Formby ukulele to go un­der ham­mer In­stru­ment owned by mu­sic hall star up for auc­tion in Mid­lands

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Paul Cole Pront Edi­tor

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

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