On this day in history : 6th March 1961 – George Formby, the Ukulele King and one of Britain’s most loved entertainers, dies after suffering a heart attack….

George in France during WW2 – Photo : War Office – Photographer Lt. L A Puttnam – Public domain

George Hoy Booth was born in Wigan, Lancashire on the 26th of May 1904…. His father, James Lawler Booth, was a successful music hall comedian and singer, who performed under the name of George Formby….

Young George did not do so well at school, he failed to learn to read or write…. At the age of seven he was taken out of school and sent to be a stable boy, firstly in Wiltshire and then Yorkshire…. He was then apprenticed to Thomas Scholfield at Epsom and at the age of ten rode in his first professional horse race…. But as he grew it became all too evident he was going to be too heavy to pursue a horse racing career….

George as a jockey, aged 10 in 1915 – Original publication Daily Mirror – Public domain

On the 8th of February 1921 George’s father died of a bronchiole condition…. To help him combat his grief his mother, Eliza, took him to London…. Whilst there they visited the Victoria Palace theatre, where his father had starred….to watch a show by comedian Tommy Dixon – who was performing the late George Formby’s act…. He was even using the same costumes and calling himself ‘The New George Formby’…. George and his mother were furious – and it was then that young George vowed to follow in his father’s footsteps….

On the 21st of March 1921 George gave his first professional performance in a two week run at the Hippodrome, Earlestown, Lancashire…. He used the name ‘Hoy’ – his mother’s maiden name – and was then to go on tour as a support act….

The Burnley News, 1921 – Public domain

In 1923 he began to play the ukulele and introduced it into his act…. As his popularity grew he changed his stage name to George Formby…. In 1934 his film career began…. He was to star in some 21 films, made over 230 records and made hundreds of stage appearances in his career – in his heyday of the 1930s and 40s he was one of the UK’s highest paid stars, earning up to £35k per film…. But for George it wasn’t all about the money – during World War 2 he turned down a lucrative Hollywood deal in order to boost morale by entertaining the troops….

Entertaining the troops in the ruins of a village in Normandy – from the collections of the Imperial War Museums

In early 1952 his health began to decline…. On the 28th of April he suffered a heart attack, for which he was treated and recovered…. He announced his retirement and returned home to Lancashire to recuperate…. During his recuperation he had a run of health issues including gastroenteritis, a suspected blood clot on his lung and had an operation to remove a fish bone stuck in his throat…. However, by April 1953 he felt well enough to make some public appearances, including turning on the Blackpool Illuminations in the September…. By October 1953 he was back working, at the London Palladium….

In February 1961 he suffered a severe heart attack at the home of his fiancée, Patricia Howson; it was an engagement that had surprised the public, as his wife of 36 years had only died two months before it was announced…. On reaching hospital George was given the last rites – but he was revived…. Only on the 6th of March he was to suffer another major heart attack – he died in hospital at the age of 56….

George and his wife on HMS Ambitious, 1944 – Public domain

George had made a new will just a few days before he died – leaving most of his fortune to Patricia – and nothing to his family…. The will was contested and six years of legal dispute followed…. Eventually an out of court settlement was reached; £5k was awarded to his mother and each of his three sisters received £2k…. According to Patricia she had to sell some of the jewellery that George had bought her to pay her legal fees…. She died in 1971, leaving £20k in her will….

George Formby remains today a cult figure around the world ~ “Turned out nice again”….

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