George Formby, Sr. (4 October 1875 – 8 February 1921) was the father of George Formby, Jr., and a star in his own right. He performed in the Edwardian music halls. Singing in a sardonic, naive but somehow knowing style, plagued by ill-health (he made light of his tuberculosis) he was one of the highest paid entertainers of his day.
George Formby, Jr., OBE (26 May 1904 – 6 March 1961) was an English singer and comedian, famous for playing the ukulele and performing a variety of light, comical songs. He would eventually become a popular star of stage and screen.
Formby endeared himself
to his audiences with his cheeky Lancashire humour and folksy north of
England persona. In film and on stage, he generally adopted the
character of an honest, good-hearted but accident-prone innocent who
used the phrases: "It's turned out nice again!" as an opening line;
"Ooh, mother!" when escaping from trouble; and a timid "Never touched
me!" after losing a fistfight.
What made him stand out,
however, was his unique and often mimicked musical style. He sang comic
songs, full of double entendre, to his own accompaniment on the
banjolele, for which he developed a catchy musical syncopated style that
became his trademark. Some of his best-known songs were written by Noel
Gay. Some of his songs were considered too rude for broadcasting. His
1937 song, "With my little stick of Blackpool Rock" was banned by the
BBC because of the lyrics. Formby's songs are rife with sly humour, as
in 1932's "Chinese Laundry Blues," where Formby is about
to sing "ladies' knickers" and suddenly changes it to "ladies' blouses";
and in 1940's "On the Wigan Boat Express," in which a lady passenger
"was feeling shocks in her signal box." Formby's cheerful, innocent
demeanor and nasal, high-pitched Lancashire accent neutralized the shock
value of the lyrics; a more aggressive comedian like Max Miller would
have delivered the same lyrics with a bawdy leer.
Formby's trademark was
playing the ukulele-banjo in a highly syncopated style, collectively
referred to as the 'Formby style'.
Among the several
syncopation techniques that he used, the most commonly emulated stroke
of Formby's is a clever rhythmic technique, called the "Split stroke", a
technique which produces a musical rhythm, that is easily recognised as
Formby. He sang in his own Lancashire accent. Other strokes that are
included in Formby's repertoire include the triple, the circle, the fan,
the shake. He was not however a virtuoso of the instrument such as Billy
"Uke" Scott. Formby used the instrument only as rhythm accompaniment,
not for playing melody, and would use several instruments tuned to
different keys so that he could use the same fingering on each.
It is ironic that mimics always play him as the traditional Lancashire cloth-cap comic (which his father had been), whereas Formby always dressed in well-tailored suits, a smart collar and tie and polished shoes.