When Wigan's naughty George Formby was banned by BBC

Our top columnist Geoffrey Shryhane looks back at a time when they lyrics of When I'm Cleaning Windows were too rude to be broadcast...

Thursday, 7th March 2019, 11:17 am
Updated Friday, 5th April 2019, 3:44 pm
Geoffrey Shryhane
Geoffrey Shryhane

The country mourned in the first months of 1961 when, on the verge of finding happiness in a second marriage, George Formby died of a heart attack.

I’ve never understood why his death received so little coverage in this newspaper. No more than a couple of hundred words. No pictures.

It’s true, George had to some extent disappeared from the entertainment scene because of ill health. But forgotten he was not.

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Dead now for almost 60 years, the legend of Formby is alive and kicking, with societies devoted to him all over the country.

And the Wigan Ukalele Society is also keeping his memory alive.

On a TV tribute show a couple of weeks ago Our George was mentioned with warm words… they even had a few seconds of film showing the old Formby home at 3 Westminster Street. Long demolished, it was in the shadow of Central Park.

Formby’s songs – corny and bright – were the top of the pops of their day. But I never knew that some were considered “too rude” and were banned from the airwaves by the BBC.

They talked about “saucy innuendo” and “double meanings”.

We all know that the ditties were totally innocent. Yes, we know now. But what about the people living in George’s era in the 1920s?

It wasn’t long after the days when folks used to cover up the legs of furniture to avoid offending.

The lyrics of the banned songs were suitably altered, and George could rest easy again. The BBC exercised sky-high moral standards and to them, George’s songs were too cheeky by half.

These included “With my Little Stick of Blackpool Rock” and “When I’m cleaning windows”.

The BBC banned both.

In the Blackpool Rock song, they objected to the lines: “With my little stick of Blackpool rock, along the promenade I go. Stroll in the ballroom I went every night. No wonder every girl I danced with me stuck to me so tight.”

Whoops…but doesn’t it seem innocent by today’s standards?

And the “Cleaning Windows” song hit trouble with the line about seeing ladies in bed.

Things like this make you realise how we live in a vastly changed world.