Ukulele Heroes - George Formby

29 Jan 2011

Ukulele Heroes - George Formby

This is part of a new series on the blog that looks at some of the key names in ukulele history.  Whilst many associate this particular entry as somewhat ubiquitous, I am British, and thought I would start with the late, great, George Formby.

george formby ukulele

George Formby was born George Hoy Booth in 1904, in Wigan, Lancashire, England, and is fondly remembered as a film star, comedian, and most of all, a ukulele player.

George's father, James Booth, was also an entertainer in the music hall tradition, who adopted the stage name "George Formby" named after the town of Formby just north of Liverpool.    Upon the death of his father in 1921, George Jr gave up his budding career as a jockey, and entered the world of entertainment, taking on his fathers stage name and material.

In 1924, he married Beryl Ingham who became his manager, and his career started to spiral to giddy heights.  In his early career, George didnt use the uke at all, and it is rumoured that he first played it on stage as a bet with friends.  It stuck, and probably became the item most associated with George.

His act was one of bumbling clumsy yet endearing and cheeky northerner, with a little bit of sauce thrown in.  George was famed for his phrases like "Turned out nice again", and "ooh mother".

His songs, most often accompanied on the ukulele were rife with double entendre and humour, and were played in his trademark cheeky syncopated style, with some of his most famous works including Leaning On A Lampost and When I'm Cleaning Windows.

By the mid 1930's his stardom was reaching a peak and he embarked on a series of hugely successful comedy movies that were a huge box office success, his most famous being "Let George Do It"

In his later years, George was a regular at the Royal Variety Performance and received an OBE for his services to the entertainment industry.

After a bout of ill health and heart trouble, George sadly died of a heart attack in 1961, and his funeral procession was attended by an estimated 100,000 mourners.

Whilst many may now look back on George as a novelty, or even as something that puts the uke in the wrong light, I think that is most unfair. George was an international star, and there is no doubt that his love of the ukulele brought the instrument to the attention of a great many people.


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