|Biographer David Bret|
The Vintage Bandstand: Let us talk a little about Mr. Formby's career. Before George's rise to prominence, his father, George Formby, Sr., had been one of the foremost stars in British vaudeville. What role did Formby, Sr., play in his son's future vocation and subsequent career?
Mr. Bret: His father was his greatest inspiration, but the younger George superseded him, and now Formby, Sr., is almost forgotten.
TVB: George Formby's success was phenomenal in Great Britain, his native country, as well as in other places such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. In your opinion, why did he not achieve a similar stature in the United States?
|A studio photograph of George Formby, Sr.|
TVB: Your book shows that many London critics were extremely harsh on Mr. Formby mainly because of his northern English upbringing. Why was there at the time such an animosity against performers from the North of England?
Mr. Bret: There always has been, and to a certain extent there still is, a North/South divide, almost like your Civil War at times. For a time it was impossible to be popular in both. The South had the likes of Max Miller. Gracie Fields was the only one to bridge the gap.
TVB: We read in the book, also, that Mr. Formby was not satisfied with his movies, many of which he wished he could redo. How can you explain their enormous popularity with the viewing public of the 1930s and 1940s?
Mr. Bret: George Formby identified with ordinary people. The plots were sillyish, and he always got the girl—conquering the North/South divide. Because he was so unattractive, the ladies were snooty and posh. It wouldn't have happened in real life. Then, after the war, with the likes of James Mason and Margaret Lockwood, this type of film became outdated. People wanted romance and adventure.
TVB: Mr. Formby was a very unique stylish, a man fully capable of carrying a whole show on his shoulders. What do you thin were the secrets of his success?
Mr. Bret: The fact that what you saw was what you got—no airs or graces!
TVB: From reading your book, we get the distinct impression that Mr. Formby's marriage to his wife, Beryl, was more a business partnership than a conjugal relationship. Could you comment briefly on this?
|George and Beryl Formby in 1950|
TVB: For an artist who was so immensely popular and whose recording career lasted for about 36 years, George Formby entered the studio in comparatively few occasions. Why didn't he get around to making more commercial recordings in his lifetime?
Mr. Bret: As it happens today, he preferred to stick with the chosen formula. I would have liked him to have sung a few more serious songs, as Gracie Fields did, because he could put these over very well.
TVB: The flap of the book mentions that you are "Britain's foremost authority on the French music-hall." As an enthusiast of the French chanson myself, I have to ask you how this passion began for you...
Mr. Bret: I was brought up with it, weaned on Edith Piaf, coming from France and speaking the language. The only singers America had in that vein, in my opinion, were names like Jane Froman and Billie Holiday.
TVB: In what ways does Mr. Formby's music resemble the French music-hall? And what divergences, if any, would you point out?
TVB: There are many compilations of George Formby's music available on CD, including two monumental boxsets released by JSP Records. In your opinion, what is the future of Mr. Formby's recorded legacy? Will future generations still be interested in his music?
Mr. Bret: I think his legacy is secure. He has a cult following which I feel will always be there.
TVB: And, finally, could you share with our readers any projects in which you are currently involved? Perhaps a biography of one of my favorite French crooners, Jean Sablon?
Mr. Bret: I covered Jean Sablon, to a certain extent, in my biography of Mistinguett. My next book, coming out next month, is about Greta Garbo, whom I met by way of Barbara at one of her shows.
If you would like further information about the works of David Bret, you can visit his personal website.
For more information on George Formby, please visit the website of the George Formby Society.
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