George Formby Sr
George Formby was an English comedian and singer in musical theatre. He was one of the greatest music hall performers of the early 20th century. His comedy played upon Lancashire stereotypes, and he was popular around Britain. His act, and one of his costumes and canes, inspired Charlie Chaplin in the formation of his character the Tramp.
About George Formby Sr in brief
George Formby was an English comedian and singer in musical theatre. He was one of the greatest music hall performers of the early 20th century. His comedy played upon Lancashire stereotypes, and he was popular around Britain. His act, and one of his costumes and canes, inspired Charlie Chaplin in the formation of his character the Tramp. Formby’s son also used parts of his father’s act when starting his stage career and, once established, also changed his name to George Formby. He died of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1921 at the early age of 45, and is buried in Wigan, Lancs. He left formal education at the age of eight or nine, and did not learn to read until well into his teenage years. His mother was an alcoholic and part-time prostitute, and during much of his youth he was maltreated. To earn money he would sing for pennies on street corners, before he joined a singing duo in his teens. His health had always been poor, but a stage accident in 1916 weakened his lungs and he suffered increasingly for the next few years, reducing his ability to perform. He also had a successful recording career and made the transition from music hall to revue in 1916. His son went on to become the top British male star in box office takings between 1937 and 1943, and was billed as George Booth until 1897. He changed his stage name in 1897, when he first used his new name in Birkenhead, while George Robey was chosen in honour of the theatre manager of the Argyle Theatre.
One of the earliest characters he developed was ‘John Willie’, the archetypal gormless Lancashire lad … hen-pecked, accident-prone, but muddling through. The family’s poverty worsened when, in October 1890, Francis Lawler, a coal miner, was not named on the birth certificate; six months after the birth of their son, the couple married, both aged about 19. The marriage was turbulent, and Form by was often neglected, mistreated and suffered malnourishment. His father died from pulmonary tuberculosis, and his mother was frequently absent from home, and often detained overnight at the local police station, as a result he developed asthma and became susceptible to bronchitis. In his later years he recalled that his \”childhood was the most miserable as ever fell to the lot of a human creature\”. He was the illegitimate and only child of Sarah Jane Booth, a poor, illiterate cotton weaver, and sang on street corner for coppers. He built up a large fan base in Lancashhire. By 1896 he was buying and collecting comic songs and securing the singing rights for his assignment on a railway carriage. It is rumoured to have picked his new surname after seeing it as a main destination on a main railway carriage, but sources agree this story is likely to be apocryphal.