Lennon and Blackpool


George Formby – a seminal influenceIt was George Formby, who John particularly liked.

Stan says, “Formby was a big influence on John’s mother, Judy and myself. Of course, it was our grandfather, George Stanley that could play the banjo and the ukulele. It was he that taught Judy the basic chords of the two instruments.

“When George Formby came on the scene, with his stage acts and then his comedy films, we were all thrilled because members of the family were able to play the same instruments.

“John would come out of the George Formby films saying, ‘My mother can play the banjo and ukulele just like him!’

“Before I went to live in Fleetwood I used to travel from Preston to Fleetwood by a Ribble double decker bus. John often traveled with me on the top deck and we used to pass by George Formby’s house, between Preston and Fleetwood. He and his wife Beryl would be sitting in deck chairs in their garden at the front on the house, and they would wave to us on the bus and we would wave back at them.

“Of course, John, Liela and I went to all his shows in Blackpool whenever we got the chance. We felt we knew him personally.”

Incidentally, in the video of John’s song ‘Free As a Bird’, released posthumously, there is a tribute to George Formby. The video ends as the curtains come down in a theatre where a performer, a George Formby look-alike, is playing a Banjo-uke. 

George was known for the saying ‘it’s turned out nice again’ and that is the message heard backwards at the end of the song.

John and Stan were also fans of the speedway riders at the Fleetwood Flyers Speedway Club. They attended all the local meetings and collected the autographs of some of the famous champions.

They also supported the Fleetwood Football Team.

Elizabeth had been a champion swimmer at her Liverpool school and taught John, Stan and Leila how to swim at the famous Derby Baths in Blackpool and the open-air baths at Fleetwood.

In a photograph of John taken at the time, he wrote ‘the year I lost my swimming trunks at Mr. Shipway’s.’ This was a reference to Mr Shipway’s house, the second accommodation in Fleetwood for Stan and his mother.

Stan was to say, “When at the Derby Baths, we would sneak up to the top roof to try and get a peek at some of the famous stars who were sunbathing. They were hoping to get a tan before going on stage that night!”

While John and Stan were at Fleetwood they would go over to the Isle of Man to watch the famous T.T. Motorcycle races. They were very keen on them and used to collect the autographs of famous TT racers.

Bertie Sutherland had originally met Stan’s mother Elizabeth in Preston during the war, before he was posted to Italy.

After the war he heard that Charles Parkes had died and found that Elizabeth and Stan were now living in Fleetwood. He began courting her and they were married in Fleetwood in 1949. They then moved to Edinburgh.

In the meantime, their cousin Liela now lived in Fleetwood and began attending a girl’s boarding school at Lytham St. Annes, so the association with the area continued.

Stan was homesick and whenever there was a school holiday he would return to Fleetwood and Liverpool to be with John and Leila.

This period was not the only time Blackpool featured largely in John Lennon’s life.

After Alfred ‘Freddie’ Lennon and Julia had become estranged, Freddie continued with his career at sea. On arriving home from a voyage he went to see Mimi, who told him that Julia had been neglecting John.

Freddie decided to take John for a brief holiday in Blackpool at his friend Billy Hall’s house, while he decided what to do.

He sent John to his brother Sydney while he went to Southampton with a friend to help him sell nylons on the black market.

Sydney and his wife Madge were childless and wanted to adopt John.

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