Was loveable buck-toothed northern banjo-strummer George Formby a Nazi-sympathiser? If top documentary maker Haldane Burke’s new television investigation is to be believed, then the answer is – yes! In a soon to be screened Channel Five programme Burke claims that during the dark days of World War Two Formby and a host of other then-popular British entertainers were in fact secretly working for the Fuhrer. According to the documentary, when Rudolf Hess flew to Britain in 1941, his list of influential contacts was topped by George Formby, then at the peak of his popularity as a music hall and film star. These allegations are sure to shock Formby’s many fans. Indeed, since the release of Motorhead’s 1998 album of George Formby covers – show-casing Lemmy’s talents with the electric banjo – George Formby has built up a cult following amongst Britain’s youth. Burke’s main evidence for Our George’s Nazi sympathies comes from the incident in 1940, whilst Formby was filming “Turned Out Nice Again”, when a cleaning maid at his hotel caught him dressed only in a coal-scuttle helmet and a pair of jack-boots whilst being spanked with a ukulele by a large blonde woman dressed as a Valkyrie. His activities were apparently accompanied by a gramophone recording of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. The documentary also includes an interview with 87 year old Horace Clemper who, in 1945, was one of the first British Military personnel to enter Hitler’s bunker following the madman’s suicide. He is adamant that amongst the Fuhrer’s surviving effects was a complete set of George Formby’s 78s. Another interviewee, former SS corporal Johann von Krutch, claims Hitler listened to these with increasing frequency as he descended into madness. He was also reputed to have watched bootleg copies of all of Formby’s films – obtained by German agents working in Britain. Formby’s connections to Hitler are believed to date back to 1921 when, whilst visiting his sister in Liverpool, Adolf met the young George and reputedly taught him to play the banjo. This theory is given credence by von Krutch, who states that the Fuhrer often liked to play his banjo at cabinet meetings, often accompanied by Himmler on saxophone and Goebbels on double-bass (Boorman was banned from playing his bassoon on the grounds that the instrument was un-aryan). On at least one occasion he apparently performed Formby’s “Oh Mr Woo!” For Eva Braun.
Although Formby successfully concealed his sympathies most of the time, on a few occasions – usually under the influence of drink – he let his admiration for the Third Reich slip out. This once provoked a furious fist-fight with hard-drinking true-patriot Will Hay in the saloon bar of the “Boar’s Arse” pub in Ealing. Hay eventually had to be restrained by drinking companions Arthur Askey and Richard “Stinker” Murdoch (so-called because of his incontinence after seven pints). However, according to Burke, Formby had his supporters, notably music hall favourite Robb Wilton (“The day war broke out, I ran up the swastika and shouted Heil Hitler”) and an unidentified member of the Crazy Gang. Also on Hess’s list, the documentary claims, was another acquaintance of Formby; young Johnny Morris – then unknown to the public, but later to find fame as a children’s television presenter.
Morris was included because of his sinister activities as a black magician. A long-time acolyte of Aleistar Crowley – “The Beast Himself” – Morris founded his own “Animal Magic” cult in the late 1930s. Many leading political and showbusiness figures secretly became members, including Oswald Moseley and Formby. The cult’s initiation rituals included bizarre sexual rights and blood sacrifices. Morris believed that he could enhance his occult powers through the sexual act. After one particularly frenzied orgy in 1942, Morris was able to conjure up a pair of demonic elephants, which he tried to use to assassinate Winston Churchill. However, the plan failed when Deputy Prime Minister and practising white magician, Clement Attlee, used his own occult powers to destroy the creatures as they advanced up Whitehall. The cult eventually foundered in 1944, following the unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life, when a pro-Rommel faction broke away. Morris took his revenge on the leader of the faction, fellow Warlock Arthur Lucan, when he cast a powerful spell which caused Lucan’s knob to drop off. Lucan was subsequently condemned to dressing up in drag and playing washer-woman Old Mother Riley in a series of appalling British movies.
The documentary claims that Morris continued his Nazi affiliations after the war, using his TV series as a vehicle for his beliefs. There can be no doubt that the title of his most famous children’s series – “Animal Magic” – has eerie echoes of his occult activities. Burke alleges that in 1968 the series was nearly dropped by the BBC after a senior manager thought he recognised Morris’s Zoo-Keeper outfit as an SS uniform with the insignia removed. In 1973 an episode of the series apparently had to be pulled from the schedules at the last minute when it was found to feature Giraffes making the Nazi salute with their necks, and the Gorillas at Bristol Zoo urging the Chimps to gas the baboons as they were an inferior species. Reaction to the documentary has so far been negative, with friends and relatives of Morris calling the allegations against him “outrageous” and “completely unfounded”. The BBC has described the claims about “Animal Magic” as “bollocks” and “a heap of shite”. A spokesman for the George Formby Appreciation Society said that they “were appalled that such allegations could be made against such a talented and patriotic artist who did so much for his country in the fight against Hitler”. Haldane Burke, however, remains unmoved, and is planning his next documentary – an expose of communist infiltration of television entertainment in the 1960s and 1970s by such subversives as Tommy Cooper and Morecambe and Wise.