Cult Movie: The Strange World Of Gurney Slade a 60s trip that's well worth taking

In The Strange World Of Gurney Slade Anthony Newley plays a world-weary TV soap actor who downs tools mid-recording one day and wanders off to muse on the meaning of life
Ralph McLean

The Strange World Of Gurney Slade

THE Strange World Of Gurney Slade is, as the title suggests, a weird and discombobulating place to visit.

A six-part black-and-white comedy series made for ITV in 1960, it starred multi-skilled song and dance man Anthony Newley as Gurney Slade, a world-weary TV soap actor who decides one day that the daily grind of television production is not for him and so downs tools mid-recording and wanders off set and out on to the street beyond the studio to muse on the meaning of life.

With his fellow actors frantically throwing him his next line and the floor manager looking on perplexed, he dons his raincoat and simply wanders off, breaking the proverbial fourth wall and taking us with him as he does so.

On his journey we hear his meandering internal monologue (written by Newley with future Morcambe and Wise gag masters Dick Hills and Sid Green) as he converses with inanimate objects, from vacuum cleaners to advertising billboards that suddenly spring to life, and ponders the meaning of life in general

A mad postmodern project from the off – at one point Slade is put on trial for making a comedy show that isn’t funny enough – it was perhaps always destined to be a glorious failure and predictably it failed to find an audience 60 years ago, retreating instead into the TV shadows of cult infamy where its remained mostly unloved and underappreciated.

Thankfully it’s just been given a full deluxe Blu-ray reissue by Network Distributing that will hopefully bring it the acclaim it so richly deserves. Even if it doesn’t it still makes for a sublimely surreal viewing experience.

Thanks to the series being shot on film, the images practically pop from the screen in glorious high definition and despite the age of the material on show and the outlandish, if admittedly low-budget, flights of fancy that our hero takes over the six episodes, everything still sparkles with a freshness and fast-witted inventiveness that’s very special.

Admittedly it’s not always all that side-splittingly funny and sometimes the meta quality of the idea is what you’re really enjoying rather than the humour, which can be a little too knowing for it’s own good, but it’s still a ridiculously audacious example of the days when TV comedy was prepared to push the envelope to all sorts of brain-frying lengths.

For this lavish box set you get all the episodes in high def with an option to stream historical context from the BFI’s Dick Fiddy and archivist Andrew Pixley and a whole range of extras including a couple of showbiz masterclasses from Newley pounding the stage of Saturday Spectacular where he shares the screen with the likes of Peter Sellers and a very young Lionel Blair.

There’s even the fabulous 1963 film The Small World Of Sammy Lee, where Newley plays a small-time Soho strip club MC on the run from moneylenders to enjoy.

It all adds up to something very special and makes that trip to Gurneyland well worth taking time and time again.

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