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ClassicsOnline Home » FORMBY, George: It's Turned Out Nice Again (1932-1946) (Formby, Vol. 2)
His working class slapstick tunes and banjo rhythms backed by orchestra were a Lancashire elixir for the Great Depression.
By David Denton
You might not be expecting among my
classical music reviews to find George Formby, but many, many years ago with
the second-hand wind-up gramophone my parents bought me I found one of his
discs, and I fell in love with his silly songs. Born in 1904 to a father who
was a music-hall comedian, his diminutive size at first took him into the world
of racehorses, but weight problems eventually ruled out the life as a jockey.
Encouraged by his mother he then followed in his father's footsteps, though it
was not until marriage to a wife who shaped his career that success in the
theatre was realised. He was far from good looking and rather ungainly, but his
music found him acting in twenty films fashioned around his singing and ukulele
playing, his recorded legacy including over two hundred discs. He became the UK's most highly paid comedian reportedly earning in the late 1930's what today must equate
to 20 million pounds per year. His wealth and growing ill-health persuaded him
to retire in his late forties, and he died at the early age of 57. Maybe those
not born in the north of England will not catch all of the words in these funny
and often naughty songs, but you will gather enough to appreciate the role it
would have had in the films from which many of these tracks are taken. In
between his singing we hear his agility on the instrument he called a ukulele,
though in fact it owed more to its banjo origins. If you are just coming to the
funny man, just play a few tracks at a time, as the formula that made him
famous was much the same from song to song. The sound from the originals -
covering the period from 1932 to 1946 - is good and the transfers are
GEORGE FORMBY, Vol. 2
'It's Turned Out Nice Again' - Original 1932–1946 Recordings
The real secret of his success was personality. That wide grin of his seemed to spread across the screen. (Basil Dean)
George was a superb actor … He always played himself. (Emile Littler)
The charismatic fool with the ukulele, who brought music-hall slapstick to the picture-house and embodied Blackpool seaside levity during the Depression years and Wartime, George Hoy Booth was a top British Commonwealth box-office draw between 1935 and 1945. Born in a Wigan terrace house, on 26 May 1904, the eldest of a large family, George had the stage, or at least a strong native performing instinct, in his blood, for his father, George Formby Sr (alias James Lawler Booth, 1875-1921) was a celebrated Edwardian music-hall comedian who, after rising from dire poverty had acquired national fame through musical-hall and recordings, before dying prematurely, from tuberculosis. From the age of seven George Jr worked as a stable lad. He loved horses, but despite being an apprentice jockey from the age of fifteen, and notwithstanding his father's opposition to him entering show business ('one fool in the family is enough', he reportedly said) George was irresistibly drawn to the world of entertainment. George even succeeded in combining both worlds, when he played a child jockey in a silent entitled By The Shortest Of Heads, in 1915.
By 1921 George, already too heavy to ride racehorses professionally, had set his heart on a stage career and within two months of his father's death, coached and encouraged by his mother Eliza, was following in his footsteps, initially as George Hoy. After a first appearance, performing between reels in a silent cinema in Earlestown, George got a booking at the Argyll, Birkenhead, for the princely wage of £17.10s.0d (£17.50p) per week. There, he perpetuated (unconvincingly, many critics thought) his father's routines, which hinged around the vicissitudes, with songs tailored to suit, of John Willie, an idealised Lancashire halfwit created by George Sr. George struggled to make his mark in the halls of the North until around 1925, when he added the ukulele (in fact a 'banjulele', a banjo/ukulele hybrid) to the more permanent trademark of the toothy grin. The rest was history and thereafter he never needed to change the formula.
