Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Greg Lemarchal: Seven Years Today


Seven years today since Greg left us. We will never stop loving him. Bisous, mon ange! 

Twitter Does Sometimes Get It Right

It was Andy Warhol who said that most people would get their 15 minutes of fame. Twitter changed all of that. Now, nonentities and cowards--that's how I view most of those striking out and within the space of 140 characters trying to disrupt and ruin lives, while being too gutless to use their own names. I guess anyone who has achieved any degree of success has had to suffer at the hands of these vehement cretins who use attacking us as an excuse for their own persistent and ongoing failures. They may boast of their achievements, but in the real world they don't have any.
I'll clear up the Max Clifford thing, to begin with, to satisfy the person (name and address withheld) who bombasts me on a daily basis under the tag...yes, you've guessed it right..."Anonymous".
When I was interviewed by the press I was told that there was a 90% chance of this one turning sour. It did, and I am happy with the way the investigation concluded. The downside is that he has a lot of names in his portfolio, which suggests there could soon be a few private planes standing by on runways, or a few more first class seats booked on Eurostar. But, the press were still WRONG to name Clifford, at a time when no one knew if he was guilty or not, and they still would not have named his accusers had he been found innocent, and had it emerged that they had made up stories. Therefore, "Anonymous", my original comments stand.
The murder of Anne McGuire shocked a nation. I have read nothing but praise about this lady. And as there were so many witnesses to the crime, despite the media reports of "a 15-year-old boy who may not be named for legal reasons", his name and photographs are all over Twitter, along with demands to bring back capital punishment. I agree. This is not a case of "may have". He took a knife into school, and he killed someone. Mr Pierrepoint's successor should be employed at once. This boy's Facebook page is still open, and the images are unsettling, to say the least.
And on the subject of capital punishment. How sad that an execution went wrong in America last night, and the "poor chap" suffered a heart-attack and died. My heart bleeds.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Yorkist Kings & The Wars of the Roses: RICHARD III


This one has been a long time coming--you could say the only person I was ever really fanatical about, as I never have the time to have one subject on the brain 24/7. It's unhealthy, and unsavoury. I have always been
100% pro-Ricardian, and finding his remains and stating that they were Richard's--on my mother's birthday,
last year, was one of the happiest days of my life.

There has been renewed interest in Richard III since the discovery of his remains beneath a Leicester car park in the autumn of 2012. Part of the mystery was solved on 4 February 2013, when it was revealed that he was not the diminutive, hunchbacked monster of Tudor myth, but a tall (for his time), good-looking man who suffered from scoliosis of the spine, a condition which would not have been noticed as he went about everyday life. If the Tudor propagandists perpetrated this myth—their theory being that to sanitize Henry VII, it was necessary to blacken the name of his predecessor—what else was made up? Richard remains the most controversial monarch to have occupied the British throne. During his brief reign he was loved and respected by his subjects. His fighting skills were second to none: his loyalty towards his brother, Edward IV, cannot be disputed. From an early age he was compelled to find his own way in life in a violence-orientated world: the brooding archetypal loner who, even when he acquired power, still preferred the quiet Yorkshire countryside to the artificialities of the royal court, where no man was trusting of his fellow. Edward IV’s sudden death plunged England into chaos.  Richard, named by him as Protector of his young sons, Edward V and Richard of York, was faced with the dilemma that England would again succumb to the anarchy brought about by the last royal minority—that of Henry VI. He was also faced with the rapaciousness of the boys’ family, the much-hated Woodvilles. The boys were placed within the Tower, but were never seen again, setting in motion a mystery which has never been solved. Did Richard kill his nephews, or were they dispatched by the Duke of Buckingham, or by Henry Tudor and his scheming mother, Margaret Beaufort? What was the true nature of the relationship between Richard and Buckingham? Was Buckingham hoping to use “bromance” as a means of ensnaring Richard to be used as a scapegoat for the heinous crime he was about to perpetrate? Or was Richard simply too trusting, caught out when he was at his weakest—mourning a brother he had adored? The fact that he still has many thousands of devoted supporters, more than 500 years after his death, only points to the fact that Richard III was more than just a king. He was a legend.
    




Saturday, 26 April 2014

Gabriel Garko IS Rudolph Valentino: Beauty Unlimited


When my biography of Valentino was first optioned for a film, then moved to the next stage, two names were put forward to play him on the screen. One was Gabriel Garko, whom I initially thought a little too old, and who I had raved about in "Forever Callas". Garko had no problems with the man-to-man love scenes. There's no sex in the screenplay, and only the very briefest brushing of lips--it's not necessary to see Rudy and his lovers "in action", as romance is the order of the day. Films take an age to develop. We still have our Rambova and Nazimova in reserve, but so far no Valentino or André Daven, the great love of his life. There was a young Argentinian actor, but he has moved on to a different vocation.

Having seen most of "The Legend Of Rudy", its provisional English title when it is dubbed for English-speaking audiences, I am impressed. The ending is naff, I have to admit, as it has him dropping dead in the recording studio while performing a Milva song. The rest of the film is what one comes to expect with today's biopics and television movies. In "La Vie En Rose" there was no mention of the war, and neither of Piaf's husbands were seen. In "Robin Hood" we had a black Friar Tuck, and a black actress played Guinevere in "Merlin". It's all to do with equality, and I agree that it's a good thing. One of the staunchest critics of the Garko film is Sabrina Ferelli, so I here--whose interpretation of Dalida left much to be desired, though the chap playing Luigi Tenco (a role Garko allegedly turned down) is inspiring.  

On the other side of the coin, still with the Valentino film, there is now interest in committing his fictional nemesis, Nancy Sphinctergritzel, to celluloid. Just how that one will pan out amuses me, as we Brits (and we Frenchies, as I am both and have a dual passport) love nothing more than spoofs. We gave the world Spitting Image" and "Monty Python", therefore a one-eyed, tattooed, metal-pierced centenarian nymphomaniac with one leg shorter than the other might just go down a treat. All we need is a 75-pound Dandy Nichols-style actress to play her! The family are displeased, but when did I ever care about them!

