It’s Turned Out Nice Again! with a new George Formby biography written by two Norfolk authors

11:00 08 October 2011

Authors Sue Smart and Richard Howard at the launch their new book about George Formby called It

Authors Sue Smart and Richard Howard at the launch their new book about George Formby called It's Turned Out Nice Again. Pictured with George's old car in the background. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY


Two north Norfolk authors have written the first authorised biography of great 20th century British entertainer, George Formby.

Meet the authors...

History teacher Sue Smart, 59, was deputy head at Gresham’s School, in Holt, when Richard Howard popped in one day six years ago and asked permission to display material about George Formby in the school art gallery.

The year before Mr Howard, combined cadet force instructor at Gresham’’s, had been one of two men behind an acclaimed BBC Radio Norfolk programme marking the centenary of Formby’s birth.

After it had been broadcast, Mr Howard, 64, from Cawston, remembers Formby’s brother Ted, his only surviving sibling, congratulating him.

“”He linked his arm through mine and said: ‘’Will you put the record straight?’’” A niggling desire to oblige eventually led Mr Howard to suggest the project to historian Mrs Smart who began researching in earnest following her retirement in 2007.

Mr Howard had been brought up with Formby music and inherited a stock of 78rpm records, plus other ephemera, from his father who had memories of dropping in for a drink at the Swan or Ferry pubs in Horning where he would find a friendly George propping up the bar.

Durham-born Mrs Smart, an admirer but no great fan of Formby, remembered her mother’s “”sparkling”” tales of being taken to see his performances in 1930s Blackpool.

Mrs Smart, who lives in Thornage, near Holt, believes her dispassionate, historian’s approach has been useful in creating a properly-researched biography which is not merely showbiz gossip.

Their research material included a car-boot full of documents and photos lent by Ted, plus tape recordings of the brothers’ mother Eliza’s memories.

Third generation Formby family members were among those who gathered at Gresham’s School’s Auden Theatre to see Mrs Smart and Mr Howard arrive in George’s old Jaguar at the launch party for the new biography.

The authors’’ only regret was that Ted, who died in 2007, was not among them.

Formby may be forever associated with Lancashire – but Norfolk was his second home.

In the half century since his death, fashions in popular culture have changed enormously.

Those black and white images of a slightly simple-looking man, grinning from ear to ear as he strummed a ukulele and sang When I’m Cleaning Windows in a broad Lancashire accent, seem worlds away from today’s ‘sophisticated’ music scene, much of which is dependent on high-tech wizardry.

Yet there is something about Formby that has endured. As Sue Smart, co-author of It’s Turned Out Nice Again!, a new biography about the entertainer, says: “He gets under your skin.” Mrs Smart and her co-writer, Richard Bothway Howard, think it’s probably the very Britishness of Formby’s saucy, subversive lyrics and down-to-earth qualities, coupled with his sheer professionalism that have made old footage of his performances a hit on video-sharing website Youtube.

And he’s also enjoying something of a revival thanks to a huge resurgence of interest in ukulele playing.

In their day Formby and his wife Beryl were “showbiz royalty”, according to Mr Howard.

But unlike today’s celebrities, the couple were able to escape, without a security entourage, and relax for weeks at a time in their favourite place – the Norfolk Broads.

The authors’ researches cast doubt on whether the Formbys ever occupied the house they 
bought, Heronby, on Beech Road, Wroxham.

Instead they lived on the water, cruising through the post-war years in the luxurious surroundings of their own boat, kept at Potter Heigham.

The couple had earned their relaxation, having travelled to every theatre of war except Russia, entertaining an estimated three million troops.

The book is packed with previously unseen photos, plus the reminiscences of many Norfolk people who remember them, including Jennifer Woods, daughter of Broads Haven marina owner Herbert Woods.

She recalls as a girl that Beryl, a former dancer, would run 
through tap-dancing routines with her.

