George Formby OBE
was a Lancastrian
singer-songwriter, comic and film star who had his biggest hits in The Thirties
. Real name George Hoy Booth, he inherited the stage name from his father, who was a music hall comic. He often mixed comedy into his songs together with a healthy dose of Getting Crap Past the Radar
. His signature musical instrument was the ukulele, or 'uke' for short.
His most famous songs are probably:
- "Leaning On A Lamp Post"
- "The Window Cleaner" (title universally mistaken as "When I'm Cleaning Windows").
- The "Mr Wu" songs, including "Chinese Laundry Blues", the World War II-themed "Mr Wu Is Now An Air Raid Warden" and "Mr Wu Is In The Air Force", and "Mr Wu's A Window Cleaner Now".
He lived on the Isle of Man for many years and died young at the age of 56 in 1961. The next year, The Beatles
would rise to prominence; George Harrison
was a fan of Formby's and often put references to him in his songs, most notably at the end of the Beatles reunion piece "Free as a Bird".
His works contain examples of:
- Chinese Launderer: Mr Wu started out as owning a Chinese Laundry in Limehouse (a district of London where many Chinese immigrants settled in the 19th and early 20th centuries and where such laundries were associated with) but later moved on to greater things.
- Dawson Casting: Referenced in "The Window Cleaner":
She's more like eighty than eighteen!
When I'm cleaning windows!
- Double Entendre: Constantly. Probably the most blatant examples are in "With My Little Ukulele In My Hand" and "With My Little Stick Of Blackpool Rock". The latter was actually banned by The BBC in 1937 for its suggestive lyrics.
- Fair for Its Day: The "Mr Wu" songs have some dodgy lyrics for today, but at the time nobody else would have made songs about a Chinese immigrant—at least not portraying him in a sympathetic light. Especially noteworthy as the original "Mr Wu" was a Yellow Peril villain from a play in the 1910s who was taken up as a recurring character in music hall; Formby used the name for the recognition, but not much else.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Legendarily so. For example, in "The Window Cleaner":
"Honeymooning couples too, you should see them bill and coo
You'd be surprised they things they do, when I'm cleaning windows
The blushing bride she looks divine, the bridegroom he is doing fine
I'd rather have his job than mine, when I'm cleaning windows!"
- I Meant to Do That: "Sitting On The Ice In The Ice Rink" is based on this trope—it's George insisting that, no, he hasn't fallen while skating, he likes sitting on the ice in the ice rink with his skates on.
- Inherently Funny Words: One reason why he often mentioned his ukulele in the words of his songs.
- Last-Second Word Swap and Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: Fond of using these.
"Oh Mr Wu, he's got a naughty eye that flickers
You ought to see it wobble when he's ironing ladies'...blouses"
- Another example:
"We landed home at half past two, I rang the front door bell,
The wife said "Where've you been?" and I said "You can go to...bed!"
- Lyrical Dissonance: A few of his songs have Tear Jerker lyrics (such as "Mother What'll I Do Now?" and "As The Hours And The Days And The Weeks And The Months") but they are coupled to his usual upbeat tunes.
- Medley: His "British Isles Medley", which is a medley of patriotic and regional songs from across the United Kingdom (such as "Ilkley Moor Bah T'at" for Yorkshire and "Men of Harlech" for Wales). He later did an "American Medley" that did the same thing for the United States.
- Nonindicative Name: His song about the Isle of Man, which makes puns on the fact that Formby sings its praises because it's full of easy women.
- Patriotic Fervour: Sort of averted, as he made patriotic songs during World War II but they were just as comedic as his usual fare.
- Precision F-Strike: When touring South Africa in 1946, Formby performed at both white and black venues. The leader of the apartheid-promoting National Party, Daniel Mahan, personally called to berate his manager (and wife). Beryl Formby is said to have responded, "Why don't you piss off, you horrible little man?" (ref)
- Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman: Formby appears in the Thursday Next novels, having led the British Resistance after the Nazi invasion (Alternate History) and, after the liberation, becoming President-for-Life of England. "When I'm Cleaning Windows" becomes the new national anthem.
- Sequel: Many of his songs have sequels, most notably the 'Mr Wu' series.
- Sound Effect Bleep: One of the first to do the musical version:
"They told me they would treat me swell, tucked inside my little cell
But up to now it's been like h(LOUD NOTE)! Mother what'll I do now?"