Arts

Cult Movie: The Strange World of Gurney Slade a weird and whimsical 60s gem

The Strange World of Gurney Slade was a wondrously odd slice of surrealism that starring the great Anthony Newley

The Strange World of Gurney Slade

READERS with a taste for the cult in their TV viewing – since you're here, that's probably you, pal – may remember TV Heaven from the early 90s.

Hosted by ageing raconteur Frank Muir, in that fruity old school broadcaster voice of his that sounded as if he was gargling a bag of marbles, it was a series of evenings on Channel 4 that focused in on a specific year each week, bringing together a load of programmes that were popular at the time and even cramming in the relevant TV advertisements from the period as well.

It was a cool, if admittedly cheap idea, and one that threw up all manner of televisual treats to be devoured by cult vultures like me.

Best of all among these often long considered lost gems, for me at least, arrived when 1960 was the year in question and old Frank got his tongue around the title of The Strange World Of Gurney Slade.

Described at the time as a “whimsical comedy” it is, in fact, a wondrously odd slice of surrealism that starred the great Anthony Newley as Gurney Slade, a bored TV actor who walks out of his boring sitcom and into a world of wise cracking dogs, talking household appliances and dancing bill board advertisements.

The fevered dream child of Newley himself, who was enjoying a duel career as actor and pop star at the time, it was a six part series written in collaboration with future Morcambe and Wise scriptwriters Sid Green and Dick Hills and commissioned for prime time broadcast by Lew Grade's ATV in 1960.

Barely one episode had been transmitted before bemused audience reactions ensured it was shifted to a later time slot when surreal flights of fancy were less of an issue.

Episode one, the one that TV Heaven screened back in the early 90s, sees Gurney, played by Newley as a kind of hunched over every man in a short white mac, literally walk off the set of his humdrum TV sitcom and onto the streets of London were all kinds of weird and magical things happen to him.

These include a lot of Lewis Carroll inspired word play, those aforementioned household appliances that come to life and even the unlikely sight of a dustbin answering him back.

By the end of the first instalment Gurney has wandered into a house where all his old actor friends are playing an everyday family who are watching his new TV show. Surreal would barely cover it.

All this whimsy and weirdness does start to get a tad tedious as all the speeded up sequences and endless moments of madness start to blend into one but Newley carries the role effortlessly like the old theatrical trooper he was and the famous theme tune from Max Harris, which sounds like an instrumental version of Mose Allison's classic Parchman Farm, is a total ear worm that is utterly unforgettable.

A clear influence (although I've never seen it credited as such) on both Monty Python's Flying Circus and Richard Lester's brilliant Beatlemania epic A Hard Day's Night, which arrived a full four years later, it is offbeat and oddly irritating in equal measure.

Network DVD released the series in full a few years back. Seek it out and enjoy a seriously odd little gem of Brit comic genius.

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