Gurney Slade's Strange World

Tuesday, 16 August 2011 00:00

It has always been the case that ITV was always considered the poor relation to the BBC in the realms of situation comedy.  Ever since the commercial station started up, the perceived wisdom was that the BBC would always have far more hits per broadcast half-hour than ITV.  This was definitely the way things were viewed back in 1960, when the two-channel landscape was to be subjected to a show that, even today, is rightly considered ahead of its time: The Strange World of Gurney Slade.

Crooning icon Anthony Newley was a risk-taker, and nothing illustrates this better than Gurney, where he chose to star. Whereas any comical ITV successes were more likely to have come across the Atlantic, home grown giggle-gurus were proving inept at finding a winning formula.  Unfortunately, the advertisers were not happy with Gurney at all, it was ceremoniously hauled off prime time before the conclusion of its run.  Don’t let that put you off – this is a unique show with class and style.

The Strange World of Gurney Slade comes to DVDIt is perhaps unfortunate that Gurney probably did more than any other series to ensure that most future ITV sit-coms were formulaic to the extreme.  Surrealism and the unusual would never, ever, be considered after Mr Newley’s vehicle crashed so spectacularly. However, it feels with this DVD release of the half-dozen episodes that were placed in a time capsule, ready to wait for us to become mature and sophisticated enough over 50 years later to be able to appreciate the pure artistry of what was being served up.

In an indignant outburst of audience bile that would only ever be echoed by The Prisoner some seven and a half years later, the traditional television viewers of the time were outraged that such bizarre narrative be allowed to punctuate their evening’s entertainment.  Especially from ITV, who up until that point, could always be relied on for music and variety that owed more to the Music Hall era – rather than this age of ‘viewscreens’ that was coming to every home.

The show had champions in high places – you can conclude that mention of David Bowie being a fan is bound to bump up DVD sales for this title, which will be in short supply over the coming weeks due to the Sony warehouse fire where many copies were being stored.

They say that true genius is never really celebrated within an artist’s lifetime, and this looks to be the case with Anthony Newley. As a singer, songwriter and indeed actor this is a guy who was never really appreciated in his own era.  Perhaps now, like so many posthumous artists, the time of Newley has finally come.

Incidentally, “Gurney Slade” is in fact a limestone quarry between Binegar and Holcombe, on the Mendip Hills, Somerset.

What was to follow the following year, 1961, was The Johnny Darling Show, where Newley would again star, and a contributor to The Times commented: “As a television artist, Mr Newley is dangerously original. The Strange World of Gurney Slade, his series on independent television some months ago, was fantastic, witty, honest, melancholy and unpopular, culminating in an answer to his critics - his trial for having no sense of humour.”

The journey through Gurney’s imagination (or indeed as a parallel to that of Newley’s himself), was fuelled by material by Sid Green and Dick Hills, who went on to work with Morecambe and Wise, on their ATV series which saw them finally become an institution, Two of A Kind, a show that’s coming soon to DVD in a complete set, also from Network.

So, if you like surreal whimsy, this is a show you cannot afford to be without in your collection – it breaks the fourth wall, it plays with your expectations, its narrative is scattergun and unexpected, and it jumps from a trio of episodes almost all filmed on location to a trio that are very studio bound. You never really know what is coming next. The 35mm stock it was filmed on mean that it looks absolutely pristine, and even in just traditional DVD resolution it is still an absolute treat.

Anneke Wills appears in two episodes and looks quite simply stunning. Also watch out for small roles for the likes of Geoffrey Palmer, Bernie Winters, Hugh Paddick, Peter Glaze, Erik Chitty, Charles Lloyd Pack, Bernard Spear, Tracy Reed and the voice of Fenella Fielding (giving her husky tones to a cow!).

The Strange World of Gurney Slade is out now from Network DVD, with a running time of 150 minutes approx, a ‘PG’ certificate, and a RRP £14.99, or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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