George Formby, Sr.


George Formby, Sr.

Infobox Comedian
name = George Formby, Sr.


birth_name = James Booth
birth_date = birth date|1875|10|4|mf=y
birth_place = Ashton-under-Lyne, England
death_date = death date and age|1921|2|8|1875|10|4|mf=y
death_place = Stockton Heath, Warrington, England
medium = Comedian,
Singer-songwriter
spouse = Eliza Hoy (1899–1921)
nationality = British

George Formby, Sr. (October 4, 1875 – February 8 1921) was the father of George Formby, Jr., and a star in his own right. He performed in the Edwardian music halls. Singing in a sardonic, naive but somehow knowing style, plagued by ill-health (he made light of his tuberculosis) he was one of the highest paid entertainers of his day.

Biography

George Formby, (later George Formby Senior) was the stage name of James Booth, who was born 4 October, 1875 at 26 Hodgson Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. His mother, Sarah Jane Booth, was a poor, working class girl who was unmarried at the time of his birth. She married James' father Francis Lawler a few months after the birth. The marriage was turbulent, and young James was often beaten and malnourished. His mother used to sing at pubs for alcoholic drinks and was often taken off to the police station to sober up. Because his mother was so often absent from home, young James Booth had to sleep outside the house, in the doorway, or in the lavatory. Because of this, he started to develop asthma, became very susceptible to bronchitis and developed tuberculosis.

Later on in his life, he reflected on his life as a child; “My childhood was the most miserable that could have happened to any human being.” At the age of seven years, James ran away from home and started work in a steel foundry around Wigan. At about thirteen, left and made a partnership with another boy of about the same age, and together, they formed the Brothers Glenray, “the songbirds of the music halls”. They travelled around the ale-houses in Wigan singing sentimental tear-jerkers to earn a basic living.

By the time a few years had passed, the Brothers Glenray were singing in proper music halls and doing quite well. However, it all seemed to fall apart when their voices started to break. They found that they were getting more laughter than applause for their efforts, so they decided to break the partnership. James decided to take advantage of this, and he started singing comic songs to the tunes of Methodist hymns.

According to legend, James adopted the name George Formby in the late 1890s, when he was waiting for a train. He was sitting on the platform when he saw a goods train on its way to Formby, a small town near Southport, Lancashire. He decided that the name George would go well with this, because it was a common name at the time, and so he became George Formby until his death in 1921.

In 1899, he met and married Eliza Hoy, who supported and encouraged him in all that he did, and gave their home a more pleasant atmosphere. She would also make dresses when George's bookings were low. They had twelve children, of whom seven survived. The eldest, George Hoy Booth (George Formby, Jr.), went on to achieve fame as an entertainer himself, noted for playing the ukulele.

George Formby's comedy act was pretty much that of a clown; he would dress up in baggy clothes and large boots worn on the wrong feet, a trademark for which Charlie Chaplin later became famous. In between acts and songs, Formby would jump down off the stage, and chat with people in the audience, as though he was having a drink with them.

In 1900, George Robey recommended him to the owner of a music hall in London, and after this, George topped the bill until after his death. His act was very simple; he would introduce himself by saying things like “Good evening, I'm Formby fra' Wiggin, I've not been in England long”, which emphasized the fact that he was not one of the high-class performers that people were used to. People did not care - they loved his act and his songs, and he became one of the biggest music hall stars of all time, along with others such as Harry Champion.

George was one of the first people to be invited to make records, but he spent the entire duration of the recording time talking to the phonograph, trying to decide what to perform. Nonetheless, he went on to make around 180 records, which was very prolific for that period. He was one of very few who had no problems performing for an invisible audience. He would sing his song, and then go on to talk to the listener, saying things like “Y'know, that fella be'ind that's, err, recordin' this now, y'know they call 'im Syncopation George. I think it's ragtime, I don't know what to call 'im, I think I'll call 'im a parasite! Oh, no... come on, say that's an insect, I don't know but I'll enquire it about it...”

George had, over his career, developed chronic bronchitis and tuberculosis, because of how ill-treated and malnourished he had been as a child, and he would have a violent coughing fit while on stage. Although it was very painful for him, and would eventually be what killed him, he just explained it away while getting out a 'strengthenin' bottle,' or a jar of ZamBuk, another thing for which he was famous, and would joke about it, saying things like “That was a good cough, best one I've done this year. I'll cough anybody 'ere for five shillin's. And I'll give'm five coughs up to start with. Nobody accept me challenge? Right ...” This was one of the things that his audiences could relate to, because a number of them would go on to die of the same conditions.

When he started working in London around 1900, he was earning about £3 per week, equivalent to about £180 per week today. By the time he died, he was earning nearly one-hundred-and-seventeen times that.

George Formby (Senior) owned a string of racehorses, and it was because of this that his son, George Formby (Junior), starred in his first film, 'By the Shortest of Heads,' of which, sadly, no known copies still exist. Towards the end of his career, he intended to retire from music-hall performing, and settle down, starting a racehorse training school, with George Junior and himself as instructors. He also played in pantomime.

Death

It was at a pantomime performance in Newcastle that he fell gravely ill with a chest complaint, and collapsed on stage. He was taken home and carefully nursed by Eliza, but to no avail. George Formby (Senior) died in February 1921, aged 44 or 45, leaving over £21,000 in his will (equivalent to about £667,686 in 2008 value [http://www.measuringworth.com/ppoweruk/result.php?use%5B%5D=CPI&year_early=1921&pound71=21000&shilling71=&pence71=&amount=21000&year_source=1921&year_result=2008 RPI calculation Value of £21,000 in 2008] ), and a date book which had been booked solidly for the next five years.

Notes

External links

* [http://www.rfwilmut.clara.net/musichll/xformby.html www.rfwilmut.clara.net/musichll/xformby.html] - Includes recordings of his music.
* [http://www.monkey-hole.co.uk/formby_senior/ The George Formby Senior page] - Biography, pictures and recordings of George Formby Senior, and some transcribed lyrics.


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