for Decca.
1935 [aged 30-31]
29 May. Formby records "Fanlight Fanny" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "The Fiddler Kept on Fiddling" (Gifford/Cliffe), "Share and Share Alike" (Cliffe), and "I Do Do Things I Do" (Gibson/Long) for Decca.
1 July. Off the Dole (written and directed by Mertz) was even more successful than Boots (and featured the tune, "Little Ukukele"). George Formby Cavalcade, a third Blakeley film, was basically Formby's music hall act.
Formby begins series of films with Associated Talking Pictures (A.T.P.) in Ealing and Basil Dean. .
28 November. Formby records "The Pleasure Cruise" [Version 1] (Gifford/Cliffe), "The Isle of Man" (Gifford/Cliffe), "The Wash House at the Back" (Gifford/Cliffe), and "Riding in the T.T. Races" (Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
1936 [aged 31-32]
25 February. Formby records "Gallant Dick Turpin (Parts 1 & 2)" (Gifford/Cliffe), "A Farmer's Boy" (Gifford/Cliffe), and "Radio Bungalow Town" (Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
23 March. No Limit released.
8 May. Formby records "George Formby Medley (Parts 1 & 2)" for Regal Zonophone.
19 July. Formby records "Ring Your Little Bell" (Wallace) and "Quickfire Medley" for Regal Zonophone.
27 September. Formby records "When I'm Cleaning Windows" [Version 1] (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "Sitting on the Sands All Night" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "Keep Your Seats Please" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), and "Five and Twenty Year" (Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
29 October. Formby records "Dare Devil Dick" (Gifford/Cliffe), "Bunkum's Travelling Show" (Gifford/Cliffe), "I'm a Froggie" (Hargreaves/Damerell), and "The Ghost" (Hargreaves/Damerell) for Regal Zonophone.
The Song That Made a Star: George Formby Cavalcade. Mancunian Films.
Unlike most other film stars of the thirties, George Formby often appears in his films as clearly working class. Tuxedos and three-piece suits were not his film style. His characters never put people down, and he is often the object of bullying (followed by providential retribution). Between 1936 and 1945 he was one of the biggest earners in British cinema.
1937 [aged 32-33]
24 January. Formby records "Oh Dear Mother" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "You're a Liaty" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "When We Feather Our Nest" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), and "With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock" (Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
14 February. Formby records "Hindoo Man" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "Trailing Around in a Trailor" ( Gifford/Cliffe), "Said the Little Brown Hen" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "My Little Goat and Me" (Gifford/Cliffe), and the "Trailer for the film Keep Your Seats Please" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
15 March. Keep Your Seats Please (featuring "When I'm Cleaning Windows"). Produced by Basil Dean.
21 March. Formby records "The Lancashire Toreador" (Gifford/Cliffe), "My Plus Fours" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "Easy Going Chap" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), and "The Window Cleaner (No.2)" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
11 July. Formby records "Somebody's Wedding Day" (Formby/Cliffe), "I Don't Like" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "Keep Fit" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), and "Biceps, Muscle and Brawn" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
19 July. Feather Your Nest: (featuring "Leaning on a Lamp Post"). Produced by Basil Dean.
5 September. Formby records "Leaning On a Lampost" (Gay), "Hi-Tiddley-Hi-Ti Island" (Stanley/Alleyn), and the "Trailer for the film Keep Fit" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
28 November. Formby records "You Can't Stop Me from Dreaming" (Friend/Franklyn), "She Can't Say No" (Bryan/Meyer), and "Remember Me" [Formby, intro & uke and Tommy Farr, vocals] (Dubin/Warren) for Regal Zonophone.
1938 [aged 33-34]
6 February. Formby records "Does Your Dreambook Tell You That" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) and "Like The Big Pots Do" (Long) for Regal Zonophone.
18 February. Keep Fit (featuring " Keep Fit") . Produced by Basil Dean.
4 March. Formby records "I Blew a Little Blast on My Whistle" (Formby), "Wunga Bunga Boo" (Stanley/Alleyn), "Have You Ever Heard This One?" (Gilbert/Sullivan), and "Springtime's Here Again" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
3 April. Formby records "Noughts and Crosses" (Hunter/Parr-Davies), "The Joo Jah Tree" (Box/Cox/Butler), "Mother What'll I Do Now" (Formby/Cliffe), and "In My Little Snapshot Album" (Harper/Haines/Parr-Davies) for Regal Zonophone.
11 July. I See Ice (featuring " In My Little Snapshot Album"). Produced by Basil Dean.
17 July. Formby records "Our Sergeant Major" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "They Can't Fool Me" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "It's in the Air" ( Parr-Davies), and "Sitting Pretty with My Fingers Crossed" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
22 October. Formby records "Tan-Tan-Tivvy-Tally-Ho" (LeClerq), "I Wonder Who's Under Her Balcony Now" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "Kiss Your Mansy Pansy" (), and "Rhythm in the Alphabet" (Lisbona/Steller) for Regal Zonophone.
