James Lawler Booth Aka George Formby snr

George Formby Sr 1919

George Formby Snr was born James Lawler Booth was born in Ahton Under Lyne, Lancashire, England on the 4th October 1875, He was the only child of Sarah Jane Booth a poor cotton weaver and six months after his birth she married his father Francis Lawler, The marriage was turbulent and James was often neglected and mistreated because Sarah was absent from home as she was often detained by the police for being a lady of the night. James also spent most nights on the streets and as a result he developed Asthma and was Susceptible to Bronchitis.

Leaving school at the young age of 9 it was well into his teenage years before he learned to read and write. He sang in street corners until he secured a job at a cotton mill and spent 2yrs as a Loom builder then singing in pubs at night. It was then he joined up with another boy to form The Glenray Brothers. The Act continued till James’s boy soprano voice broke, after which the pair separarted.

James began developing his own stage act in the 1890’s and had a fan base across Lancashire, Devising several characters and composed many comic songs for each character. He was billed as J.H Booth until 1897 when he changed his stage name to George Formby.

In 1902 Formby performed in London for the 1st time playing the Royal Albert Music Hall for £3 a week, Formby soon moved to The London Pavilion, It was here that he met Marie Lloyd (a music hall singer) who recommended him to the Tivoli Music Hall wo gave him a ten week run. In 1905 Formby performed the lead role in Newcastle Pantomime at a salary of £35 per week, he was able to earn £325 by 1920.

George Formby snr 1921

In March 1914 Formby appeared in No Fool like an Old Fool, a 20-minute-long silent comedy film, which is thought to be lost; it was his only film appearance, and little is known about the plot or his character. When the First World War broke out in August that year, he tried to enlist, but was turned down on medical grounds; instead he, like many music hall stars, was active in the recruiting campaign for the army and spoke at rallies, particularly on behalf of the Derby Scheme.

George Formby poster

In early 1921 Formby was appearing at the Newcastle Empire in Jack and Jill when he collapsed after a show. He returned to his home near Warrington, where he died of pulmonary tuberculosis on 8 February, at the age of 45. He was buried in a family plot in the Catholic section of  Warrington Cemetary.

George Formby

Six weeks after Formby's death, his son George first appeared on stage in a copy of his father's act; he initially appeared under the name George Hoy—using his mother's maiden name—but soon took his father's stage name. Formby Jr went on to become the top British male star in box office takings between 1937 and 1943, and the highest-paid entertainer in Britain.

formby memorial

In October 1922 a large marble memorial was unveiled at the site of Formby's grave, in the presence of Formby Jr, Eliza and a large crowd. The memorial later became the resting place for both the younger Formby and Eliza. In June 2012 a blue plaque was unveiled at Hodgson Street, Ashton, Formby's birthplace.

George Formby Blue Plaque

Extract taken from the History of Lodge Dramatic No.571.

In 1904, it is recorded that Mr James Booth, a music-hall artiste from Lancashire, became a life member of the Lodge, his stage name was George Formby. He was the father of the more well-known musical entertainer.

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