Alan Tarrant (director)
Network on Air (studio)
420 min total (length)
30 November 2020 (released)
20 December 2020
The late Anthony Newley was indeed an original and offbeat talent whose versatility is in many respects still greatly underrated. It is not by any means true to say that the nature of this rather surreal series defies the attempts of hapless critics to review it. There is no middle ground here, you will either get this short-lived series or you will find it totally incomprehensible.
Sadly, when it was first aired a whopping 60 years ago the latter opinion was overwhelming and this truly inspired series was quickly moved from prime time to a much later time slot (Saturday evening after 11pm). In the words of our fictional hero Gurney Slade: “Well, it was a noble effort, wasn’t it? You tried. I give you that, you tried. But the public is no man’s fool, you know. The public knows what it wants, and you had no right to even try and suggest something different. Anyway, the public doesn’t like anything…suggestive.”
One can therefore hope, on an optimistic level, that after all this time this show will receive the appreciation it deserves…
As you will see in the Bonus Features the genesis of this series came about from the slightly earlier 'Anthony Newley Show' in which Newley performed 'off the wall' monologues as well as singing and performing in comedic sketches. The writers of this show were Sid Green and Dick Hills (who were responsible for much of the early success of Britain's best loved double act Morecambe and Wise). It appears Newley had the idea for ‘Gurney Slade’ and Green and Hills developed the series. It really is way too ahead of its time to have been a hit in 1960, in fact it is surprising that ATV gave it the go ahead at all. This was just not the kind of thing that the populace would find funny back then - remember 'Alternative Comedy’ would not arrive until twenty years later.
Newley's character Gurney Slade should be immediately identifiable - unfortunately we live in a flawed world full of shoulds. Gurney is an actor in a TV soap who, at the beginning of the first episode, simply walks off the set and out of the studio into the street and we, the viewer, are invited to enter his mind set… By doing so, Gurney virtually deconstructs the entire TV-media; questioning himself throughout. Making up non-existent words at the drop of a hat and getting a reply in kind (this is yet another quirk where you don't always see what is coming) he also talks to animals, all of whom reply! Naturally Gurney has a great affinity with children. He creates people and quirky, surreal situations out of his mind and holds himself responsible for the consequences. The advice he gives to his creations is invariably quite inspired and thought provoking - does this make us feel uncomfortable?
In one instance he breaks up a marriage by expounding what really is nothing more than common sense and simply finds himself walking off with the couple's children and the new-born baby in the pram. Taking a liking to a girl in a vacuum cleaner poster he simply brings her to life. In one of the dreamlike sequences he finds himself on trial for messing with his characters lives (we should also bear in mind that he himself is a character) while judged by law and a Queen in medieval garb, with the executioner is only to happy to use his axe. We even have his characters escaping into the safe confines of Gurney’s own mind - touching a computerized surface and looking at his finger, he exclaims: “At least it's not a dirty mind.”
There is much wisdom and foresight on show here - albeit conceived in an oddly thought-provoking manner. Max Harris's music catches the theme all too succinctly. Newley really is first rate in the central role - he doesn't have a great deal of dialogue as we are mostly hearing his thoughts and they are never less than intriguing. He has also surrounded himself with a company of worthy British character actors including the likes of Douglas Wilmer as the prosecuting counsel and Una Stubbs as the aforementioned vacuum cleaner poster-girl.
Newley, a working class lad from Hackney (an impoverished area that spawned a great deal of talent) had achieved some considerable success as a child actor (including an unforgettable 'Artful Dodger' in David Lean's 1948 OLIVER TWIST) and continued throughout his career to be a successful songwriter (Sammy Davis Jr was quick to pick up on the 'catchiness' of Newley's songs).
I dare you to enter Gurney Slade’s world but if, for some inexplicable reason, you are still unconvinced of Newley's talent the two bonus discs will more than suffice – two of the early ‘Anthony Newley Shows’ are thrown in featuring guest stars such as Janette Scott, Peter Sellers and Shirley Bassey (btw Newley also wrote the Bond song ‘Goldfinger’ which was a mega-hit for the girl from Tiger Bay). We also get the fantastic b/w crime film THE SMALL WORLD OF SAMMY LEE (1963) in which Newley supplies a blinding performance as a strip club compere who has one day to pay his gambling debts…or pay the consequences! Furthermore we are treated to Original Gurney Slade promo shorts and an insightful commemorative booklet.
This 3-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray box-set is available EXCLUSIVE only via: www.networkonair.com