Leaning on a foot peg at the corner of a street

Formby Norton

Leaning on a foot peg at the corner of a street

George Formby may not be top of your list as a celebrity motorcyclist, but he was quite a keen and capable rider. His cheeky chappy image, singing his ditties whilst leaning on a lamppost was far removed from the adventurous side of his nature.

Formby married Beryl Ingham in 1923, a fellow performer who became his manager and transformed his act. Although it appeared a loveless marriage, she was certainly the driving force behind his success, making him one of the top paid entertainers of his time.

 No Limits

In his 1935 iconic film No Limits based on Isle of Man TT, he performed some stunts himself including the scene where his character weaves in and out of his rival's machines on the Cronk-y-Voddy Straight. At the climax of the film, Formby needs to win the race by pushing his bike the final 500 yards to the winning line.

Real motorcycle manufactures are not referenced in the film instead contemporary motorcycles were customised and given fictitious names. For example, Formby rode for the "Rainbow Motorcycle Company" on a 1928 AJS H5 that had been modified and 'streamlined' by his character to become the Shuttleworth Snap. Other bikes that were used include a 350cc Ariel that had been flown to the Isle of Man, partly dismantled

 Formby International Norton

In 1947 his wife Beryl managed to buck the governments export policy, which blocked home sales, by buying George an International Norton 490cc from the Birmingham based factory. It is still unclear what sort of deal she made with the factory for the photo-shoot outside the Bracebridge Street factory where he received his machine surrounded by most of the workforce. This raised huge amounts of publicity for the factory and made the front page of the papers. The bike now resides unceremoniously, almost missed, at The National Motorcycle Museum, amidst other bikes of its era.

 Formby Norton 490cc

There were several rumors over the years of both George’s and Beryl’s infidelities, yet they remained married until illness struck. Her diagnosis of Leukaemia didn’t deter George from working or continuing his affairs. One of the acts in his show was the singer Yana, an affair made easier because of Beryl's absence from the theatre through illness.

Two hours before the premiere of Aladdin on Christmas Eve 1960, Formby received a phone call from Beryl's doctor, saying that she was in a coma and was not expected to survive the night; he continued with the performance, and was told early the next morning that Beryl had died. 

On Valentine's Day 1961, seven weeks after Beryl's death, Formby and Pat Howson announced their engagement. Eight days later he suffered a major heart attack, which was so severe that he was given the last rites.  He was revived and, from his hospital bed, he and Howson planned their wedding, which was due to take place in May. He was still there when, on 6 March, he had a further heart attack and died at the age of 56.

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