As for Mr Garko, I feel that I owe him an apology for doubting him in what could well be the defining role of his career. He was certainly made very welcome in Valentino's home town a few weeks ago--and if they're as proud of him as they were of their boy, that's good enough for me!



Friday, 25 April 2014

George Formby: A Troubled Genius Revised Edition 2014


Available immediately as print or download from Lulu.
Available everywhere else in around four weeks!
Turned out nice again!








Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Vijender Sigh: A Man Worth His Weight In Gold


Friend, relative, lover or just fan, a man one can look up to and admire. More than a friend, a great and worthy humanist. But how many prejudices does he attract from bigots?

Friday, 18 April 2014

George Formby: A Troubled Genius Revised Re-Issue


In this revised edition of the work which topped the best-sellers in 1999 David Bret draws on exclusive interviews with those who knew him., incorporating a wealth of previously unobtainable source material to tell the real story of a troubled genius whose every move was directed by his domineering wife, Beryl~a fearsome entrepreneur without whose Svengali presence Formby would have never made the big time. In this sincere biography, Bret discloses the secret love affairs of both George and Beryl, their stance against apartheid which saw them ejected from South Africa, the collapse of their marriage, and the squabble over their fortune by rapacious relatives. Bret also examines the Formbys' courage and dedication to charity work, particularly during World War II.

With a detailed analysis of Formby's films, stage plays and recording work, this controversial biography reveals the complex, frequently difficult man who was and remains one of Britain's most popular entertainers.



It's been a long time coming!

When I made the Formby film a couple of years ago, the entire production team wanted copies of the book, fifty in all, and it really was a case of the early bird catching the worm. Back in 1999 the publisher was a little dubious that George might have been a "speciality" and limited the print-run to 10,000 copies. The George Formby Society loved the book in galley proofs, one of the rare occasions I've let anyone read my book prior to publication. Then it was serialised in two national newspapers, and they picked up on me calling George a "camp icon". Another classic case of mistaking shit for pudding. Their president sent out letters to every member asking them to boycott the book--I'd accused George of being gay! No, I hadn't. I'd said camp! And of course, when someone tells someone not to do a thing, they do it all the more. The print-run ran out in just three days, and it was reprinted again...and again. The same happened with the paperback, and sales hit the six-figure mark. Then my publisher moved to fresh pastures, and just before making the Formby film I withdrew publishing rights so that I could revise the book. Other projects got in the way. Unlike Johnny Rogan and one or two others I don't spend donkeys' years regurgitating the same boring subject time and time again. I didn't have any spare copies of the book, and I was stunned that the film people were paying up to £150 a copy, of which I received not one penny--well, I was paid for the film! Then last year, I was asked to republish the book with a house who had earlier rejected it, claiming that everyone who wanted to buy it would already have it. I said No. Now, at last, I've revised it and have published it at a price the fans can afford--no good stinging them when they've been so good to me over the years, though I still don't get all this new-fangled download craze! The book's on Lulu as from today, print or download, and will be available everywhere else in three weeks' time.
Turned out nice again, as they say!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Clark Gable: Tormented Star

Issue:  Vol. 44 / No. 16 / 17 Apr




by Matthew S. Bajko
-
11 Apr 2014
The long awaited Harvey Milk stamp will receive a White House debut May 22. The U.S. Postal Service made the announcement this ...
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Gable and willing

