By Colm Power
George Formby, O.B.E., who was born in Wigan, Lancashire, on 26th May, 1904, was an actor, singer, songwriter and comedian. He was adored by millions of fans through his films of the 1930s and 1940s and he became the highest-paid entertainer in the United Kingdom. He is best remembered for the comic songs he sang on stage, on screen and on records to his own accompaniment on the ukulele.
He wasn’t an odds-on favourite to succeed. He was born blind because of an obstructive caul on his eyes, but his sight was restored when he was still a baby. His formal education was brief and unremarkable. He couldn’t read or write, and he was removed from school at the age of seven and sent to become a stable boy, first in Wiltshire and then in Middleham, Yorkshire.
After working for a year in Middleham, young George was apprenticed to Thomas Scourfield at Epsom, and he rode his first professional race at the age of ten. In 1915, when he was aged eleven, he actually appeared in a film entitled ‘By the Shortest of Heads’, in which he played the part of a stable boy who outwits the bad guys when he comes first in a horse race. Later, in 1915, when the English racing closed because of the First World War, George moved to Ireland where he continued as a jockey until November, 1918. He then returned to England and raced for Lord Derby at his Newmarket stables.
He continued as a jockey until 1921. Unfortunately, he never won a race.