Icon: George Formby

One of motorcycling's icons, would you believe it..

THERE CAN'T be many Isle of Man TT fans who haven't seen George Formby's hilarious 1936 movie No Limit.

It immortalised the races way before names like Geoff Duke and Mike Hailwood made them famous, the film still plays on the Island every year during TT week and is still available on video. Now that's longevity.

Formby, who was born in Wigan, Lancs in 1904, was the greatest music hall showman of his generation before moving into films. In No Limit he plays chimney sweep George Shuttleworth who builds his own 'Shuttleworth special' in his garage for an assault on the TT races. The bike was actually a heavily disguised AJS 7R covered in a chequered dustbin fairing. And you can still spot the odd replica pottering around the Island today during race week.

In true rags to riches style, Shuttleworth, the self-styled 'speed demon' eventually gets a factory Rainbow ride and goes on to win the race but not before falling off the ferry, crashing through the pub at Ballacraine, losing his wallet, running out of fuel and having his own bike thrown off a cliff by the bad guys.

The film cost £30,000 to make, which was a pretty hefty sum back in 1936, and it was filmed almost entirely on location on the Isle of Man.

Formby actually collapsed on the finish line at Glencrutchery Road after filming the same scene in which he pushed his bike over the line 15 times. But the director used the shot anyway, so the shot you see of Formby collapsing is for real.

The Ealing Studios film was a massive success and Formby soon became the biggest entertainer in Britain (and the biggest box office draw for six years running), making £100,000 a year by 1939.
It also made George a cult figure for TT fans who still waste no opportunity to shout catch phrases from the film like "Made it meeself", "Never touched me" and "Eeeeh, it's Grandpa" after a few pints of Okell's ale. The film has even been played on the Island to raise money for the Manx Helicopter fund which assists fallen riders.

But what most TT fans don't know is that Formby, who's goofy teeth and slick-backed hair made him look like a gormless nerd in his movies, was a mad keen bike rider in real life too, sharing a similar derring-do attitude to his No Limit character.

His favoured steed was a 500cc Norton International, an overhead cam, single cylinder sports model, which is now on display in the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham. And he insisted on doing all his own stunts for the film despite protests from the director who was naturally worried about his rather expensive leading man getting injured and holding up filming.

But good old Georgie-boy wasn't like today's molly-coddled movie stars and when the Second World War broke out, he quickly volunteered to join the Blackpool Home Guard as a motorcycle despatch rider as well as agreeing to boost morale by entertaining his fellow troops.

He made further use of his passion for biking immediately after the war when the new Labour government stung him heavily for taxes. Formby decided it was hardly worth working just to give all his hard-earned cash to the taxman, so he took to buying old scrap bikes, fixing them up, giving them a paint job and selling them on for a tidy profit! George Shuttleworth would have been proud of him.

Formby, who was awarded an OBE and MBE for his war efforts and services to entertainment, returned to performing but died of a heart attack in 1961. He had made 21 films and recorded over 400 songs including his TT tunes 'Come along and see me riding in the TT races' and 'Riding around on a Rainbow.'
But most importantly for us bikers, he put the TT (and motorcycling in general) on the map, brought the races to a whole new audience of movie-goers and music hall fans, rode a bike in the war to do his bit and kept a lot of people laughing for 65 years. That's a pretty good effort Mr Formby - you are a true biking icon.

Comedy straw bowler hats off to the man.