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Episode 1 of 2
On 6 March 1961, 150,000 mourners attended the funeral of one of the most unlikely yet beloved entertainers of all time - George Formby. But the northern music hall turn and toothy little chap from Wigan was, in his heydey, the fifth highest-paid star in the world - ahead of Errol Flynn, Bette Davis and even Bing Crosby.
Stuart Maconie - a proud Wigan lad and sometime ukelele-dabbler - celebrates the life and career of Wigan's most famous son and asks whether he was, in fact, Britain's first pop star. Born into a showbiz family, Formby soon outshone his father, becoming a star of stage and screen who seduced audiences as far afield as Scandanavia, the Soviet Union and South Africa.
But, whilst he might now seem an anachronistic figure from a bygone era, his private life was actually more in keeping with that of a contemporary tabloid-fascinating, taboo-smashing rock star. Stuart discovers that Formby was a much more complicated character than the "cheeky chappie" caricature which endures.
Even in his work, there were contradictions. After all, this is the man who sang about a Chinese laundry man called Mr Wu yet, in 1946, defied threats from the National Party leader Malan to perform solely for black audiences in South Africa. And his songs weren't always as clean as his windows, with the BBC choosing to censor some of his more suggestive lyrics.
The documentary explores allegations of morphine addiction, subversion, and battles with Christian moralists. Stuart also looks at George's relationship with his wife, and manager, Beryl, who ruled the star with a rod of iron and rarely allowed him to kiss his leading lady on screen.
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