The Van Allen Banjo Ukulele

Will Van Allen (whose real name was William Dodds) was a highly successful variety artist who used the banjo in his act at the turn of the century. He was conducting a successful teaching studio at 38 Newington Butts, London, but his increasing professional engagements made it necessary for him to finally give up teaching. In 1902 he toured the U.S.A. for twelve months.

It is not known when he first started to make banjos, but his first models were called "Revelation", the wood hoop of which was covered by an S-shaped metal casing with a projecting flange at the bottom through which the brackets passed. When he went into partnership with Olly Oakley in 1926 with a shop at 61, Charing Cross Road, London, the “Will Van Allen" banjos, well made modern instruments, appear to have been products of the John G. Abbott workshops. He dissolved his partnership with "Olly Oakley" in 1929 or 1930 and very few Van Allen banjos appeared to have been sold after this date.

This was the first Banjo Ukulele to be played in a George Formby film and was first used in the film ‘OFF THE DOLE’ (1935) and after singing 'If you don't want the goods don't maul ‘em’, he said "It is a good Ukulele". It can also be seen in the opening scenes of 'LET GEORGE DO IT" as the instrument being played by the Banjo Ukulele player who gets shot.

Originally owned by George Formby, this instrument was withdrawn from the 1961 auction by George’s fiancée Pat Howson. It was later purchased by Rex Blaker and following his death purchased at auction for £240 in 1989 in Sheffield by a Society Member.

It was fitted with the original vellum, which is marked in the middle with the words ‘Mr. Formby’ and on the right side with ‘Mr. Wu’s a Window Cleaner Now’ and underneath that with ‘Mr. Wu’.

 

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