In 1924, George married comic actress and champion clogdancer Beryl Ingham – and his whole world changed. Assessments of Beryl's character vary; generally regarded as domineering ('shrew' and 'harpy' were among the kinder names applied to her), her unflagging devotion and strong showbiz instinct nonetheless galvanised George's own will to succeed. Under her management George polished his act and progressed by leaps and bounds. In 1924 he made a test record and two years later his first records, for the Edison Bell Company, were released. Much in the manner of those left by his late father, these are, however, in style and delivery, a far cry from the later George Formby records with which he is still associated. Prior to 1930, he toured with Beryl in revues (including Formby's Road Show and Formby Seeing Life) and reached a wider audience, via radio. In 1932 he added pantomime to his curriculum vitae (a new trade, painstakingly acquired, with coercion from Beryl and financial backing by hard-driving Northern theatrical impresario Bert Loman).
Throughout the 1930s and mainly for promoter Bert Feldman on variety theatre circuits, George projected a comic image of the perfect fool. However, this was but a mask, for in reality George was an extremely canny Lancashire lad. Via the silver screen, despite the self-acknowledged limitations of his range as a performer, George was able to communicate with a much wider 'audience'. Even before 1933, when he made the first of two shorts (Boots! Boots! and Off The Dole), for J. E. Blakely's Mancunian Films), he was already a well-established top-liner on the Northern variety theatre circuit, and on the strength of these films secured lucrative contracts. In total, he went on to make a further eighteen, the first eleven for Associated Talking, Ealing, Pictures (beginning with No Limit, a TT racing extravaganza set on the Isle of Man, in 1935) and, from 1942 onwards, for Columbia, commencing with South American George (this included the numbers "Swing, Mama", "I Played On My Spanish Guitar" and The Barmaid At The Rose And Crown). His screen 'discoverer' and Ealing producer, former actor Basil Dean (1888-1978) made this assessment of George's dramatic talent: 'Fortunately, he had a very shrewd idea of his own capabilities, and was always determined never to step outside them … George never acted gormless, like some successful comedians. He was gormless, so far as the audience was concerned, and they took him to their hearts accordingly.'
Spurred by the enthusiastic reception of No Limit, George committed himself with vigour to an annual or twice-yearly production schedule of ATP situation comedy features which, combined with record sales and other revenues, secured him by the decade's end an annual income in excess of £100,000. In the first of the series, Keep Your Seats, Please (1936; co-starring Florence Desmond and featuring Alistair Sim), apart from the title-song, George memorably introduced his theme song "When I'm Cleaning Windows"). He followed this success with Keep Fit (1937), I See Ice and It's In The Air (both 1938; generally rated among his best screen efforts, the last-named finds accident-prone RAF recruit George singing the title-song and "They Can't Fool Me") and, in 1939, Trouble Brewing and Come On, George. From 1940 onwards the films were geared to providing a comic morale boost during wartime, with titles including Let George Do It (1940) and (his last for Ealing/ATP) Turned Out Nice Again (1941; in this George aired another perennial Formby favourite, "Auntie Maggie's Home-Made Remedy").
During WW2 George worked tirelessly for ENSA, endearing himself, uke in hand, to millions of British and Allied services around the world – in recognition of which achievement he was awarded the OBE, in 1946. Beginning in 1942 with South American George (with George posing as a South American opera divo, this provided one of his best vehicles) George sated the British hunger for tomfoolery with a succession of high jinx comedy morale-boosters, made for Columbia by his own company, Hillcrest. Much Too Shy appeared the same year (in which George the handyman airs They Laughed When I Started To Play and "Delivering The Morning Milk"), followed by Get Cracking and Bell-Bottom George (both 1943), He Snoops To Conquer (1944) and I Didn't Do It (1945). George's last screen appearance, George In Civvy Street (1946) was a comparative flop in which George the soldier home from war, redeems all only by songs, like The Mad March Hare and You Don't Need A License For That).
During the post-war years George made successful tours of Australia, Canada and South Africa, but having previously made only sporadic appearances in London (notably, topping the bill at the Palladium), had to wait until 1951 to fulfil a long-cherished ambition to star in the West End. Emile Littler's comedy about money, Zip Goes A Million, at the Palace, proved the perfect vehicle for the more mature George's talents. After a six-month run playing to full houses, however, a serious heart condition forced George to quit the show. Subsequently, he entered a period of semi-retirement (amusing himself aboard the several yachts and motor cars afforded him by his large fortune, and in the luxurious home he had built and dedicated to Beryl, in Penwortham, near Preston). He did however continue to make intermittent comebacks in variety and pantomime, and during 1960, the year of his last Blackpool summer season (at the Queen's Theatre), he appeared in a much-praised one-man show on BBC TV.
