George Formby: The Biography (2016)

This highly controversial and compelling biography of George Formby present a very different Formby from the one known to his many fans. His life was fiercely dominated by his wife Beryl, a woman who was single-handedly responsible for his tremendous success as Britain's greatest male entertainer. Bret explores George and Beryl's public and private lives and the results are frequently shocking. There were secret love affairs, they hated their fellow stars and loathed George's family. Bret also describes the sacrifices they made and the danger they put themselves in whilst raising thousands of pounds for the war effort. He also lifts the lid on their controversial trip to South Africa, where they became fervent denouncers of Apartheid and received death threats. Formby's 22 films are fully analysed along with his songs, and the book contains detailed appendices of these and a full discography.

Introduction to the revised edition

The actress Thora Hird declared that he had been sent by God. Such was the devotion of his fans that over 100,000 of them turned up at his funeral. His record compilations, though dated and with many songs over-released, still outsell those of any other nostalgia artiste. His films, complete with their poor continuity and corny dialogue, represent the very best of British family humour.

George Formby successfully transcended every class barrier and was equally at home entertaining royalty in the most opulent surroundings as crawling through the mire, risking life and limb to cheer the lads at the Front. He brought joy to millions worldwide, yet never achieved lasting personal happiness. Throughout his career his loyalties were tested and torn between a grasping family he had been conditioned into respecting—but which he only ended up loathing—and a near-psychotic wife who made much of his private life a misery, yet without whose nagging and shrewd business sense he almost certainly would not have made it to the top.

On stage and screen, George Formby rapidly established himself as the seemingly inarticulate little man who nevertheless triumphs over adversity to ultimately prove that he is by no means as gormless as one has assumed—armed with the weapons of his particular trade: a clutch of catchy songs, a huge toothy grin, and a charisma which unequivocally placed him above all his contemporaries.

“I wasn’t very good, but I had something the public seemed to want,” he once said of himself. He was, of course, selling himself short. George Formby remains the ultimate all-round genius, a blazing lodestar of talent which will never be replaced.