Beryl Formby (1901 to 25th December 1960)

 

George Formby was one of the biggest film stars in British history and when he died over 100,000 people lined the streets to see him pass by. He’d never have reached stardom without his battle-axe wife Beryl who was the Rolls Royce engine behind him. Here I am at “Beryledene” on the inner promenade at Lytham where she died; also at the nearby crematorium where she was cremated. After she died George confessed she’d made his life hell but he didn’t last long without her and died of a heart attack just eight weeks later.

 

Beryl wasn’t always his no-nonsense manager and was in show business herself originally - one half of the Two Violet dancers with her sister May. She met George in 1923 when he was beginning to make a name for himself as a comedian. They married soon after in September 1924. Beryl was an on-stage partner with George for about 9 years before stepping out of the limelight to become his manager. Manage she did - she didn’t mind offending people and was a ruthless negotiator where fees were concerned. She masterminded George’s meteoric rise to fame and glorious riches. George wasn’t as gormless as the parts he played in films but he wasn’t far off: there was  little to his personality and he couldn’t read or write well. Beryl would have had to teach him an entire film script, line by line and be on set with him. He wouldn’t - couldn’t - go through the script with actors as he couldn’t read properly. It was the same with the songs. Though a wizard with the ukelele he wasn’t good with scripts and songs on paper. He’d use certain ukeleles for certain songs with “HI’ or ‘LOW’ notes written on them. Wherever George went Beryl went too - even to the front lines when they toured extensively with ENSA to entertain troops during the Second World War. George was awarded the OBE for this work and was upset that Beryl received no recognition.

 

You have to lavish this woman with credit. George could barely cope without her guiding him through the practicalities of the day. Even though she’s usually cast as a harridan she was devoted to him and committed to lifting him to the top. Through the 1930s and 40s this working class hero was demanding what equates to £1.4 million/year today thanks to Beryl’s hard-nosed negotiating. She was the best manager George could have and took confrontation on the chin on his behalf, ensuring his innocent image remained intact (the Queen loved him so much she almost became the President of the George Formby Appreciation Society.) If George didn’t like an actor he’d complain to Beryl and they were soon gone. He often said he couldn’t buy a round of drinks because “Beryl only gives me five shillings pocket money a day” but he was tight-fisted. She did keep him on a tight leash though - no mixing with the leading actresses, no kissing in the films, no socialising with the ladies, no going out for long on his own. Beryl took the blows and wintry looks while protecting George’s unblemished reputation.

 

Their complex relationship was full of love, devotion and frustration. If George couldn’t stand it any longer he could have divorced Beryl at any time and still remained a rich man. He was the UK’s highest paid performer for years commanding £35,000 per performance even then. There weren’t any children to worry about. They remained married for 36 years. Perhaps he knew he owed her everything.

 

In the 1950's George’s star lost some of its sparkle. He became depressed and was addicted to morphine prescribed for his heart condition. Beryl was diagnosed with cancer and became slightly alcoholic. The end of the golden days end was brewing. I’m stood outside their last home where Beryl died of leukaemia on Christmas Day 1960 aged 59 (probably in the upstairs front bedroom.) George wasn’t there. He was in Bristol performing in Aladdin when he took a call from Beryl’s doctor saying she was in a coma and didn’t have long. Two hours later he went ahead with the performance and was told on Boxing Day that Beryl had died.

 

Here I am at the pretty Lytham Cemetery where Beryl was cremated only two days after her death on Tuesday 27th December 1960. Afterwards George returned to Bristol to appear in that matinee performance of Aladdin (continuing to do so for about three weeks.) Cruelly he betrayed Beryl’s memory twice: (1) saying publically that they hadn’t lived as husband and wife for years as she made him miserable and (2) announcing his engagement to school teacher Pat Howson just seven weeks after Beryl’s death (she was 20 years his junior.) Perhaps a disdained Beryl – who had turned George from amateur performer to a music-hall genius - was looking down on events as George died of a heart attack three weeks after the announcement. Beryl’s ashes were scattered in the rose garden. She’d gone a long way from clog dancer to star maker.

 

The link to George Formby’s death is here:- http://johnhalley.uk/BP%20-%20George%20Formby.htm

 

 

 

Beryl died here on Christmas Day 1960…

 

 

 

 

 

Looking left…

 

…and looking right…

 

 

At the crematorium where Beryl was cremated and her ashes were scattered…

 

Pointing to the crematorium where the service was held…

 

 

 

I’ve been here before. Got to say hello to Arthur Evans, Victoria Cross recipient…