Books

Hollywood icon's bisexuality thoroughly vetted





ADVERTISMENT
Clark Gable: Tormented Star by David Bret; Da Capo Press, $16.
Any movie fan worth their Gay Card knows the famous tidbit about George Cukor being fired from directing Gone With the Wind because he was gay and Clark Gable was antigay. But that's hardly the full picture, not by a two-shot. With Clark Gable: Tormented Star, David Bret, author of numerous celebrity biographies (Rock Hudson, Joan Crawford), weaves encyclopedic research about nearly all the films in which Gable starred, or even had a bit part, and the surprisingly difficult life he led.
Written in a brisk tone that's only occasionally slowed by his overly descriptive plot summaries, Bret delves into the private life of the archetypal "King of Hollywood," from his jug ears, dental problems and other ailments, to his myriad affairs with wealthy women, fellow stars Joan Crawford and Carole Lombard, and several men.
Yes, folks, Clark Gable had sex with several men, which is the point of Bret's book, to posthumously out Gable as bisexual. Bret endeavors not only to name names, but find locations and dates of many of Gable's affairs.
Moving from his tough, working-class background in small towns like Akron, Ohio, and Meadville, Pennsylvania, including his mother's death shortly after his birth, and difficult jobs as a lumberjack, Bret details Gable's desire to leave his angry, hateful father, and his travel to Kansas City, then Portland, where he joined up with a roving acting troupe. It's on that route that Bret finds Gable's first possible homosexual relationship, with actor Earle Larimore.
To build on his suspicions, Bret notes how through his career, Gable "dated" or is said to have had relationships with the likes of Josephine Dillon, "a woman of ambiguous sexuality." She also served as his first Svengali of sorts, cleaning Gable up and presenting him to Hollywood agents in the early 1920s. Although Gable and Dillon were married shortly after their arrival in Hollywood, Bret frames it as a marriage of convenience, in which Dillon ignored Gable's affairs while serving as his sugar momma.
Bret implies a second gay affair in the close friendship between Gable and macho actor Rod La Roque on the set of Ernst Lubitsch's Forbidden Paradise. La Roque was later outed and forced into a "lavender marriage" with actress Vilma Banky.
Bret provides brief sidebar biographical information like the La Roque gossip on nearly all of Gable's friends and conquests, providing a fascinating tour through Hollywood lore as he traces Gable's deliberate remaking, by himself and others, into what became the iconic star. Disbelievers need to recall the pre-Hayes Code era of Hollywood, where sexual affairs of all kinds were common among the newly rich stars and their entourages.
"In these formative years Clark Gable was an opportunist who would sleep with anyone. 'Anything that had a hole and the promise of a couple of dollars,'" Marlene Dietrich told the author.
Among Gable's most verifiable gay affairs at that time, Bret writes, is that with actor William Haines. In his personal life, Haines was openly gay, and a great pal of Joan Crawford. Included in Gable's young erotic adventures were trips to cruisy parks with Haines, where they both cruised working-class men, Gable being more orally passive and occasionally charging money.
Throughout the 1920s and early 30s, Gable acted in theatre touring companies as well as films. It wasn't until It Happened One Night that Gable became big box-office success. That film's moment of manliness – Gable stripping off his shirt without an undershirt – catapulted him further into the manly hall of film fame.
Later on, and for decades of his career, the syndicated (yellow) journalist Ben Maddox remained a close confidante, and a sexual pal for Gable, including being his companion on numerous vacations. Maddox's interfering confidant status, however, led to some stupid decisions on Gable's part, including nearly turning down the film Mutiny on the Bounty. Maddox's pernicious role as a double-talking gossip-trader resulted in other people's heterosexual adultery being traded as fodder for the tabloids, in exchange for his, Gable's, and other gay men's affairs being kept secret.
As Gable continued to gain in popularity, his work and frequent affairs with female co-stars continued, with frequent return engagements with Crawford, who narrowly missed becoming one of his wives.
The harrowing ordeal of Gone With the Wind is given due detail, and the subsequent films, great and forgettable, are given a brief yet illuminating sketch, particularly with details of Gable's decreasing health, frequent injuries, pay scale, and whether or not Gable succeeded or failed in bedding his female co-star.
Gable's short-lived happiness with actress Carole Lombard is told in detail. They married and shared a California ranch before her death in a plane crash. The notoriously foulmouthed Lombard often publicly ridiculed Gable about his sexual shortcomings, despite multiple other accounts of his being aptly nicknamed "The King."
Gable's subsequent affairs included a marriage to "Lady" Sylvia Ashley, "little more than a prostitute," Bret says, who wooed British wealthy men and landed an elderly Lord's hand in a previous marriage.
Bret's account of Gable's final film, The Misfits, includes the odd juxtaposition of the elder Gable befriending gay co-star Montgomery Clift while barely enduring the by-then drugged and unreliable costar Marilyn Monroe.
With a complete filmography, bibliography and index, Bret has produced another biography that combines the scathing scandals of a Kenneth Anger book with the serious research of a scholarly tome.
Woven in with Gable's difficulties on location at dozens of subsequent film shoots is the background of Hollywood's rise and fall, from the silent era through the classics, from Communist blacklisting and the old studios collapse to the uneasy independent production of the 60s. Gable's life, embedded in each Hollywood era, is a fascinating and flawed reflection of the harsh pain and excess of movie glamour, and the toll it took on one man's life.




Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Mayor Of Swindon Resigns

What a turd and scumbag. And these are the people we are supposed to respect--whose wholly unnecessary pomp and circumstance WE pay for. Why is it that those who are the most vociferous with their prejuduces--be their comments racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or like this cretin--why are they SO fucking hideous-looking? It's as if they have to blame everyone else for their own vomitousness.


Swindon mayor resigns over disability comment

Mayor Nick Martin Two Labour councillors complained after Nick Martin made the comments last year

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Swindon's mayor has resigned after making derogatory remarks about disabled people during a meeting.
Conservative Nick Martin, 62, was found guilty of breaching the members' code of conduct after Labour complained about comments he made last year.
Labour councillors said they heard him say: "Are we still letting Mongols have sex with each other?"
The standards committee ruled he must apologise but Mr Martin said it was a word he "was brought up with".
In a letter to the council, Mr Martin said it was "with regret" that he submitted his resignation as mayor "with immediate effect".
He added that, following the accusations against him, he had cooperated with the independent standards investigation.
"I have made new apologies and am abiding by the other recommendations from the Standards Assessment Panel," he said.
"However, it is clear that this will not stop the attacks on the office and person of mayor."
'Best decision' Mr Martin was reported to the standards committee by Labour councillors Ray Ballman and Junab Ali after the remarks were made at a Swindon Borough Council meeting last year.
Last Thursday, the committee ruled Mr Martin must make a public apology within seven days and attend further training within a fortnight.
Conservative leader of the council, David Renard, said the process had "proved to be a robust system".
"It was right and proper that due process took its course," he said.
"The mayor accepted the recommendations and has agreed to resign. I think he has made the best decision that he could, in the interests of the office of the mayor and all involved."

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Paolo Nutini: Please Take A Bath!




Paolo Nutini: an inspiration to tramps everywhere who appeared on Breakfast TV just now. If you haven't seen him, you might expect with such a name some handsome Italian heart-throb. Instead you get a screaming, urchin scruff-bag who looks like he spent a week sleeping in a dumpster. It took him all his time to talk, he was looking off camera all the time as if taking the piss, grinning like a goon, his teeth the only part of him that looked remotely clean. His trousers, if he took them off, would stand up on their own. He had big holes in his pullover, under which he was wearing a T-shirt that I wouldn't use for mopping up cat-sick. He kept scratching himself, to the extent that I half-expected the nit-nurse to pop out from the scenery at any moment. His hair looked more alive than he was. And this is the sort of creature that our kids are supposed to be inspired with? I guess we should only be grateful that our TV sets don't have Smell-o-Vision! Message to the BBC: scrub that sofa before you let anyone else sit on it!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Dorothy Squires: 16 Years Gone


It's sixteen years since Dot left us, and her presence is still felt every day. We had some wild and wonderful times together, for nigh on twenty years. Dot could out-sing, out-curse, and out-fight them all. Had she been around today she wouldn't have tolerated all the press-victim-CPS nonsense. "Kick them where it hurts--and if it really hurts them, kick them again to make it hurt even more!" was Dot's motto!

