A look at some articles and newspaper columns written in at the time when George Formby was at the peak of his career. If have any articles featuring George and Beryl that were written in the 30's, 40's 50's or 60's and would wish to share them with us, please email me

Radio Pictorial

January 16th 1938

SIXTEEN years ago I saw my father on the stage for the first and last time. He was appearing at the Newcastle Empire, and I went up there because he was ill. A few days later he died. This year I am appearing on that same stage in the pantomime "Dick Whittington." It was not until after my father's death that I decided to take up a stage career myself. When I did so, I used the name of George Hoy. The name of Formby had been at the top of the bill for thirty years, and I made up my mind that I wouldn't use it until I had proved that I could keep it there. I actually began my career in Newcastle, appearing in a revue. Eighteen months later I was in variety, singing comic songs, and I felt that I could now use my own name. So I have now been acting for sixteen years stage, screen and radio. And the pantomime in which I am appearing this Christmas will be my seventh. A lot of people have asked me recently if I have intended to keep it up. My reply has been that I have already arranged to go into panto next year at Manchester, and the following year at Birmingham. I wouldn't miss pantomime for worlds. It's something I look forward to all the year round. It permits you to go crackers. You can wear comic clothes and give vent to your feelings. Pantomime is ageless, and it makes you feel ageless to appear in it. I have had some grand fun in it. Last year I was at Birmingham, and my wife and I still chuckle over our experiences. She always appears on the stage with me. The panto ran for fifteen weeks, breaking all sorts of records, including the fact that no one in the cast ever had a quarrel. The fun we had together was largely responsible for the good spirits. We formed an "Invisible Club." It was crazy-but how we enjoyed it! Everything concerned with it was invisible. The proceedings began by every member of the cast receiving an invitation to join. This consisted of a letter with nothing in it. The would-be member then had to see the secretary. He was ushered into a room and made to face the secretary's desk. Then he had to ask to join, and give particulars about himself. Quite straightforward-except that there was no secretary, and the member had to speak to an empty chair! Having been duly accepted by the secretary, he would then receive a membership card and badge. They had nothing on them. There were various rules to be followed. One of them concerned exercise. You simply had to stand still, doing nothing ! It sounds crazy in print. It was even crazier really. But we got a tremendous number of laughs out of the stunt, and the various members were always thinking up new invisible gags ! I think the funniest thing that happened during the run of the show was when we were doing a scene showing the Sultan's palace. The man playing the role of the Captain had to propose to my wife. And she had to be very coy about it. In the middle of his proposal, the scenery suddenly began to fall down I made frantic efforts to keep it up, and I shouted as I did so : "Go on, fall for him, the scenery is!" The audience laughed, but they laughed even more when the scenery, in spite of my attempts, still showed signs of collapsing entirely. There were three of us on the stage, and we all neglected our proper lines while we pushed it up again. We "gagged" the whole time but what on earth we were saying is still a mystery to me! Perhaps that wasn't the funniest incident, after all. Something else happened which was just as amusing, though awkward at the time. In one scene I had to disappear completely through a trapdoor, then return quickly. It was all done by machinery, which lowered me on a platform, and then shot me up again. I had to sing a song all the time. One evening something went wrong with the mechanism. Instead of shooting me up gracefully, it popped me up in a series of short jerks. I must have looked like a jack-in- the-box, and the audience roared with laughter. To make matters worse, the jerking made it impossible for me to get my lines out properly. My voice was as jerky as the platform! Accidents can't be helped. In one show we had a hunting scene, with a real horse on the stage. An actor appearing as the groom had to gallop the horse across the stage, and hand it to the master, who would mount it. Then the music would strike up, and the master had to sing "John Peel" One evening a different horse from usual was used, and I warned the actor appearing as the master of the hunt that he would have to be careful of him. "He looks as if he's frisky," I said. And he certainly was! The actor mounted him in the usual wav. The horse moved round and his hoofs must have caught in the cloth covering the stage. The cloth wound round his legs, and suddenly he pulled one of the "flats" from the wings into the centre of the stage (a flat is a part of a scene mounted on a frame which can be pushed about). Then another flat shot into view, followed by two more. By this time the audience was almost in hysterics and the actor went on singing "John Peel" as if nothing was happening There is certainly nothing dull about working in pantomime. So do you wonder that I have already fixed up for the next few years? Curiously enough, last Christmas Day was a very quiet one. We usually go to my wife's people, but they happened to be away. So we decided to remain at the hotel where we were staying. The hotel was practically empty. We got up fairly late, and tried to make up our minds what to do. I suddenly remembered a golf machine that I had just been given. It was a gadget which enabled you to make proper golf shots indoors. We persuaded the hotel manager to take all the furniture out of one of the rooms, and we installed the machine there. Then Beryl (Mrs. Formby) and I began playing. We played on all the morning, had a quick lunch, then rushed upstairs to the golf machine again. A friend looked in for a little while and joined us. When he had gone, we went on playing on our own. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously. We could hardly believe our watches were right when we found that the time was eight o'clock! After dinner, we spent most of the evening trying to get into a cinema. But all the theatres were full up, so we didn't go anywhere in the evening after all. Fortunately, there was a radio set at the hotel. At one time I was not so personally interested in radio as I am now. Extracts from shows in which I had appeared had been relayed, but I had not broadcast direct from a studio. My first broadcast was about seven years ago, when I was relayed from Blackpool. It was not until quite recently that I went to a studio to do a broadcast, and I found this one of the most pleasant experiences in my life. I was doing an appeal for poor children, and it was radiated during the Children's Hour from Manchester. I sat down in a chair in a studio all alone, and , for a quarter of an hour I chatted to the children. I felt a bit nervous at first, but I soon got used to it, and I felt a queer sense of intimacy with my listeners. The children were asked to send pennies... £180 was collected in all - 43,200, pennies ! I was rather moved when I heard the result. As it happened, I was working in London at the time -- I make my films at Ealing, for Basil Dean - so I had to be relayed to Manchester. By a strange coincidence, now I have started my new weekly feature, "A Lancashire Lad in London," I am working in Newcastle, and as the programmes are being put out on the National wavelength, I have to be relayed down to London. One day, perhaps, I shall be permitted to broadcast from the studios that are actually radiating me ! Anyway, you'll be hearing me on the air quite frequently in the future. Unless anything happens. My current film is I See Ice! and I've got a lot of ice-skating to do in it. So until it is finished and I am certain that I am sound in wind and limb, I'm not being too definite about my future plans! George Formby HOME
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