Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

From Gurney Slade To Aladdin Sane

Anthony Newley fell through the cracks in the culture. He had his moments. There were times when he was on the brink of superstardom and now he's almost forgotten. He was an actor, singer, songwriter, film-maker, impresario...

The ashes were stirred yesterday by his son- who has written an autobiography in which he says his dad was a paedophile. His mother and sister- his mother being Joan Collins- say this is bunk. I'll leave it at that.

But a bell had been rung for me and I did a bit of on-line truffling- and found the whole first episode of The Strange World of Gurney Slade- Newley's odd little sit-com from 1960. It's shot entirely on 35 mm and mostly on location- which was unheard of for a TV show of this kind. It's whimsical, fantastical, cheeky. There's a talking dog and a sequence in which Newley dances through a park with Una Stubbs and a vaccuum cleaner. There are digs at the police (officious and brutal) and big business (in the person of a sex-obsessed captain of industry.) Newley's persona is part angry young man, part Marcello Mastroianni, part Norman Wisdom. He's the lairy youth who chucks a stone and runs away. And if there's a criticism to be made it's that he wants too much to be loved- and undercuts the nonconformity by giving us the sulky puppy-dog eyes as if to say, "But I'm harmless really." It was the right thing to be doing but maybe Newley- with his emotional neediness, his solipsism- wasn't quite the person to be doing it. A Hard Day's Night came along only four years later. Newley was a better actor than any of the Beatles but what they had and he didn't was rock 'n' roll.

Anyway, the viewing public hadn't seen anything like Gurney Slade before and didn't care if they never saw anything like it again- all except for another chancer and song and dance man called David Bowie who thought it was amazing...

...And looked and learned- added and subtracted- and with a skill set that was very like Newley's took everything to the max...
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