I wasn’t going to use the
Formby name until I’d
earned it, said George
January 16th 1938
SIXTEEN years ago I saw my father on
the stage for the first and last time. He
was appearingat 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
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
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
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
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!
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 us.