ENTERTAINER George Formby might well have been leaning on a lamp-post, but it was to catch sight of his wife-to-be Beryl Ingham.

Many will have heard the story of the distinctive singer and ukulele player romancing, and then marrying, the dancer, who lived in East Lancashire, back in 1924.

Born in Alliance Street, Baxenden, and later living in Darwen, she was a world champion clog dancer and formed a variety act with George until 1932, when she became his manager.

Looking Back has this week heard from Tony Thornton, who originates from Accrington, and publishes the George Formby Society magazine.

He told this tale: “If you stop anyone on the streets of Darwen and ask them the way to Richmond Terrace, they will likely say, ‘If you’re looking for the house that George and Beryl eloped from, it’s number five’. It’s a neat house in a terraced block and, when you knock on the door, you will be greeted by Doris Lingard, who has lived there for the last 57 years.

But it’s what happened there on the night of September 13, 1924, that has forever made it part of the town’s folklore.

Legend has it that George Formby, then 19, arrived at the house at 2am, in a taxi, roused the sleeping family and declared, ‘I’ve come for Beryl and I want to marry her’.

Courting for some time, they had met while appearing at a theatre in Castleford, and for George it was love at first sight.

Beryl’s father ran the Black Bull Hotel, in Darwen, and George got to know him over a few pints. He would roll up to the pub on a battered old motorbike.

George said ‘I decided all of a sudden to propose to Beryl. I hadn’t mentioned marriage to her before I went to Darwen that night, but somehow I don’t think she was surprised’.

In true romantic style, George stood under the window and serenaded his loved one on his ukulele, singing: ‘How I love these Darwen girls With their bright and sunny curls From their red and ruby lips I get the taste of fish and chips’.

Beryl’s father was unimpressed and shouted from the upstairs window, ‘Who the hell is that?’ George was undeterred. ‘Beryl, will you marry me?’ he bawled. ‘Alright,’ said Beryl, ‘but come back in the morning!’ George returned at 7am and, accompanied by Beryl’s sister, May, and a special licence, they were married at the register office in Wigan at 10am.

According to a local tale, however, George and Beryl planned their elopement and were aided by Arthur Mellor, a carpenter who made the boards at the Royal Theatre, in Darwen, where Beryl and May tap danced as The Two Violets. It’s claimed when George arrived at the house in the early hours, Arthur took a ladder on a pony and trap. Beryl nipped down the ladder with her suitcase and off they went.”

Added Tony: “Whatever the truth, two months later they were married again – this time in church.

“He certainly picked the right lass, for it was Beryl who made him an international star.”