I've been asked several times to write her story, primarily because I'm just about the only one with all the inside information. All the others are dead, and Roger Moore will never tell. Dot gave me the script for "Rain, Rain, Go Away!" within which there is a chapter headed, "Give Us A Leg Up, Sarge, I'm Going To Kill A Fucking Italian!" Another chapter was headed, "Corruption At The BBC", so when the time comes, I know what I'm up against.

Absolutely no publisher in the UK will publish a Dot Squires biography. She went for just about everybody, and there are few of the old-timers at the BBC and more than a few elderly reporters who don't blanch at the mention of her name. She made her comeback on the day Ted Robledo (my next subject) was murdered, and she was undisputedly the greatest female singer this country has ever had. So I guess I'll be doing this one, when the time comes, myself. I like some self-publishing, which has its advantages if the author is a name--not if they're a one-title beginner on account of the vast amount of titles published every week--but its disadvantages where litigation may be in danger of raising its ugly head. I guess that as most of Dot's enemies are still around, I had better hire myself a good legal reader!

Meanwhile, do me a favour. Pop on a CD tomorrow, or take a trip to youtube and hear what a real singer sounds like, as opposed to the screeching you're going to be hearing during the latest "Britain's Got Talent" season. 

Friday, 11 April 2014

Nigel Evans: Yet Another Innocent Man Hounded By Bully Nobodies On The Make

How many more cases like this will there be before the CPS realise that these evil nobodies, quite clearly on the make and hopping onto the bandwagon, are taking them for a ride? And has anyone ever thought of how much this is costing the British tax-payer? 

My own case cost an estimated £88,000, and it was very low-key. It did not involve anything sexual, but it did involve lies across the spectrum, which is why I applied to the CPS for this to be taken further--not an easy thing to do, but  I have succeeded. Indeed, some action has already been taken, which will hopefully spiral.  Just imagine how much these nonsensical high-profile cases are costing. 

For the sake of William Roache, for the sake of the actor friend of a friend, for the sake of Max Clifford to whose office I owe an immense debt of gratitude, for Nigel Evans, for the two footballers who are friends of friends, and for dozens of others who have complained of being victims--when in effect those they have wrongly accused are the victims--we need to fight and ensure that the names of our oppressors and the details of what transpired in court are legally made public, furthermore that they should be made to pay for the misery they have inflicted. Those questioned, tried and cleared cannot be tried again by British law, but those who wrongly accused them can be brought to justice.  

And we are winning. These people need to be exposed. It's no good listening to the pleas of some of them that they have no money, or that if they are prosecuted and end up in jail for perjury, that their children may be taken into care, that their homes may be repossessed. That's their problem, not ours. If this happens, it will learn them to think before wrongly accusing innocent people and attempting to ruin their lives and careers, just because they themselves were born losers and most likely will go to their graves likewise. 

MP Nigel Evans cleared of sexual assaults



A former deputy speaker of Britain's House of Commons was cleared of charges of sexually assaulting six young men and raping another.
Nigel Evans, 56, said he had been dragged through "11 months of hell" by the case, and "nothing will ever be the same again".
The openly gay former Conservative lawmaker had been accused of using his "powerful" political influence to take advantage of the men in a trial that laid bare his drinking and clumsy flirting.
But on Thursday a jury at Preston Crown Court in northwest England found Evans not guilty on all counts, including one count of rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted sexual assault and two indecent assaults.
"I've gone through 11 months of hell," he said on the court steps.
During the trial, the jury heard Evans was prone to "drunken over-familiarity".
They heard he could be "flirty" and "over-friendly", making "cack-handed" passes, "almost like a drunken 14-year-old at a disco who could not chat you up with words".
One alleged victim dismissed an incident where Evans put his hand down his trousers as "crazy" and "just Nigel being drunken Nigel".
Evans was arrested in May and resigned as deputy speaker in parliament's lower house when he was charged in September last year, but stayed in the chamber as an independent MP.
He spoke of the "darkest and loneliest times" and said there were "no winners, so no celebrations".
- Drunken rickshaw incident -
Three of the MP's seven alleged victims did not consider an offence had been committed against them.
One alleged victim, aged 22, had told the court he was raped and sexually assaulted by Evans after a dinner party at the defendant's home in March last year, but the MP said the sex was consensual.
Peter Wright, Evans's lawyer, suggested the complainant had fabricated his evidence because he regretted having sex with a man more than twice his age.
Some MPs suggested the Crown Prosecution Service had questions to answer.
A CPS spokesman said: "The complainants in this case provided clear accounts of the alleged offending.
"That evidence could only be fully explored during a trial and the jury has decided, after hearing all of the evidence, that the prosecution has not proved its case beyond reasonable doubt. We respect this decision."
Prime Minister David Cameron, the Conservative leader, appeared to open the door for the MP of 22 years to rejoin the party fold.
"It is hard to imagine the relief that Nigel must feel after such a traumatic time," he said.
"As for the future, I'm sure it's something he'll be discussing with the chief whip."
It also emerged on Thursday that Evans wrote a letter of apology to Commons Speaker John Bercow following claims he drunkenly tried to enter parliament in a rickshaw in 2011.
The incident was brought up by the prosecution during the trial but the judge said the jury should not hear it because it would have an unfair effect on proceedings.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Vera Lynn: The New Album That Is Not New


I really take exception to this. I don't dislike Vera Lynn, but we've had seventy years of regurgitating ALL the same songs, and these reports try to fool us into believing that she's toddled into the studio and laid down new tracks. She hasn't. You might as well say the same about anyone who releases endless compilation albums. Now, take CELESTE RODRIGUES and JULIETTE GRECO, two legendary ladies who have always ensured that the same songs have been coming out of their ears for donkey's years. CELESTE topped the charts three years ago with an album of NEW songs, at 86. Greco recorded an album of Brel songs last year IN TWO TWO-HOUR sessions. None of all the mixing rubbish, and she was 86 also. The album sold a million copies. This "new" Vera Lynn album is just another farce dreamed up by someone to make money--and when she dies, they will do the same thing again