A more dramatic Norfolk encounter involved the Formbys and a young west Norfolk shop manager whose car was in collision with their Jaguar at East Winch as the couple headed for Yarmouth, where George was appearing at the Windmill Theatre.

Formby ended up in hospital and later convalesced on the Broads. He returned to the Yarmouth stage and a huge welcome a fortnight later.

Unique access to so much new material, from the family archive, has helped the authors question a 
few long-standing myths about Formby.

He was not born in poverty but was the son of the hugely-successful George Formby senior; one of only two music-hall entertainers – the other being Dan Leno – Marie Lloyd said she would take time out to see. Nor was Beryl the hen-pecking harridan of popular belief.

Theirs was a love match, say the authors. But she was a shrewd businesswoman who knew the industry inside out and read all her husband’s contracts minutely.

If born today, Mrs Smart is convinced Beryl would be running a multi-national company. And Mr Howard believes a lot of her reputation is based on the memories of men who did not like dealing with a woman of business.

The authors chose Formby’s famous catchphrase as their book title. They also hope, by putting the record straight, that it’s also “turned out nice again” for his memory.

It’s Turned Out Nice Again! is published in hardback by Melrose Books at £15.99.


  • I do believe the grill George invented, is one of mans finest moments.

    Report this comment


    Saturday, October 8, 2011

  • I think George's greatest moment was his grill invention.

    Report this comment


    Sunday, October 9, 2011

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

Other news

Fern, the pet cocker spaniel of the D'Amery family from Ridlington, who was killed by a snare. Picture: SUBMITTED

A heartbroken family today warns other pet owners about the danger of snares after their beloved dog choked to death.

Stalham Grebe charity bike ride. Ready for the off. Picture; MAURICE GRAY

Charity bike riders have been pedalling away to help raise money for a children’s hospital.


A series of flood alerts has been issued for parts of the Norfolk coast.

Ceremony to mark the return of a First World War German mortar which stood outside the Post Office until about 1970 when it was given to the Strumpshaw Steam Museum. The village asked to borrow it back last year for WW1 centenary commemorations and was told it could keep it. They've raised £500 to have it sandblasted and painted. It now stands outside the village hall. Pictured are villagers who all helped to bring back the mortar to the village


For decades it stood as a village landmark revered by children and adults alike who regarded it very much as part of their community.

Most Read

Thursday, August 27, 2015
Simon Weal with one of the apple trees which he replanted after it was uprooted.

North Walsham has rallied to support the town’s “guerrilla gardener” after vandals destroyed a key piece of his work.

Read more
North Walsham High School
Yesterday, 23:35
Laurie Scott and artist Dianne Lindsay who painted the wheel sponsored by Breakers Cafe in Cromer. Mr Scott paid the top price of £300 to make sure it stays in Breakers which is run by his wife, Ema Scott Rowlands. 


Dedicated bidders literally “splashed the cash” on Sunday, handing over more than £7,000 for decorated ships’ wheels in steady rain.

Read more
Tony Shipp

A series of flood alerts has been issued for parts of the Norfolk coast.

Read more
Friday, September 25, 2009
Cromer's new police station.

Cromer's new police station will not have a front counter to deal with public inquiries, it was revealed this week.

The news has sparked anger among town councillors who are demanding a reinstatement of the service, and asking Norfolk's top policeman to justify why it was dropped from plans.

Read more
Fern, the pet cocker spaniel of the D'Amery family from Ridlington, who was killed by a snare. Picture: SUBMITTED

A heartbroken family today warns other pet owners about the danger of snares after their beloved dog choked to death.

Read more
Norfolk police

Most Commented

Thursday, August 27, 2015
Cromer bus crash

A Sanders bus was left with shattered windows after it passed a van along Church Street in Cromer this morning.

Read more

Local Weather



max temp: 15°C

min temp: 14°C

Digital Edition

Read the North Norfolk News e-edition today E-edition