What's a Banjolele?
A cross, as might be expected, between a banjo and a ukelele. The banjolele was invented by Alvin D. Keech and popularized (if that's the word I want) by British music hall entertainer and actor George Formby. In fact this was the instrument that propelled George to become the top-paid British entertainer of 1939.
The Banjolele In Popular Culture
According to www.georgeformby.co.uk, George started out simply as a regular stage actor, using his father's material and displeasing audiences everywhere, until someone bet him that he wouldn't dare take his banjolele on stage. Accepting the bet, "George played it at the Alhambra Theatre in Barnsley - and brought the house down! George and his 'Uke' were inseparable from that point on."
The banjolele was also featured in the writing of P. G. Wodehouse. Bertie Wooster, the patsy of all fleeting fads, plays one.
But What the Hell IS It?
The banjolele features a banjo body with a ukelele neck. It is tuned and played like a ukelele and sounds more or less like a banjo.
Banjoes themselves were the victim of many a hybridization during the 1920s. As well as banjo-ukeleles, there were mandolin-banjos (a mandolin body with a banjo neck), banjo-mandolins, and ukulele-banjos. These were largely created to capitalize on the tremendous popularity of the mandolin, and spread outward into other similarly shaped string instruments.
Banjoleles can still be found today, generally wherever banjos themselves are sold.