11 December. Formby records "Frigid Air Fanny" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) and "My Little Wooden Toolshed in the Garden" (Steeles/Stevens/Wilmott) for Regal Zonophone.
11 July. I See Ice
1939 [aged 34-35]
27 February. It's In The Air (featuring "Our Sergeant Major"). Produced by Basil Dean.
2 April. Formby records "Hill Billy Willie" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "It's Turned Out Nice Again" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "I Can Tell It by My Horoscope" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), and "Hitting the High Spots Now" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
18 June. Formby records "Swing It George (Parts 1 & 2)" (variou), "I'm the Husband of the Wife of Mr. Wu" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), and "It's a Grand and Healthy Life" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
27 June. Formby records "Goodnight Little Fellow, Goodnight" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "Pardon Me" (Formby/Frame/Allan.Nicholson), "I'm Making Headway Now" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), and "I Couldn't Let the Stable Down" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
24 July. Trouble Brewing (featuring "I Can Tell It by My Horoscope"). Produced by Jack Kitchin.
20 August. Formby records "Dan the Dairy Man" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "The Blue Eyed Blonde Next Door" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "Low Down Lazy Turk" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), and "Lancashire Hot Pot Swingers" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
12 October. Formby records "Swinging Along, Singing A Song" (Formby) and "A Lad from Lancashire" (Formby/Godfrey) for Regal Zonophone.
17 December. "A Lancashire Romeo" (Formby/Godfrey), "Imagine Me in the Maginot Line" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "Grandad's Flannelette Nightshirt" (Formby/Godfrey), and "Mr. Wu's a Window Cleaner Now" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
1940 [aged 35-6]
1 January. Come On George (about horses, GF does his own stunts). Produced by Jack Kitchin.
31 May. Formby records "Count Your Blessings and Smile" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "Oh, Don't the Wind Blow Cold" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "You've Got Something There" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), and "I Always Get to Bed by Half-Past-Nine" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
4 August. Formby records "On the Wigan Boat Express" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "Down the Old Coal Hole" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "I'm the Ukulele Man" (MacDougal), and "On the Beat" (MacDougal) for Regal Zonophone.
10 November. Formby records "Letting The New Year In" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "Bless 'Em All" [Version 1] (Hughes/Lake/Godfrey), "Guarding the Home of the Home Guard" (Formby/Latta), and "I Wish I Was Back on the Farm" (MacDougal) for Regal Zonophone.
11 November. Let George Do It (featuring "Mr Wu's A Window Cleaner Now"). Produced by Michael Balcon.
5 December. Spare a Copper released by Ealing/ATP. Produced by Michael Balcon.
Like his father, Formby begins to develop his own catch phrases such as "Never touched me" and "Turned out nice again, hasn't it."
1941 [aged 36-37]
2 February. Formby records "Formby Favourites For The Forces (Parts 1 & 2)" for Regal Zonophone.
21 February. Formby records "Thanks Mr. Roosevelt" (Connor) and "Bless 'Em All" [Version 2] (Hughes/Lake/Godfrey) for Regal Zonophone.
8 April. Formby records "It Might Have Been A Great Deal Worse" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), "You'd Be Far Better Off in a Home" (Hughes/Lake/Godfrey), "I Did What I Could with My Gas Mask" (Javaloyes/Box/Cox/Osborne), and "Delivering the Morning Milk" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
28 July. Formby records "The Emperor of Lancashire" (MacDougal), "You Can't Go Wrong in These" (MacDougal), "Auntie Maggies Remedy" (Formby/Latta), and "You're Everything to Me" (MacDougal) for Regal Zonophone.
4 August. Turned Out Nice Again released by Ealing/United Artists. Produced by Michael Balcon.
24 August. Formby records "I'd Do It with a Smile" (MacDougal), "The Left Hand Side of Egypt" (Bennett/Gay), "Who Are You A-Shoving Of?" (Gay), and "The Barmaid at the Rose and Crown" (Arthurs/Formby) for Regal Zonophone.
5 October. Formby records "I Played on My Spanish Guitar" (Lyons), "Swing Mama" (MacDougal), and "George Formby's Crazy Record (Parts 1 & 2)" (various) for Regal Zonophone.
29 December. South American George (for Columbia). Produced by Marcel Varnel & Ben Henry.
1942 [aged 37-38]
12 March. Formby records "Katy Did, Katy Didn't" (Loesser/Carmichael), "Smile All the Time" (Formby/Coady), and "Out in the Middle East" (Godfrey) for Regal Zonophone.