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Margaret Thatcher: One Year On


My second controversy of the day. I grew up in a mining community, and often heard people say how much they hated working down the pit, but that there was no other employment. My family proved that there was, therefore I had no pity whatsoever for them when they went on strike. Arthur Scargill was an absolute arsehole. I was ORDERED to meet him in my capacity as Management Services Officer with the NHS, and ORDERED to strike, out of sympathy, without pay. I refused on both counts. We had a mortgage, and were struggling back then. The other miners were like sheep: the King said shit, so they all shat. Anyone with any sense knew that they would never win their fight. Thirty years on, they are still harping on about it. Times have changed, my friends. We don't need pits, just as we don't have rickets any more, or send little boys up chimneys. And to those who wanted to tip bags of coal in front of the hearse, and those who want to hold "burning" ceremonies for this anniversary--grow up!

South Africa, George Formby & Oscar Pistorius




'That lad will go far!'

Adored in Russia, banned by the BBC, a smash hit at the box office... there was always more to George Formby than buck teeth and a ukelele. No wonder he continues to inspire thousands of fans across the globe. By Simon Louvish
George Formby
George Formby
So it's official - Winston Churchill is the greatest Briton of all time. But in Blackpool last weekend, it was clear that another candidate would have swept home: Lancashire's own George Formby. By 1939, George was Britain's most popular and highest-paid male entertainer, with estimated earnings of around £100,000. In 1940, in a dream sequence in his movie Let George Do It, he descends from a balloon in the middle of a Nazi rally to biff Adolf Hitler in the chops. The Mass Observation national survey project discovered that this was the biggest morale-booster of the second world war.
George Formby comes down to us, in 21st-century Britain, as a squeaky voice with buck teeth playing what many regard as the musical world's most potent weapon of mass destruction, the ukelele. In fact, as Formbyites would hasten to correct us, it was a more singular type of instrument, a cross between the Hawaiian uke and the American banjo, nicknamed the "banjolele". It was first played by George, we are told, at the Alhambra theatre in Barnsley in 1923, and subsequently used in the 20 feature films he starred in from 1934 to 1946.
The ukelele owes its survival in modern times largely to the enthusiasm of the Formby fans gathered in the George Formby Society, founded directly after their hero's death in 1961. With a membership now numbering almost 1,000, and branches as far afield as Paphos, Cyprus, and Perth, Australia, it regularly strums up two or three hundred lads and lasses for the quarterly bash at Blackpool's Winter Gardens.
Here, amid the turrets of Britain's first and foremost resort city, the tower, the pier, Mr T's Golden Mile Centre, the cupids and demons of Club Heaven and Hell and Blackpool rock at 20p a stick, George Formby has his apotheosis. This is a uke-rich environment, not for anyone of weak spirit who might flinch from the massed sounds of those unique chords. About 70 of those present have brought their own instruments, and a notice on the wall offers the rest: "Learn to syncopate using the split-stroke, how to use the thumb, the finger try, slipping chords, plus a few more tips." In the anteroom, little knots of people emit a cacophony of twangs and twiddles while, in the adjacent baronial hall, by a framed portrait of our hero, Dickie Speake's band is limbering up.
 
 
 
