George Formby played the ukelele when his father George Formby died and he got too heavy to train racehorses. After a year or two he was earning what would now be £15,000 a week. All he did was sing, write silly songs and play the ukelele. So it’s a bit hard to see why the BBC banned him.
But they did.
The song that got most up their nose was ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows.’
Pretending to be a window cleaner the song romps through the things a window cleaner sees. Honeymooners billing and cooing, a drunk so dehydrated he drank his bath, a woman who must surely be Madonna’s grandma ‘nearer 80 than 18.’ There isn’t a single swear-word or explicit sexual reference in the song. Not one. There never was in any of Formby’s stuff. He had more sense and the past is another country; they did things differently there. And he made people laugh. A lot.
Forty Years On
He managed it, churning out films and songs all of that time, because the audience was in on the joke. And it was a joke. Nothing he sang was even as risque as a Carry On film, although Sid James probably would have appreciated Formby hugely, I’d guess.
So why the ban?
The Guardian, bless it and its teenage writers scribing Comment Is Free (or as close to free as anyone desperate for what they fondly beleive will be a start in serious journalism with out an Oxbridge education will settle for, £80 being the going rate last time I checked), though it was this verse that made the BBC go full Whitehouse:
Pyjamas lying side by side/Ladies nighties I have spied/I’ve often see what goes inside/When I’m cleaning windows.
They thought it was the ‘ladies nighties’ reference, thinking an oblique reference to nudity would do it. Given that there are references to flashing and proto-cougarism later in the song, I don’t think that’s it at all.
If nighties are synonymous with ladies’ night attire, it follows that pyjamas, for the purpose of the song, serve as cladding for men during the hours of darkness. And here, m’lud, we have clear evidence of the depravity this buch toothed grinning corruper of a nation’s morals was capable of; the veritable torrent of filth that flowed from his lips. This was, after all, a society that rewarded Alan Turing, the man who if anyone did, won the war singlehanded by setting up the mechanism to crack the Enigma code and inventing modern computing by chemically castrating him because he liked going to bed with people of the same sex. They kept on at him until he killed himself. Well done, Alan. Congrats and all that, a tad obliged and so on, but we think you’re a disgusting pervert and frankly, we’re better off without people like you. As a grateful nation put it at the time.
So if this chippy Lancastrian thought he was going to get away with this kind of smut polluting the airwaves then he’d jolly well got another thought coming. I think that was the reason. But who knows now? Perhaps they just didn’t like ukeleles.