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Two George Formby ukuleles sold for £23k

By Megan Archer | Stone | Staffordshire entertainment | Published:

Two iconic ukuleles used by comedy legend George Formby – one in the film that launched his career – have sold for thousands of pounds.

Bidders battled to own a Keech ukulele, which was used by Formby in 1935 film No Limit, and a Dallas model D ukulele-banjo used on stage by the star.

The instruments, part of a large private collection of Formby memorabilia gathered by the late George Johnson, went under the hammer at Hanson's auctioneers on March 19.

George Johnson was the 29th member of the George Formby Appreciation Society and collected memorabilia from the 1930s up to the 1990s.

His family, who live in Stone, Staffordshire, said they never realised how big the collection was.

The Keech ukuele sold for a hammer price of £8,400 from a guide price of £5,000 to £7,000. With buyer’s premium, the total price paid was £11,414. It was bought by a private UK buyer.

Keech ukulele used by George Formby in film No Limit

The Dallas D ukulele-banjo sold to a room bidder for a hammer price of £10,000, which matched its guide price. With buyer’s premium the total price paid was £12,493. In total, the price paid for the two instruments was £23,907.

Buyer of the Dallas D, Anthony Mason, 61, a painter and decorator and bar owner from Salford, Manchester, said: “I would have paid more. I’ve liked George Formby for years, since I was a boy. I even visit his grave in Warrington cemetery. I knew the ukulele was up for sale after seeing it on telly and just wanted it."

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Claire Howell, music valuer and auctioneer at Hansons, said: “I’m delighted for both buyers. These are incredible instruments to own with a rich provenance and pedigree.

“Mr Johnson was meticulous in keeping all of his paperwork and receipts. He bought the banjo-ukulele direct from the star’s wife, Beryl Formby, in 1952 for £14. The prototype model was made by Birmingham’s George Houghton and Son in 1936 and was given to the star to test.

“The Keech was used in film No Limit which is particularly popular with Formby fans. It’s about the TT motorcycle race and it’s still shown in the Isle of Man during TT race week. It set him on his way to becoming the UK’s best paid entertainer.

George Formby memorabilia

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The auction

“The Keech was sold in the 1961 Beryldene auction of George Formby’s instruments to a Mrs Welsh for £3 (equivalent to £65) prior to its purchase by Mr Johnson in 1961 for £8 (equivalent to £174).

“He was such a huge Formby fan he owned seven ukuleles altogether and accumulated a large archive of Formby memorabilia including records, photos, sheet music, copies of The Vellum Magazine, bow ties and an original script for 1942 Formby film Much Too Shy, which all went under the hammer. Mr Johnson must have been one of Formby’s biggest fans.”

Lot 3048, which featured three Formby bow ties, sold for £300 from an estimate of £40 to £60 and lot 3029, which included the Much Too Shy script, sold for £450.

Mr Johnson, who originated from Gateshead and died last summer at the age of 91, amassed his Formby memorabilia over 60 years.

His son Mike Johnson, a retired electronic engineer from Stone, grew up listening to George Formby music.

He said: “The tunes are all in my head – I heard them so much at home. As well as listening to his George Formby music collection, dad would often get out his uke and play along to the music”.

ukulele banj Dallas D used by Formby

“He worked as a gear maker in the ship building industry from the age of 14 to 62. After work, he’d disappear for a while and you could hear him whistling and strumming away, having ‘a quick burst on the banjo’, as he put it. It must have been how he wound down.

“He was the 29th member of the George Formby Appreciation Society – and signed me up when I was only four. He saw Formby perform live once but never met him.

“Dad collected Formby memorabilia from the 1930s to the mid-90s – a 60-year span. He didn’t tell my mum, Mary, about everything he bought in case it got him into trouble. He kept most of it under the bed and in the attic. Mum, who passed away in 2011, never realised how big the collection was.”

Mr Johnson left the George Formby treasures to his son, Mike, and daughter. Mike said: “The collection’s been gathering dust under beds and on top of wardrobes. Looking at pictures of dad playing his Formby ukuleles and seeing how much pleasure it brought him, made us realise how much we’d love to see that happen again.”

Megan Archer

By Megan Archer
Chief Reporter - @MeganA_Star

Chief Reporter with the Express & Star. Give me a call on 01902 319363 or email megan.archer@expressandstar.co.uk.

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