This is the mainstay of the Formby gatherings: playing and listening to the old songs. George's discography runs to more than 200 titles, and one can sit through several hours of his lesser-known classics without hearing When I'm Cleaning Windows more than four times. But here they are, men and women from all walks of life, and of all ages, from seven to 90 - though most can safely be said to be past the half-century, looking back at times that were harder for most, but that afforded certain consolations. The overwhelming majority share a common background - that of a working-class England blown aside, or into the margins, by the force of global winds.
Some, like the society's chairman, Neville Roe, are now businessmen; others, like Dennis Taylor, the president, retired. Taylor was an electrical engineer in the mining industry in the days when Britain had pits. Among the oldest is Frank Bennett, 84, who confesses to having played the uke since the age of 10, one of the few present who encountered George in the flesh, in the Egyptian desert at Tel el-Kebir, while waiting in a tank to engage Rommel. Vera Lynn should have turned up, but was struck down with dysentery. George, however, wowed the troops, giving one of the numerous front-line concerts with which he entertained more than a quarter of a million, from the Normandy coast to India. That event took place fully 50 years before the birth of one of the youngest fans here - 11-year-old Greg Simister, now turned out nicely in waistcoat and tie, and waiting to take his uke on stage.
Most of those here are old friends enjoying each other's company, regulars who pride themselves on never having missed a bash. They've heard the songs, and played them, a hundred times before, but the attraction never fades, along with the old-time patter: "Ee, that lad will go far!" "But I've already been t' Southport!" The first afternoon's concert ends with a great "thrash", the plucking of 30 ukeleles together. It's an awesome sound, echoing into teatime at the Deansgate Kitchen, where haddock and chips are accompanied by continued strumming at adjacent tables. In the evening it's back to the baronial hall for a documentary about George's old production company, Mancunian Films, and the Formby episode from The South Bank Show.
Tomorrow night it's back to the films, the medium by which George became known to millions, that spread his act far beyond Wigan. Looking at these movies afresh today, we can see that they reveal two interlinked but different George Formbys. There's the actor with a limited repertoire of gestures, moves, rabbity little runs, tics and arm waves, delivering a stream of cheeky patter and dialogue; and in between his antics, there's the Lancashire troubadour - a singer of a high professional standard, delivering poignant, often suggestive ditties in a deceptively simple style. Behind the wide smile, the nods and winks and the Bugs Bunny teeth, there hangs a familiar backdrop: the British music-hall tradition that stretches back over a century to the Victorian age.
George Formby was in fact George Formby Junior. His father, born James Lawler Booth in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1875, the illegitimate son of a prostitute, according to his son's biographer David Bret, became a pub singer at the age of 13. The name Formby allegedly came to him while he was watching train wagons labelled with the name of the town near Southport, and George might have been purloined from George Robey, music hall's biggest star at the time. In 1899 Booth married Eliza Hoy, and marked his first London music-hall appearance, as a provincial hick, with the catchphrase: "I'm George Formby fra' Wigan, I've not been in England long." Within a few years, he was a star of the halls.
Formby Sr had seven children with Eliza, four daughters and three sons, of whom George Hoy Booth, born in Wigan on May 26 1904, was the eldest. Thus George Jr was born into a stage family with a solid national and regional tradition. The northern variety palaces were, as elsewhere, venues of mass entertainment where the kinematograph was a curiosity attached at the end of the bill. Many of the northern halls had been opened, in the last decade of the 19th century, by the Manchester-born actor and playwright Arthur Jefferson, whose son, Stanley Jefferson, would, as Stan Laurel, become the most famous Lancastrian of all.
Formby Sr did not want his son to join the stage, and sent him to Ireland at the age of 10 to become a jockey. But it was a harder life than Junior wanted to bear. He did appear in a lost silent film, By the Shortest of Heads, in 1915, as a child jockey, but no print of this holy grail has been traced. When Formby Sr died, after collapsing on stage at the Newcastle Empire, it was George's mother who persuaded him to pick up where his father had left off. He began performing as George Hoy, with his father's repertoire, the childlike falsetto voice that had become Dad's trademark, and the same humorous songs. But the ukelele, and marriage, soon beckoned.
In September 1924 George Jr married Beryl Ingham, an Accrington-born clog dancer and half of an act called the Two Violets, who had met George when he was performing his act in blackface in Castleford. She had not been greatly impressed, but George persisted with a year-long courtship, and eventually gained not only a wife, but an all-round boss and general manager. He was, after all, only 20 years old, and Beryl was four years older, and wiser.
George might have been happy to remain a jobbing songsmith and comic, but Beryl decided to make him a star. As biographer David Bret writes: "She taught him how to dress . . . what to sing, how to use his hands when he was not playing the ukelele, what jokes to tell, and how to monitor audience reaction by playing mostly to the galleries, which contained the genuine fans, those working-class men and women who recognised within him so much of themselves."
Beryl and George both appeared in George's first starring picture, Boots! Boots!, a shoestring affair produced by John Blakeley's Mancunian Films in 1934. George used his father's trademark character, "John Willie", as a hotel "boots" who horses around with the manager, the chef, and Beryl, the scullery maid. It featured several songs written by Jack Cottrell, and the music, without the words, of one of Cottrell's earliest hits for George, Chinese Blues, later known as Chinese Laundry Blues and persisting in George's repertoire as Mr Wu's a Window Cleaner Now. This, along with other Formby songs, was later banned from transmission on the BBC, not for racial stereotyping, but for alleged vulgarity. This should not be too surprising, in the days of Reithian rigour, when you consider such lines as these, from 1938's I See Ice:
"I've got a picture of a nudist camp, in my little snapshot album,
All very jolly but a trifle damp, in my little snapshot album.
There's Uncle Dick without a care,
Discarding all his underwear,
But his watch and chain still dangle there, in my little snapshot album."
Another George, Orwell, was one of the few highbrows of the times to take a serious look at this kind of humour, referring not to Formby but to his contemporary Max Miller (the "Cheeky Chappie") as "one of a long line of English comedians who have specialised in the Sancho Panza side of life, in real lowness...They remind one how closely knit the civilisation of England is, and how much it resembles a family, in spite of its out-of-date class distinctions." Orwell was writing, in 1942, about the postcard art of Donald McGill, which expressed saucy ideas about sex, marriage, fat ladies and drunks in its own inimitable form. Presumably Orwell cast himself as Don Quixote, the more proper model of class transgression.
For class was indeed what it was all about, and regional particularities above all. In a George Formby film, the toffs are invariably bad-tempered, idiotic, bullying, small-minded, with fruity southern tones. The period was still that of the depression, rarely depicted on the British screen, except when Gracie Fields, in Shipyard Sally (1939), sang the unemployed out of their dolour. But where London audiences sang along with Gracie, they found it difficult to get their earcups aligned to George's Lancashire strain. In the north, however, George was king.
Another low-budget movie, Off the Dole, nevertheless triumphed at the box office, and George was signed to a five-year contract with ATP films under producer Basil Dean. The first ATP production was No Limits, in 1935. This and subsequent films were shot at Ealing Studios in London, providing a working base for technicians who would later become the bedrock of British cinema, such as cinematographer Ronald Neame, writer Basil Dearden and editor Robert Hamer, who would go on to direct the Ealing classic Kind Hearts and Coronets.
George's second Ealing film, Keep Your Seats, Please, was a confection about a uke player who inherits a fortune if he can find which one of seven chairs his eccentric aunt hid some jewels in - a story, oddly, of Russian origin, remade in 1945 with Fred Allen and in 1970 by Mel Brooks as The Twelve Chairs. The Russian source definitely did not feature When I'm Cleaning Windows and Keep Your Seats, Please, two more of George's naughty songs. The lines "Ladies' nighties I have spied/ I've often seen what goes inside" earned the recording NTBB status (Not to Be Broadcast) at the BBC. Beryl was so incensed at the ban that, according to David Bret, she marched into John Reith's office and wrung an on-air apology from the controller. The ban, however, remained.
No Limits and Keep Your Seats, Please had both co-starred vivacious Florence Desmond, and Beryl saw to it that henceforth, if she could help it, no female lead would last more than one Formby picture. This was not quite achieved, as Polly Ward and Kay Walsh each had two apiece, but as time went on, Beryl's hand on the tiller - and the till - grew ever tighter. By the time war came, however, George could afford to buy a new luxury car every year. Come On George, released in 1940, with George back in the saddle as a misfit jockey who rides a tearaway horse to success, featured one of his most popular songs, I'm Making Headway Now: "I've got my ambition/ I'll be the talk of the town;/ I'll hold my position/ You can't keep a growing lad down..."
It was inevitable that George, as a popular icon, would be pressed into the war effort. In Let George Do It, he plays a ukelele player in the "Dinky-Doo Band" who gets on a ship to Bergen, Norway, instead of Blackpool, and gets mixed up with a bandleader who is a Nazi spy, sending messages to U-boats through his music. It was the first of two Formby movies to be shown in the Soviet Union, where it was retitled Dinky-Do - not, one would have thought, a phrase well-known to Stalin. The film, however, broke Moscow box-office records, and made George as famous in Russia as Norman Wisdom was to become, over a decade later, with the suffering proletarians of Albania. George remains the only British person to be awarded the Order of Lenin, which was conferred on him in 1943.
Let George Do It was also shown in the USA with the rather more robust title of To Hell With Hitler. Unsurprisingly, George never made it big in America, where the ex-laundryman Mr Wu's puzzling antics and attire - "He wears a pair of cami nicks to save his Sunday trousers" - would not have struck much of a chord. Mr Wu, however, was pressed into further service, joining the RAF in Mr Wu's in the Air Force and guarding the blackout in Mr Wu Is Now an Air Raid Warden: "He's doing his bit for England like the rest." George may have been as crude in his stereotypes as any other white devil, but Mr Wu was taken into the ranks on equal terms. David Bret tells a startling and heart-warming tale of George and Beryl's tour of South Africa in 1946, when they clashed with the National party leader, Daniel Malan. George performed, as well as white halls, in black venues, at one point embracing a little girl who came on stage. The black audience cheered them, and Malan personally called to berate Beryl, who told him: "Why don't you piss off, you horrible little man?"
The point about George, which is clear from his films, is that despite all the potty posturing and silly enthusiasm with which he expresses delight at the thought of "me, meeting a real sir!", it remained true that, in the words of another biographer, Alan Randall, "to George, everyone, from Field-Marshal Montgomery to a window cleaner, was just a person". The gormless-northerner persona was only as gormless as necessary to escape the attention of authority, and when he donned his troubadour mask, he, like Mr Wu, had his nose squashed up against the windows he was cleaning, relishing the human antics within.
George's films are hardly movie masterpieces; at best they were apprenticeships for the Ealing comedies that would blossom some years later. In 1941, director Marcel Varnel and co-writer Basil Dearden gave George perhaps his best role, in Turned Out Nice Again, as a newlywed textile mill foreman, who tries to convince the old-fashioned head of his lingerie firm that new styles must oust the old. His mother berates him and his wife for furnishing their new home "on tick" - by hire-purchase - and he serenades a homespun underwear fashion show with You Can't Go Wrong in These. The film also features George's heartfelt swing ditty, I'm the Emperor of Lancashire: "I'll hold a banquet for 50 score, tripe and onions and whelks galore; stewed pigs' trotters, aye, and mutton shanks, for the Emperor of Lancs." There is much in the film about the schism between the provinces, which still cleave to "bloomers" and "knickers", and the metropolis, which has discovered "panties". The class struggle is, as always, fought most fiercely in the realm of language.
Though he made seven more movies and undertook tours and a musical - until Beryl's death on Christmas Eve 1960 prefigured his own three months later - the early war years were George's finest hour. The toffs may have been running the war, but, in the days before technology aspired to make them obsolete, and make war palatable for the consumer society, it was the soldiers who had to win it. It was not surprising that the "Lad from Lancashire", the commonest of men, became one of the most potent emblems of the "people's war".
And it is not difficult to see that the folk who gather in his memory to sing his songs wish to celebrate not the hard times of war and bloodshed, rough lives, bad working conditions, unemployment, and the economic hardship that blighted Britain in the 1930s and 40s, but the sense of community and solidarity that our leaders never tire of lambasting us about as they consign it to the dustbin of history.
But George was always one to look on the bright side, as he sang:
"Everything happens for the best, take it from me;
Never turn back if things look black 'cause they're not as bad as they seem to be.
Some figures we watched in the sky, I shouted as I closed one eye,
It's a good job elephants don't fly, or it might have been a great deal worse... "
· For more information about the George Formby Society, visit www.georgeformby.co.uk.
The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and Clarifications column, Wednesday December 11 2002
An error was introduced into our story about George Formby. We said, "Formby remains the only British person to be awarded the Order of Lenin." In fact the George Formby Society has found no trace of such an award being made.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Peaches Geldof RIP

