Formby ukulele to go under hammer Instrument owned by music hall star up for auction in Midlands
HE was too saucy for the BBC, songs such as Fanlight Fanny, The Blue-Eyed Blonde Next Door and The Barmaid At The Rose and Crown raising eyebrows.
His biggest hit, When I’m Cleaning Windows, was banned by the Beeb in 1936 because of the line “Ladies nighties I have spied, I’ve often seen what goes inside”.
Now, George Formby has collectors hot under the collar again – as one of his ukuleles could sell for £70,000 at a Midland auction.
The banjolele – it’s officially a banjo ukulele – used to belong to well-known Birmingham bookie Terry Wallins, who snapped it up in 1972.
Mr Wallins was a member of the Birmingham branch of The George Formby Society and was not long leaning on a lamppost when the uke came up for sale.
But now the iconic instrument is back up for grabs and will go under the hammer at Hansons Auctioneers in Derbyshire this Friday.
Described as “the Stradivarius of the ukulele world” the guide price of the Gibson UB3 is from £20,000 to £30,000 but bids are likely to surge beyond that. The last Formby banjolele to sell at auction went for more than £70,000, and was bought by guitar hero Brian May of rock supergroup Queen.
“There is huge interest in this instrument,” says John Croft, former president of the George Formby Society. “George has fans all over the world, young and old. In 2008 Brian May bought a Formby banjolele for £72,000, and the late George Harrison of The Beatles was a big fan. He owned two of Formby’s ukuleles.”
Another fan is Brummie ELO star Jeff Lynne, who used to jam on banjoleles at Harrison’s home and who cites Formby as an early influence.
Mr Croft, who lives in Llanyblodwel, Shropshire, is a ukulele expert and owns two George Formby banjos himself.
“In his heyday in the late 1930s, George Formby earned more than three top Hollywood stars put together – Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks and Clark Gable,” he adds.
“And we should never forget Formby’s contribution to boosting morale among the troops during World War Two. He and his wife Beryl flew out to dangerous war zones, including El Alamein. This country owes a great deal to them both. I hope the instru- ment stays in the UK but the most important thing is that it is loved and played.”
Whoever buys Formby’s Gibson UB3 will also own its original case and clutch of fascinating paraphernalia including receipts, certificates, photographs and magazines.
Derrick Hale, musical instruments specialist at Hansons Auctioneers, says: “It’s an honour to hold this instrument, to feel the power of its previous owner, the connection to all that history. You touch the strings, and it speaks to you.
“As would be expected from Gibson, it’s a banjo ukulele of quality build, projection and clear tone – but it’s the man who played it that makes all the difference.”
Terry Wallins and, centre, Formby’s chauffeur Harry Scott with the banjolele (third from the front) at the original sale >
The banjolele which was once owned by music hall star George Formby, left