George Formby died at his Lancashire home on 6 March 1961, aged 57 years.
Peter Dempsey, 2007
The Old Kitchen Kettle (Harry Woods–Jimmy Campbell–Reg Connelly)
Decca F 3222, mx GB 5023-1. Recorded 13 October 1932, London
I Told My Baby With The Ukulele (Robert Hargreaves)
Decca F 3219, mx GB 5025-1C. Recorded 13 October 1932, London
If You Don't Want The Goods Don't Maul 'Em (Jack Cottrell)
From film Off the Dole
Decca F 3219, mx GB 5027-1C. Recorded 13 October 1932, London
Levi's Monkey Mike (Rick–Jack Cottrell)
Decca F 3458, mx GB 5533-3. Recorded 29 January 1933, London
With My Little Ukulele In My Hand (Jack Cottrell)
Decca F 3615 (withdrawn), mx GB 6017-2. Recorded 1 July 1933, London
She's Never Been Seen Since Then (Jack Cottrell)
Decca F 3666, mx GB 6105-1. Recorded 27 August 1933, London
You Can't Keep A Growing Lad Down (Harry Gifford–Fred Cliffe)
Decca F 5183, mx TB 1200-4. Recorded 12 June 1934, London
Madame Moscovitch (Harry Gifford–Fred Cliffe)
Decca F 5287, mx TGB 6724-3. Recorded 20 October 1934, London
Fanlight Fanny (Harry Gifford–Fred Cliffe–George Formby)
Decca F 5569, mx GB 7172-1. Recorded 29 May 1935, London
The Isle Of Man (Harry Gifford–Fred Cliffe)
Regal Zonophone MR 1932, mx CAR 4485-1. Recorded 28 November 1935, London
Oh Dear, Mother (Harry Gifford–Fred Cliffe–George Formby)
Regal Zonophone MR 2431, mx CAR 4406-1. Recorded 24 January 1937, London
Keep Your Seats Please (George Formby–Harry Gifford–Fred Cliffe)
From film Keep Your Seats Please
Regal Zonophone MR 2199, mx CAR 4188-1. Recorded 27 September 1936, Feldman Theatre, Blackpool
The Lancashire Toreador (George Formby–Harry Gifford–Fred Cliffe)
Regal Zonophone MR 2399, mx CAR 4485-1. Recorded 21 March 1937, London
It's In The Air (Harry Parr-Davies)
From film It's In The Air
Regal Zonophone MR 2891, mx CAR 5070-1. Recorded 17 July 1938, London
It's Turned Out Nice Again (George Formby–Harry Gifford–Fred Cliffe)
Regal Zonophone MR 3022, mx CAR 5347-1. Recorded 2 April 1939, London
You Can't Go Wrong In These (Roger MacDougal)
From film It's Turned Out Nice Again
Regal Zonophone MR 3512, mx CAR 6117-1. Recorded 28 July 1941, London
The Barmaid At The Rose And Crown (George Formby)
From film South American George
Regal Zonophone MR 3567, mx CAR 6135-1. Recorded 24 August 1941, London
They Laughed When I Started To Play (George Formby–Fred Cliffe)
From film Much Too Shy
Regal Zonophone MR 3648, mx CAR 6342-1. Recorded 31 May 1942, London
The Mad March Hare (George Formby–Fred Cliffe)
From film George In Civvy Street
Columbia FB 3251, mx CA 20020-1. Recorded 23 March 1946, London
You Don't Need A License For That (George Formby–Fred Cliffe)
From film George In Civvy Street
Columbia FB 3251, mx CA 20019-1. Recorded 23 March 1946, London
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FORMBY, George: It's Turned Out Nice Again (1932-1...