I never expected my comments to be repeated on the radio, but that's the way it goes. There are so many phenomenally talented people out there. They have success, they have wealth, they have beautiful caring families and friends--everything, in fact, to live for. And for some this is not enough. I may be wrong, and I will apologise just as publicly if I am, but I cannot foresee this having been a natural demise. There are some celebrities, and of varying degrees of talent and non-talent, who are fated not to live long, of their own choosing. Justin Bieber, Britney Spiers, Paul Gascoigne and a number of others will all follow in the footsteps of Amy Winehouse--who was a wonderful, genuine talent--unless they get a grip. Yet these people are laws unto themselves. They know what they are doing to themselves, they are advised to desist, yet they continue with their finger firmly pressed on the self-destruct button. In the case of Bieber, they think they know it all. It's tragic. Peaches Geldof is not the first, and she will by no means be the last. I feel sorrow for her family, who right now must be asking themselves what they did wrong--which was nothing. 


  1. So sad, but not unexpected. Only last year I appeared with a number of others in a BBC radio programme discussing her, and we said then that the way she was behaving, she would never even make it as far as The 27 Club. Like Amy Winehouse, Paul Gascoigne and a few others still with us but only just, she was always a disaster waiting to happen. I feel deeply sorry for her children.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Lovely Jean Harlow

 

Ah, those sharpened quills! How we love them--those would-be scribes whose only chance of ever getting noticed is by choosing a pseudonym, the more ridiculous the better--Anonymous and A Reader are good ones--and penning one of those little reviews on Amazon, in the hope of dissuading people from purchasing the product, when the end result is invariably the opposite.

