Off the Dole is a 1935 British film starring George Formby. He plays the character John Willie, a stage personna originally developed by his father, George Formby, Sr. Formby Jnr’s wife Beryl also appears in the film.[1] Dole is the colloquial term in the UK for unemployment benefit, now known as Jobseeker’s Allowance; to be “on the dole” is to be unemployed.[2][a]The original meaning of dole was a donation to charity.[3]

After John Willie has his unemployment benefit withdrawn for moonlighting and not trying to find legitimate work, he takes over his uncle’s detective agency. After various mishaps, Willie succeeds in apprehending a local criminal.[1]

John Willie being told that his unemployment benefit has been stopped


  • George Formby as John Willie
  • Beryl Formby as Grace, Charm and Ability
  • Constance Shotter as Irene
  • Dan Crisp as The Inimitable Dude
  • James Plant as Crisp and Debonaire
  • Stan Pell as The Most Inoffensive Parson
  • Stan Little as Little Jack
  • Tully Comber as Measured for his Part
  • Clifford McLaglen as A Villain and Proud of It
  • Wally Patch as Revels in his Part


Directed by Arthur Mertz and produced by the Mancunian Film CorporationBritish film production company founded in 1934, notable for establishing the only feature film studio outside of Greater London.,[1] Off the Dole cost £3,000 to make, and earned £80,000 at the box office.[4] As with Formby’s previous film, Boots! Boots! (1934) it adopted a revue format encompassing music, dance and sketches, and showed Formby playing the role of John Willie on stage.[5] According to Formby’s biographer, the cultural historian Jeffrey Richards, the two films “are an invaluable record of the pre-cinematic Formby at work”.[6]

Critical reception

The film critic Leslie Halliwell has described Off the Dole as an “artless comedy shot on a minuscule budget”, but it nevertheless helped to make George Formby a star. Another has described it as a “string of quite disparate sketches”, lacking any cohesion, but despite its “crudeness” offering many enjoyable moments, particularly the songs, notably “With my Little Ukele in my Hand”.[7]


a The original meaning of dole was a donation to charity.[3]