Royal Command Performance
The following year, on July 7th, 1913, George was one of seven acts chosen to appear at a Royal Command Performance at the magnificent Knowsley Hall, set in the 2,500 acre Knowsley estate, the ancestral home of the Earls of Derby, situated between Liverpool and St Helens. This unique event, given in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary was given by Lord Derby as a way of celebrating the nineteenth birthday of his son, Edward, Lord Stanley.
As always, Eliza has a story:
“Now while we were at Knowsley, after the evening performance at 12 o’clock, old Lord Derby came up to my husband (because he had once done a charity show for him in Grimsby of all places). George mentioned that our boy Georgie was in the stables, and Lord Derby said “When he is fourteen, let me know, and I’d be pleased to have him in my stables.” Well we didn’t need to wait, for on the morning that George was fourteen we had a telegram from Lord Derby; the Liverpool races were on with an invitation for George and I to go and bring our boy with us.”
In their review of the Command Performance, The Manchester Guardian descibes the exclusive audience:
“A glittering array – a tremendous assault of colour with the evening dresses of the women, the medals and decorations and uniforms of the men.” 
The review goes on to mention Formby being a little out of his ‘special atmosphere’:
“dealing in mysteries which were a little esoteric in this company, Mr Formby made no compromise either in his dialect or in his manner of approach.” 
George began with an account of himself as a ‘Lancashire Toreador’ (his son would sing a song with that very name twenty-four years later) and sang three of his biggest hits: Spanish Onion, with its celebrated dance, John Willie, Come On, and Standing At The Corner Of The Street; he had the honour of meeting the Queen in his dressing room after the show.
(For the one person out there who’s curious about the other six acts, they were: Tom Edwards, the ‘Huntsman’ ventriloquist; David Devant, the great conjurer; Olga, Elgar and Eli Hudson; the whirlwind dancers Frank and Vesta, Neil Kenyon and George Graves.) 
Finally, that wonderful summer’s evening in 1913 came to an end:
“…the audience began to melt away. Outside in Knowsley Park, the lights of the motor-cars were as the lights of a town.” 
Later that year, in October, Formby, with many others, appeared again before the King and Queen as well as royalty from across Europe, at the Coliseum, London in a massive charity event in aid of Charing Cross Hospital. Also appearing were such disparate characters as W.C. Fields and Sir Edward Elgar. 
As his career continued its ascent, his health began to seriously decline. In 1916, he appeared in a major London revue, ‘Razzle Dazzle’ at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and was a smash hit, but was unable to appear for the opening night due to a bad attack of his chest complaint, resulting in his being laid up in bed at his Kennington Road digs with a bad haemorrhage. From now on, despite his heroic battling and Eliza’s nursing, his health would continue to worsen, to such an extent that the following year Eliza actually cancelled several of his performances, including a week’s work at the Palladium, Southport, for which was to have been paid £175 (£8,880). The result of this was Formby being sued by them for breach of contract on the 3rd April 1917.  Formby’s lawyer, Patrick Hastings, had made an emotional case, claiming severe ill health had prevented Formby from fulfilling his contract; he went on to say that Formby was dying, had a large family, and was working for the short time left to him for the benefit of his family. Medical evidence was given as to the critical state of his health. However, It transpired in court that Formby had actually worked during the week in question in London for Moss Empires, for a much higher £250 (£13,000) weekly salary; Holman Gregory KC, for the Southport Palladium, acknowledged Formby’s serious illness, but claimed it was money, not health, which had influenced Formby’s decision. Formby claimed that he was having special medical treatment in London at the time, and but for this he would have honoured his original engagement. Formby lost the case, and had to pay £175 in damages (his salary for the week at Southport) with costs.
A few months later, in June, a huge explosion occured in Formby’s home town, Ashton-under-Lyne.  Over forty people were killed, and many made homeless, the West End County school being converted into a temporary hostel. A relief fund was set up, and Formby appeared at a special matinée at the Theatre Royal, Ashton on the 30th June, to raise money for the fund.
Formby’s frail health took a further, serious blow when in July of the following year he contracted influenza during the 1918 epidemic.  His week’s theatre engagement was disrupted; he appeared at the first house on Monday, but a doctor was called and ordered him to bed. The theatre in question: The Palladium Southport! Both parties had presumably buried the hatchet over their recent court case; the Palladium must have taken a more understanding view over his absence this time, as no further court actions against him are recorded.
However, Formby was in court again the following June, when a seven-year-old boy, Patrick Sauntry, was tragically run over and killed by Formby’s car in Manchester.  The driver was Formby’s chauffeur, William Andrews, and Formby was in the car at the time. In court, Formby stated that he was ‘very cautious’ and always instructed his chauffeur to drive slowly through towns. He expressed his sympathy with the boy’s family, and offered to pay all expenses they had been put to. The jury recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Despite these problems, and his by now rapidly deteriorating health, Formby’s career was at its peak. He was earning a staggering amount of money, regularly taking over £250 (£13,000) a week, and able to command up to £50 (£2,500) just for a single performance. As his ability to recover from the regular coughing fits and haemorrhages diminished, he suicidally pushed himself ever harder, determined to earn, and put away, as much money as he possibly could before he could no longer work at all. His plan was to retire when Georgie was eighteen – in May 1922 – and train racehorses, with Georgie in daily charge of the stables. He was already a fabulously wealthy man, but wanted to be sure his family could survive without him working, either due to his retirement – or worse. It was a terrible strain on Eliza, who now travelled with him everywhere as his nurse too, keeping him alive from one show to the next. She even provided oxygen for the theatres he was working, as his breathlessness was constant; when he was on stage near the end of his life, he would be so distressed with chest pain, coughing, and an inability to breathe, that Eliza would stand in the wings and, often quite audibly, prompt him. At the end of the act, he would rush to the next theatre, as he played up to four an evening, in rotation. It’s a miracle he lasted as long as he did.
1. The Manchester Guardian, 8th July 1913
4. NEWTON, H Chance: Idols of the ‘Halls’ p.217 (Heath Cranton, 1928)
5. The Manchester Guardian, 8th July 1913
6. The Manchester Guardian, 13th October 1913
7. The Manchester Guardian, 4th April 1917
8. The Manchester Guardian, 20th June 1917
9. The Manchester Guardian, 4th July 1918
10. The Manchester Guardian, 16 June 1919