I never leave bad reviews--indeed, I never review books at all. Bad reviews and put-downs of other authors, even amateur ones, from professional writers are not the done thing. It shows a distinct lack of sense, for one thing. No writer worthy of their salt disses another writer in print unless they wish to end up a dismal failure. Imagine what would have happened, had Dickens denounced one of his contemporaries as "crap"? We just do not do it! If I dislike a product, I ignore it completely. By dissing it I would be awarding the perpetrator the free publicity they crave but cannot acquire elsewhere.

The beef with these most recent little people is that I have referred, quoted from, or even adopted other biographers' theories and work in my book about Jean. Of course I have! The lady died almost eighty years ago, so unless I want to hop into a time machine and stand in the room and listen to the conversations that took place, I have to rely on evidence supplied by others. Of course, those who placed the lady on a pedestal will not like what anyone writes, so with that kind of person it's a waste of energy even thinking about them. 

A few weeks ago, Diana Dors was in the news owing to the Max Clifford case. I was interviewed by the national press, and my recently re-released bio of her hit the heights once more. Now, the same thing is happening with Jean Harlow. Really, if people wish for me to be the failure that they keep saying I am, they would be best ignoring me completely. They cannot do this, and for this I am grateful.

My publishers and I have opted not to release all 48 titles on Kindle. There would be no point re-issuing the first Morrissey and Piaf, for instance, because these were superceded. I don't want to re-release Tallulah Bankhead and Rock Hudson, and I think Chevalier would be a mistake. Maria Callas we are thinking about. One publisher wanted to re-release Freddie Mercury and George Formby and I blocked them--these two I want to do myself, for personal reasons. All of this titles have done well, save one...

Trailblazers. This contains Gram Parsons, Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley. The publisher never wanted to do this in the first place but I twisted his arm, gently. His theory was that he had once published a book about two rival football teams--the fans of one hated the fans of the other, so no one bought it! Not everyone who likes Jeff Buckley likes Gram Parsons, and vice-versa. I was all for re-issuing them separately, but this would not have proved financially viable. For the same reason the publisher was not keen on Brit Girls Of The Sixties. Seven of them in one volume would have proved cost prohibitive, whereas it would not have been financially viable to publish them individually. Therefore I published these myself, and am happy that I did.

Trailblazers, therefore, is the one you "experts" should be "reviewing", if you wouldn't mind?

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Doris Day At 90: Lovely Lady



The lady is not as reclusive as we thought! When I published my biography of her, having sent her a copy the script beforehand, she got in touch and said that it was "an honest study" which pleased her. Therefore I don't give a money's left gonad for the homophobe failures masquerading as one-star reviewers on Amazon. They day these worthless cowards emerge from their cess-pits, reveal who they really are, and achieve something with their lives, personally and professionally, will be the day I expose myself on the spare plinth in Trafalgar Square! 



Friday, 4 April 2014

Doris Day At 90


Doesn't she look wonderful? A woman who has suffered, yet who has spent her whole life loving. Sour-pusses and feminists, eat your heart out. This is a real woman!

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Stop The Violence


Channel 5 and its subsidiaries currently air on average a staggering 150 of the various CSI dramas every week, in addition to its nightly diet of murder profiles--Fred West, slashers, child-killers et all--this week alone, over 50. It's become almost impossible to switch on some TV channels without seeing someone blowing someone else to bits, or human remains on mortuary slabs.

Homophobic lunatics make public requests for people to be shot in the face, as happened to myself, perhaps in semi-jest, perhaps not. Tooled up psychopaths walking into schools are not always possessed of the sense to know the difference, while those making such comments do not have any sense at all. 

The likes of Fred Phelps parade public places with their banners of hatred, inciting violence.

Is there any wonder, then, that people go berserk with guns, such as has just happened in Texas? All it takes is one idiot with a twisted mind to listen to another idiot with a twisted mind or watch one programme too many for the wrong message to be imbibed, and for the tragedies to keep on happening.

Television, religious fanatics and homophobes, racists and other human debris should all be held accountable to some of the dreadful things happening in the world today.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

George Formby & The North-South Divide


Aside from racists, homophobes, those who harm animals, and those who mock the afflicted--whose only true good deeds take place when they leave this world--I have never been prejudiced against anyone. If they're more successful or wealthier than me, so what? I envy no one.

My team and I are re-working the George Formby book. For years I've been getting letters asking why it's become so expensive on places like e-bay. Up to £150 sometimes. Even the play, which sells for a few pounds, is being snapped up by unscrupulous buyers a hundred at a time and sold at hugely inflated prices, from which I earn not one bean! So, we're releasing it again, and of course, since the last one a few of George's leading ladies have popped their clogs.

I interviewed three of them. Dinah Sheridan was a darling. The others were nice to me--I lost my accent courtesy of elocution lessons at the Nellie Pledge Academy--but oh, that dreaded North-South divide, the fact that these "Londoners" (mostly from the North!) looked down at George and thought him a bit of a dope because he didn't speak like he had a mouthful of marbles.

And, the horror stories. Pat Kirkwood was lovely, though her husband was an old toad--we bought both of our dogs from the farm next to where they lived. Phyllis Calvert was a witch. I wrote that she had once met Tallulah Bankhead, and she went ape. How dare I mention that she had chatted with this disgusting woman? She was of course afraid that I would mention that her late husband, Peter Murray-Hill, was as camp as a row of pink tents because she had made it very clear that she disliked gay men. Dorothy Hyson hit the roof because she said she had spent half her lifetime trying to forget that she'd worked with George. What she did not add was that, because of him, she had attained stardom. Indeed, to appear in a Formby film was a huge accolade and a step in the right direction. They never grumbled at the time, and at the inflated salary working with him brought.

So, all the bits which were kindly removed by my team at the time, back in 1999 when all of these ladies were breathing, may now be put back in!