31 May. Formby records "Andy The Handy Man" (), "They Laughed When I Started to Play" (), "Talking to the Moon about You" (), and "Got to Get Your Photo in the Press" () for Regal Zonophone.
7 June. Formby records "Mr. Wu's an Air Raid Warden Now" (Latta) and "Sally the Salvage Queen" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
24 August. Formby records "Thirty Thirsty Sailors" (Elton/Box/Cox) and "Hold Your Hats On" (Miller/Addinsell) for Regal Zonophone.
11 October. Formby records "Cookhouse Serenade" (Twomey/Goodhart), "You Can't Love Two Girls at the Same Time" (Formby/Godfrey), "Under the Blasted Oak" (Formby/Cliffe), and "(When the Lads of the Village) Get Cracking" (Formby/Latta) for Regal Zonophone.
12 October. Much to Shy released by Columbia. Produced by Marcel Varney & Ben Henry. Formby appears with character actors Jimmy Clitheroe, Charles Hawtrey, and Kathleen Harrison.
17 December. Formby records "When the Waterworks Caught Fire" (), "The Baby Show" (), "Homeguard Blues" (), and "Oh, You Have No Idea" () for Regal Zonophone.
1943 [aged 38-39]
7 February. Formby records "Spotting on the Top of Blackpool Tower" (Formby/Latta) and "Sentimental Lou" (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
3 May. Get Cracking released by Columbia. Produced by Marcel Varnel & Ben Henry.
14 July. Formby records "British Isles Medley" (various), "American Medley" (various), "On the HMS Cowheel" (Formby/Cliffe), and "Bunty's Such a Big Girl Now" (Formby/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
7 November. Formby records "It Serves You Right" (Elton/Box/Cox), "If I Had a Girl Like You" (Parke/Parr-Davies), "Swim Little Fish" (Parke/Parr-Davies), and "Bell Bottom George" (Parke/Parr-Davies) for Regal Zonophone.
1944 [aged 39-40]
10 January. Bell-Bottom George released by Columbia. Produced by Marcel Varnel & Ben Henry.
14 May. Formby records "The 'V' Sign Song" (Sievier) and "The Old Cane Bottom Chair" (Formby/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
11 November. Formby records "Our Fanny's Gone All Yankee" (Van Dusen), "Unconditional Surrender" (Cunningham/Towers), "Blackpool Prom" (Sievier), and "Mr. Wu's in the Air Force" (Formby/Latta) for Regal Zonophone.
1945 [aged 40-41]
8 January. He Snoops to Conquer released by Columbia. Produced by Marcel Varnel & Ben Henry.
10 June. Formby records "The Daring Young Man" (), "I'd Like a Dream Like That" (), "She's Got Two of Everything" (), and "Up in the Air and Down in the Dumps" () for Regal Zonophone.
23 July. I Didn't Do It released by Columbia. Produced by Marcel Varnel & Ben Henry.
1946 [aged 41-42]
23 March. Formby records "You Don't Need a Licence for That" (Formby/Cliffe), "The Mad March Hare" (Formby/Cliffe), "It Could Be" (Cunningham/Towers), and "We've Been a Long Time Gone" (Formby/Cliffe) for Regal Zonophone.
16 April. Formby makes a live recording of "(When the Lads of the Village) Get Cracking" (Formby/Latta) for Regal Zonophone.
17 June. George in Civvy Street released by Columbia. Produced by Marcel Varnel & Ben Henry. Formby's last film is a failure.
The British government awards him the OBE for entertaining troops and Stalin gives him the "Order of Lenin" (for being the funniest man on screen). However, like other public figures of the second world war, this marks the end of his film career. (Compare what happened to Churchill.) He spent the remainder of his life in stage productions but in ill health.
1950 [aged 45-46]
21 January. Formby records "Auntie Maggie's Remedy" [Version 2] (Formby/Latta), "Leaning on a Lampost" [Version 2] (Gay), "When I'm Cleaning Windows" [Version 2] (Formby/Gifford/Cliffe), and "Come Hither with Your Zither" (Miller/Noel/Donnelly) for Decca.
1951 [aged 46-47]
5 November. Formby records "I'm Saving Up for Sally" (Posford/Maschwitz), "The Pleasure Cruise" [Version 2] (Gifford/Cliffe), "Ordinary People" (Posford/Maschwitz), and "Zip Goes a Million" (Posford/Maschwitz) for Regal Zonophone.
1960 [aged 55-56]
11 May. Formby records "Happy Go Lucky Me" (Evans/Byron) and "Banjo Boy" (Niessen/Kay) for Pye.
1961 [aged 56-57]
6 March. Formby dies while attempting to resurrect his career. Thousands turn out for his funeral.
Also see the website for the George Formby Society.

British Popular Music Schedule Trad