"Not stuck up or proud ,Im just one of the crowd, a good turn I will drop when I can". The preceding words spoken by the man himself could sum up Formby's oeuvre, only when a person dies do we learn the exact truth about our feelings towards someone. When George Formby died in 1961 ,allegedly over 75,000 people attended his funeral, a staggering amount, i'm sure you might agree.
He was one of my first introductions to nostalgia, to another age, another time, a place of innocence , innuendo. The one quality I keep finding in Formby is passion and devotion,to his people, to his music, to his beloved wife Beryl. I am currently listening to a compilation of Formby's greatest hits, absolutely corking stuff .Once I hear his nudging , winking voice on the stereo I am hooked.When I listen to the Beatles, I hear his echo, ( They were fans you Know ).
Born in 1904 in Wigan he was famous for playing the ukelele, a banjo like instrument.( popularised today by the ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain,check out fantastic post of their recent concert at the proms, over at the excellent ROCKET REMNANTS blog. I
believe the ukelele owes its modern survival due to George,he played it with virtuosity and style , he played the peoples instrument, he was a peoples star.A cacophony of twangs and twiddles, its an awesome sound, primitive yet modern.
I believe he was one of the last centuries first genuine folk stars singing in his own voice,to the people for the people.Like today he sang in a time of austerity and depression, his spirit lifts us , releases us , comforts us. When Formby went to Apartheid era South Africa in 1946, he could not understand why he was playing only to white audiences, he decided to refuse to play to racially segregated audiences, and went to the townships to play to the black populations in their own villages. They loved him for this , cheering him on. The National party leader at the time Daniel Malan berated him for this , eventually expelling Formby from the country. Beryl told Malan "Why don't you piss off, you horrible little man".( can you imagine Saint Sir Cliff Richard, having this experience) .
In 1944 a Russian poll showed George to be the most popular figure in Russia after Stalin. What I believe binded Formby with the people is that through his songs, there is a sense of community and solidarity, laughter can be such a powerful weapon.For me he seemed to sing for the people , all the people. He may not have sung about injustices, but he sang to all as equals. Ordinary people were his lifeblood.In his films ( over 20 blockbusters) he always seemed to play the underdog, who succeeds in the end, in a Formby film the toffs are seen as bad tempered , idiotic, bullying, and small minded.In the Second World War he reached out to the troops,fighting the nazis on a propaganda front, the British troops loved him, he was one of their own. George Formby one man and ukelele anti fascist machine.The upper classes might have been running the show, but it was the ordinary man who like today had to fight it.George in his own style reached out to them with humour,always looking on the bright side of life.
The class struggle is, as always fought most fiercly in the realm of language, and George never lost his voice. Here was a man who stayed humble to the end. "We dont become stars.You people make us stars. We could not be anything without you.And if they believe in anything different they are crazy."
Nearly 60 years after his death (March 6th 1961) people still pin the performer to the tune, when his records are played. He came partly through familiarity, partly through loyalty to the public, to transcend comedy. A unique voice. George Formby I salute you, a genuine working class hero. " Its turned out nice again, hasn't it ."