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1961: 'Ukulele king' Formby dies
One of Britain's most popular entertainers, George Formby, has died after suffering a heart attack.

Lancashire-born Formby, 56, was one of the UK's best-paid stars during his heyday in the 1930s and 1940s.

His nationwide fame was unusual in the era before ownership of television sets was widespread.

For six successive years during the 1940s he headed a popularity poll compiled by British cinema-goers who flocked to see him in films such as "Spare a Copper" and "George in Civvy Street".

His stage persona was that of a good-natured imbecile but he was a shrewd professional who amassed a fortune, earning up to £35,000 per film.

But Formby turned down many more lucrative offers, including one from Hollywood, so he could entertain British and American troops during the Second World War.

His contribution to the war effort earned him an OBE in 1946.

Stage name

Born George Hoy Booth in Wigan in 1904, he was the son of Lancashire's most famous music hall star who first adopted the name Formby for the stage.

At the age of seven Formby junior was apprenticed to a jockey but weight gain ruled racing out as a career.

Instead he followed his father onto the music hall stage, making his debut as a 17-year-old.

The young Formby made his name with an act which featured a ukulele, the instrument which was to become his trademark along with his toothy grin.

From that era stem some of his most famous songs including "When I'm Cleaning Windows" and his catchphrase "Turned out nice again".

Surprise fiancée

At the height of his career he topped the bill at several Royal Command performances at the London Palladium.

But a weak heart led to his official retirement in 1952 although he had since occasionally appeared on the stage and in pantomimes.

His final heart attack occurred at the home of his fiancée, Patricia Howson, 36. The couple were due to marry in May.

The announcement of their engagement in February was a surprise to many, coming as it did just two months after the death of Beryl, Formby's wife of 36 years.

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George Formby
George Formby began as a music hall star


In Context
In a will made a few days before he died George Formby left most of his £140,000 fortune to his fiancée Patricia Howson.

He left nothing to his family.

After six years of legal wrangling an out-of-court settlement was reached which gave £5,000 to George Formby's mother and £2,000 each to his three sisters.

In 1964 Patricia Howson auctioned some of the jewellery her fiancé had given her saying she needed the money to pay her legal bills.

Ms Howson died in 1971 leaving £20,000 in her will.

Since his death George Formby has become a cult figure with hundreds of fan clubs around the world.

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