George Formby’s family joined an auction battle to buy important memorabilia relating to the star and his father George Formby Snr – and ‘It’s Turned Out Nice Again’ as they secured four important lots.
The family fought off stiff competition to obtain items from a major private collection of Formby memorabilia which went under the hammer at Hansons Auctioneers on May 21.
It included two of Formby’s iconic instruments, family photos, a scrapbook, personal letters, a film script, a life-size model of Formby, his prayer book and material relating to his father, George Formby Snr, who was also a famous comedian and singer.
Scores of phone and internet bidders registered to bid on the Formby nostalgia with one lot selling for 16 times its estimate and another for 10 times its estimate. In total, the collection achieved a hammer price of £38,860 and all 13 lots sold. Formby’s Banjo ukuleles made £11,000 and £10,500 respectively.
And watching every step of the way was Pamela Bailey, Formby’s niece, and her children Melanie and Michael Smith, from Portsmouth, who were bidding on her behalf.
Pamela remembered seeing George at family parties as a child and also attended his funeral in Warrington in 1961.
Michael said: “George died before we were born but he was our great uncle. Our grandmother, Ella, was his sister. She went to live in America and we remember when she was flown back to the UK some years ago to appear on a South Bank Show documentary about George. That’s what initially sparked our interest in one of the lots.
“We wanted to buy these items for our mother and as part of our family heritage to pass on through the generations. We’re all extremely proud of George. We want our children and grandchildren to know they’re related to one of the UK’s greatest and, at one time, best paid entertainers as well as to George Formby senior, our great grandfather, who was a star in his own right too.
“Not a week goes by when we don’t see Formby referenced in the press or elsewhere. We know the Queen is also a big fan. A couple of years ago his last song, Happy Go Lucky Me, was in a Jamie Oliver advert for Sainsbury’s. He put a smile on everyone faces.”
Thanks to the auction, Pamela and her family now have some important heirlooms to cherish. Purchases included lot 176 (£340), an archive relating to the South Bank Show. They also purchased lot 174 (£1,000), memorabilia relating to George Formby Snr (1875-1921). It included a manuscript sheet of song titles written by him, 'Songs for Records for 1920, all cut & dried & ready for making'. The family also snapped up Lot 179A (£1,500), another archive of relating to George Formby Snr.
George Formby Snr
And George Formby Jnr is now set to appear at all future family gatherings thanks to their successful bid on lot 179, a full-size model of Formby which sold for £420.
“We would have gone a bit further on this one,” confessed Michael, who found out about the sale just a couple of days prior to the auction thanks to national press coverage.
He said: “We would really love to own one of his ukuleles too, and his OBE. We wanted to bid on the ukuleles but the prices go up and up. We would hope we can acquire a George Formby ukulele one day.”
Jim Spencer, associate director at Hansons, said: “It was quite an emotional day. People bidding for Formby items love the man, his music and everything he represents – a true Brit full of Lancashire grit who lightened lives with his comical songs and wit. I am delighted members of his family will be reunited with parts of his remarkable archive.
Born in Wigan, Lancashire, in 1904 Formby, an actor, singer-songwriter and comedian, won worldwide fame through films made in the 1930s and 40s. He was said to embody Lancashire, the working classes and the nation.
Hansons expected strong interest in his two banjo ukuleles.One, lot 168, was the first ukulele to be played by Formby in film Off the Dole, released in 1935. It still has rub marks on the back caused by Formby's buttons. It sold for £11,000.
Formby fans also fought to own his Dallas Model C banjo ukulele (lot 169) which reached £10,500. Complete with original case, it bears the words, 'Uke in D, Low' written by Formby to identify the correct instrument as he didn't read music.
Other memorabilia included a novelty table lamp modelled as Formby leaning on a lamp post. It was given to George by Noel Gay, who wrote Leaning on a Lamp-post. It sold for £4,000.
Lot 171, Formby’s personal scrapbook recording his 1947 tour of Australia made £2,400 from a £1,000-£1,500 guide price; his original shooting script from Let George Do It! dated November 7, 1939, estimate £40-£60 (lot 173) made £650 and lot 177, unpublished family photos showing George and wife Beryl plus postcards, a George Formby funeral card and two British Film Institute movie reels made £950 from an estimate £40-£60.
Meanwhile lot 175, 200-300 original assignment letters addressed to Formby including contracts relating to famous songs, estimate £200-£300, was contested to £3,000. This included a letter from Formby addressed to Gifford and Cliffe, July 12, 1936, which reads 'Dear lads, Very many thanks for your song but I am very sorry to have to send it back to you as it is really too blue, you are getting too much on the sex stuff, try and clean it up a bit ...’
One of the most touching items in the sale was lot 172, Formby’s Book of Common Prayer in which he wrote ‘Yours in faith, George Formby, 1941’. Together with a Programme of the Good Samaritan, London Coliseum, Saturday evening, October 11, 1913, it sold for £900 from an estimate of £50-£70.
Mr Spencer said: “We were extremely proud to sell this important collection and hope we have honoured George Formby and his father’s legacy.”
Hansons has a strong track record with Formby finds. In 2017, it sold a George Formby banjolele for £28,500.
The George Formby Collection sold in Hansons’ May 21 Library Auction.
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