Comedy legend George Formby's ukuleles to go under the hammer

He was called George and he loved George Formby; so much so that he bought seven ukuleles, including two used by the Wigan-born comedy legend.
George Formby playing a banjoleleGeorge Formby playing a banjolele
George Formby playing a banjolele

George Johnson, who died last summer at the age of 91, amassed a huge array of Formby memorabilia over 60 years including a uke used by the star in the film that launched his career in 1934, Boots! Boots!

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Formby performed three songs with it including Why Don’t Women Like Me?

The film, shot on a budget of £3,000 and made in a one-room studio in Albany Street, London, took £80,000 at the box office and catapulted Formby to fame. It led to 11 more films, two more of which featured the Keech ukulele up for sale. By 1939 the Lancashire lad was the UK’s best paid entertainer.

Mr Johnson also owned a Dallas model D ukulele-banjo used on stage by Formby which he bought direct from the star’s wife, Beryl Formby, in 1952 - with handwritten correspondence from her to prove it.

Both instruments will go under the hammer at Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers on March 19. The one used on stage has an estimate of £10,000 to £12,000 while the one used in films has a guide price of £5,000 to £7,000 - but both could make much more. In 2017, a George Formby banjolele sold for £28,500 at Hansons.

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Mr Johnson’s other vintage ukes and Formby memorabilia, including 78rpm records, videos, cassettes, magazines, sheet music and more, will also be sold.

Claire Howell, music memorabilia expert at Hansons, said: “This collection is extraordinary. Mr Johnson must have been one of George Formby’s biggest fans – if not the biggest. To own two of his ukuleles and correspond with his wife shows he went the extra mile to celebrate his admiration for one of Britain’s biggest stars.

“Mr Johnson was meticulous in that he kept all his paperwork and documents relating to his acquisitions. For any Formby fan this is a golden opportunity.

“The ukulele used on stage was sold to him by Beryl in 1952 while the instrument used in the film Boots! Boots! was purchased for £8 in 1961 from a woman who bought it at the famous Beryldene auction at St Anne’s, near Blackpool, that same year.”

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Beryldene was the Formbys’ final home. Beryl died in 1960 and George passed away soon after in 1961. The auction occurred because George’s family opposed his final will. A few weeks before his death, he became engaged to school teacher Pat Howson and left the Formby fortune almost intact to her.

However, for Gateshead man George Johnson and his family it was the music, the man and the ukuleles that filled their lives with Formby memories.

His son Mike Johnson, a retired electronic engineer from Staffordshire, grew up listening to Formby’s music.

The memorabilia will be sold at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire. Entries invited until March 1. To find out more, email [email protected].