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Music / George Formby

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George Formby with the British Army in France, 1940
Last night I went out walking
My intentions were to click
But the sights I saw while walking out
They nearly made me sick
I saw a lot of lovely girls
Attractive little dears
Arm in arm with ugly men
With cauliflower ears

Well, if women like them like men like those
Why don't women like me?

—"Why Don't Women Like Me", 1936.

George Formby OBE (born George Hoy Booth, 26 May 1904 – 6 March 1961) was a Lancastrian singer-songwriter, comic and film star who had his biggest hits in The '30s. 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".
  • "Fuck'em All." No one's quite sure who wrote it, but Formby's recording is the best known to use the original lyrics (although the chorus is sanitized to "Bless'em All").

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". Today his work is championed by Midlands comedian Frank Skinner, who does a spectacularly good impersonation.


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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out: Much to the bafflement of an American audience, one episode of American Dad! sees Director Bollock of the CIA, in his downtime in between interviews, pick up a ukelele and perform "When I'm Cleaning Windows". Patrick Stewart even performs this in his native broad Yorkshire accent. Which must really bemuse Americans.
  • 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?"

Turned out nice again!

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