The 6th March 1961
is a date that is lodged in every genuine Formby fan's mind. It is the
fateful date on which George passed out of this world leaving behind him
countless fans who still keep his name alive through the George Formby
Society (which came in to existence just 6 months later in September 1961).
Although George was still in hospital supposedly recovering from his
last heart attack, it was generally thought that he was on the mend and
looking forward to the much talked about forthcoming wedding to his new
fiancée, Pat Howson. It was late in the afternoon on a Monday and
Pat was sitting with George at his hospital bedside when she noticed a
change in his condition and summoned a nurse. George had suffered a final
heart attack and minutes later was dead.
The Ray Seaton/Alan Randall book “George Formby – A Biography”
describes the day of the funeral:
Thousands of people jammed the streets for two miles when the funeral
cortege passed from a chapel of rest to St Charles’ Roman Catholic
Church, Liverpool, where a Requiem Mass was celebrated by Mgr Francis
Chaloner. Pat, in a light grey suit, white blouse and black hat, was on
the verge of collapse when she arrived by taxi with her parents and a
solicitor, but remained calm.
The cortege was headed by a hearse piled with wreaths and sprays. The
oak coffin, covered with more flowers, was in a second hearse. A cross
of lilies, tulips and carnations was from Gracie Fields and her husband,
George’s mother, aged 82, was assisted into the church by her sons,
Frank and Edward.
After the mass, the twelve-car funeral procession made its way past sobbing
crowds who lined the streets and roadsides for twenty miles, to Warrington.
Here the cortege halted alongside the grave of George Formby Snr. Beneath
a sculptured portrait of his father, the famous son was laid to rest.
And above the grave was placed a 4-ft cross of deep red roses from the
schoolteacher who was to have been his bride. Her written message was
‘Now and always’. Carried to the grave-side with the chief
mourners, was George’s Lakeland terrier, Willy Waterbucket, a constant
companion for sixteen years.
The undertaker was a friend, Bruce Williams, who as Eddie Latta had written
many of his hit songs, such as ‘Grandad’s Flannelette Nightshirt’,
‘The Home Guard’, ‘Mr Wu’s an Air Raid Warden
now’ and ‘Auntie Maggie’s Remedy’.
Tributes filled the columns in national and provincial newspapers. In
Birmingham the Rev. George Potts, guide and companion for him in Normandy
after the invasion, wrote in the Evening Dispatch: ‘Wherever George
went, in the body or on the air, there was laughter. God knows our sad
world needs comedians and God sent us one in George… He gave to
us in full measure the gifts God had given to him. I like to think that
he has turned up now, uke in hand, creeping up to the “Gold Bar
of Heaven” as he crept up to those slit trenches in 1944, that he
has simply said “Hello” and that the reply has come rapturously
back, “Good God, it’s George Formby!’
The people who remember him—and memories of George Formby remain
vivid—think of the simple things, the incidentals, the small parts
that added up to the whole man.
Tommy Trinder remembers going to Beryldene and being shown the newly
decorated Chinese room. Chinese writing ran down the sides of the fireplace.
‘What’s it say?’ he asked. In earnest, George replied,
‘This side says “Beryl” and that side says “George”.’
‘Who did it?’ said Tommy. ‘Ooh, some local builder,’
was George’s answer.
Donald Crombie, a magician, who appeared with him in a charity show in
Wolverhampton, remembers his love of Flash Gordon, Superman and other
serials. ‘In any town where he was appearing he’d arrange
with a local cinema to have the latest serial episode run through for
him late at night.’
Bert Lawty, of the George Formby Society, recalled George leaving Liverpool
on a health cruise, throwing one ukulele into the River Mersey and giving
another to the purser to be locked up until his return.
Our George was a simple man with a gift he never tried to explain or analyse.
As The Times saw him in its obituary, he was the amateur of the old smoking
concert platform turned into a music-hall professional of genius. He added
nothing to the amateur’s range, only perfected his technique. ‘He
sang with the same broad smile the same sort of broad little songs which
the amateur used to effect, told the same broad tales; but his pointing
of those songs was as artlessly exact as the rhythm of his ukulele playing
Look at this excellent page on the BBC
A - Z