The Strange World Of Gurney Slade (ITV, 1960)
The Strange World Of Gurney Slade is the oldest comedy DVD that I have in my collection. I first discovered the show when I read the description in the terrific book Radio Times Guide To TV Comedy. It sounded a wonderfully odd show, but would I ever see it? I presumed that it had been long-lost but this wasn’t the case, all six episodes survive and it has been released on DVD by Network.
The show stars the late Anthony Newley, who had two number one singles in 1959, but he wasn’t your conventional pop star. He had appeared in a few TV shows and was also a successful songwriter who teamed up with comedy writers Sid Green and Dick Hills to create something unique.
The show starts with young Gurney Slade (who was named after a place in Somerset) appearing in a rather bog-standard TV sitcom. He has become disillusioned and rather than deliver his line he walks off the set, spectacularly breaking the fourth wall almost right away in doing so and proving that there was going to be something different about this show.
As the newly-free Gurney walks along the distinctive theme music by Max Harris starts and we enter his world. We hear his inner monologues and his unusual observations on life. He has discussions with anyone and anything, from people in advert posters to animals.
As the episodes progress, the show becomes increasingly odd. A moment that I particularly enjoyed was when in one episode some people were walking around Gurney’s head and we see Anthony Newley as himself perform his hit single “Strawberry Fair”. This song was the first ever single that my mum bought in 1960 so it was something of a pleasant surprise to see it actually turn up in the show.
The final episode is very creative and odd even by its own standards, with all the cast members from the previous episodes turning up again to wonder why essentially they only exist in the television screen for half an hour a week. This episode is incredibly weird to watch even now, goodness knows what the average viewer must have thought of it in the early-60s, and it’s remarkable to think that there were such attitudes to things like celebrity and television around at the time.
The Strange World Of Gurney Slade did feature a few guest stars including Geoffrey Palmer, Una Stubbs and Bernie Winters. The show does very much feel way ahead of its time, appearing nine years before Monty Python and it is a definitely a show that truly can be described as groundbreaking. Although it was much publicised when it started, the show’s ratings slumped. It seems that mainstream viewers were not prepared for such weirdness and after a few episodes the show was moved by ITV from a primetime slot to a late night one. However, it did have a repeat run in 1963, and the first episode was repeated in 1992 as part of Channel 4’s TV Heaven season, which renewed interest in the show.
The DVD is very good, featuring a booklet written by TV historian Dick Fiddy which gives an interesting insight into the making of the show and Newley’s fascinating career. It’s also remarkable to think that this show is now 55 years old.
Although there was only one series made, there was sort-of a film version of The Strange World Of Gurney Slade in 1969, when Anthony Newley starred in the nonsensical Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe And Find True Happiness? It’s a film that I haven’t seen myself and it seems that I haven’t missed much. However, I would definitely recommend entering Gurney Slade’s strange world. You’ll never think of a countersunk screw in the same way again.