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article imageReview: Frank Skinner on George Formby Special

By Alexander Baron     Aug 7, 2012 in Entertainment
Blackpool - George Formby was one of the biggest stars in Britain from the early 1930s until his premature death from a heart attack in March 1961. In this one hour documentary, comedian Frank Skinner looks back on his career.
Skinner is a big fan, and quite a big name himself; after introducing the programme, he is seen performing the comic song Osama Bin Laden in Formby style.
He begins at Blackpool, which he rightly calls Formby's spiritual home; it is also the place where the George Formby Society holds its conventions. Skinner visits the grave where Formby is buried along with the performer's father. The programme includes archive film of Formby talking about his father shortly before his own death. George Formby Senior was himself a massive if somewhat parochial star.
George Formby Senior (1875–1921).
George Formby Senior (1875–1921).
Creative Commons
Formby Senior, who died even younger than his son at just 45, didn't want him to follow in his footsteps, and sent him away to train as a jockey. In those days, jockeys started extremely young - George rode his first professional race at the age of just 10!
After his father's death in 1921, Formby - who had never seen Dad perform - was taken to the theatre by his mother where he saw someone impersonating Formby Senior, and decided he could do better. He did, and ended up becoming an even bigger star.
Not wanting to cash in on his father's name, he performed under the name George Hoy - Hoy being his mother's maiden name. In 1924, he met his future wife, Beryl, and dropping his tribute act, picked up the ukulele. The rest, as they say, is history.
In the programme, Skinner visits a primary school class who are learning the ukulele, and plays them a Formby classic: With My Little Ukulele In My Hand.
Frankly it is amazing he was allowed to get away with this; someone with both his knowledge of Formby and an at times risqué act himself must know this 1933 song was withdrawn by Decca because of its obvious double entendre. Later in the programme, Formby himself is shown playing With My Little Stick Of Blackpool Rock, another song that fell foul of the 1930s censor.
During the Second World War, Formby entertained the troops tirelessly, which earned him the OBE. Later, he and Beryl went on a tour of the British Empire. Although this was an enormous success, they were thrown out of South Africa, which in 1946 has not yet instituted Apartheid, but both George and Beryl objected to him playing to segregated audiences, and this led to ugly scenes before they were put on the plane.
George remained popular until his death, and did a special one man TV show shortly before Beryl's death on Christmas Day, 1960. Less than three months later, he too would be dead, but the same year, the George Formby Appreciation Society was formed. Half a century and more on, new generations are still being introduced to the man, his ukulele, and his own disarming humour.
For those who can receive it, this BBC 4 programme, which was first broadcast in October last year, is currently on iplayer.
More about Frank Skinner, ukulele, george fomby society, blackpool rock
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