banjo ukulele by dennis taylor
George Formby’s Ludwig
GENERAL BACKGROUND Ludwig Banjo Ukes were made in Chicago, USA and were top quality instruments aimed at the professional entertainer market. Whereas other instruments were selling in the UK for a little over £5, this particular model sold for $37.50, case $10 extra, during 1927 which was probably the peak of their production. Consequently, very few of these instruments appear to have reached our UK shores. This particular model was dropped from Ludwig’s 1930 catalogue and the accent was on less expensive models. (Possibly related to the Wall Street crash in 1929). Certainly no more were made after this date and very few of the models like this survive today.
It was for the filming of ‘Feather Your Nest’ that George used his Ludwig to record his famous song ‘Leaning on a Lamp Post’. The Ludwig became a firm favourite with George who used it thirteen times in his 22 films. His other favourite instrument was undoubtedly his ‘Abbott’ and both these instruments are of historical interest, being equally recognisable as he needed more than one instrument in his stage act. The now famous Ludwig was then in constant use by this great entertainer in his unique performances right up to his last public appearance on BBC TV ‘The Friday Show’ in December 1960, just three months before his death. It went with him during the war years when he entertained and estimated three million troops between Normandy and Cairo. Whether he entertained troops from a slit trench, performed in Aldwych Underground air raid shelter or appeared on stage at the London Palladium, his Ludwig was in constant use and it would probably have gone with him when to Windsor Castle where he entertained King George VI and the Royal family. Ludwig Banjo Ukes were, of course, no longer available and it was probably for commercial reasons that George, when filming, had to mask the word ‘Ludwig’ on the peghead and the suggestion is that he was promoting the sale of the ‘Dallas’ range of instruments that were of sound construction, were less expensive and were, of course, still in full production during this period. George owned several ‘Dallas’ instruments himself. George ceased the practice of masking the word ‘Ludwig’ on his instrument after a short time. It may be due to using masking tape that tiny piece of pearl inlay is missing between the U and the D. This may have been pulled off when removing the tape. George’s famous Ludwig had been preserved in the same condition that it was in on his death on 6th March 1961. Ownership passed to Pat Howson, George’s fiancé, who put all his instruments up for auction in 1961. However, with some other instruments it was withdrawn and she kept it until the mid ‘60’s when she decided to sell it at auction at ‘Southeby’s’. It was purchased by Rex Blaker of Sheffield and it was not seen again until June 1998 following his death. It came up for auction in Sheffield where it was purchased by a non Formby buyer for £2,700, only to be purchased two weeks later for £3,500 by a GFS member. It was lovingly restored into a playing condition by him and put on display for the first time in the Warrington Museum Exhibition in 1991. It was at this time that George Harrison MBE, of the Beatles, joined the Society and began his collection of Banjo Ukes. He is now the proud owner of George’s Ludwig having paid a rumoured £35,000 for it.
The earliest date that this instrument can be traced to is 1936, six years after manufacture ceased,, when George appeared with it for the filming of ‘Feather Your Nest’. The film was released on the 19th July 1937. The six year gap between the end of manufacture and George first appearing with it suggests that he may have acquired it on his travels, probably second hand. Whatever, the instrument was like new. One rumour is that he bought it from a fellow passenger on board ship.