The Corner

A Noble Instrument

What does an NRO reader need first thing in the morning? What else but some ukelele music?

Bernard Chapin gave Radio Derb a nice promo — a “shout-out,” we’re calling it nowadays, I have no idea why — on his vlog, Chapin’s Inferno:

 … with Radio Derb, I listen every week, I don’t care what John is doing at the time that he’s reading those words, he could be strumming the ukelele for all I care …

Now, as it happens, I can’t play the ukelele. I am, however, a Derbyshire; and the great hearth-place of the Derbyshire clan is the town of Wigan, in south Lancashire; and one of Wigan’s best-loved native sons was the 1930s movie and radio comedian George Formby. George never went anywhere without his ukelele. He was the Jascha Heifetz of the ukelele, and played the noble instrument magnificently through a series of otherwise deeply forgettable movies.

Wikipedia tells us that George was married to a champion clog-dancer and owned a dog named Willie Waterbucket. Also that “His 1937 song, ‘With my little stick of Blackpool Rock’ was banned by the BBC because of the lyrics.” You can see George perform this charming little number, with some virtuoso ukelele playing (further into the clip), here. (Rock, in this context, is a type of confectionery popular in mid-20th-century English seaside resorts.)

You’d never think it to look at him there, but George was, according to rumor, an indefatigable babe-hound.

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