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Newall, Guy (1885-1937)

Director, Actor

Main image of Newall, Guy (1885-1937)

Guy P. Newall was born on 25 May 1885 on the Isle of Wight. Gaining his first experience of the stage in a travelling pantomime, he drifted into the London and provincial theatre, specialising in comic dude roles and writing one-act plays and music-hall sketches. He entered the film industry taking small-part roles and writing scenarios for the London Film Company. When war broke out, he was on tour with Marie Tempest in America, but after appearing in a string of films by Maurice Elvey and assisting George Loane Tucker on The Manxman (1916), he joined the Royal Garrison Artillery. There he met George Clark - a self-styled expert in photography - and after the war ended they set up Lucky Cat Films, with Clark as business manager and Newall in artistic control as well as acting as lead player. Realising the significance of American competition but convinced of "the superior talent of British players", Lucky Cat set out to "vindicate to the world the possibility of all-British pictures" (Bioscope, 1919). Important for these ambitions was the pictorial camerawork of Bert Ford and Joe Rosenthal junior, tasteful set designs by Charles Dalmon, and the capabilities of contracted directors such as Kenelm Foss and Arthur Rooke. Crucial too was Newall's partnership with Ivy Duke, a musical comedy actress whom he met during the war, persuaded to join Lucky Cat as his leading lady, and married in 1922.

Three months after successfully trade-showing four comedies, the company, working from cramped studios in Ebury Street, announced expansion under the name George Clark Productions; six months later, construction of a modern studio at Beaconsfield was underway. The accompanying stream of production saw Newall come into his own as writer and director. He scripted and starred in The Garden of Resurrection (d. Arthur Rooke, 1919), The Lure of Crooning Water (d. Arthur Rooke, 1920) and Duke's Son (d. Franklin Dyall, 1920), but forwent acting in his fine directorial debut, Testimony (1920), ostensibly to focus on the more demanding role taken by Ivy Duke. While Beaconsfield was still under construction, he took the company to Nice to direct The Bigamist (1921) and The Persistent Lovers (1922); and went down to the New Forest and Salisbury Plain to make the racing drama, Boy Woodburn (1922), and the Hardyesque Fox Farm (1922). Beaconsfield opened in May 1922. In November his Cornish drama, The Maid of the Silver Sea, was trade shown.

During this hectic programme, Newall not only provided George Clark Productions with artistic inspiration but - as he later joked - performed all roles from general manager through scenario writer, leading man and director to office cleaner. Artistic control enabled Newall to use filmmaking as outlet for his emphasis on the 'beautiful', 'play' and 'make-believe'. As he told interviewers he liked being "associated with beautiful plays"; film-acting was 'play' to him. In his George Clark films, Newall developed a pathos-laden, if whimsically ironic, protagonist defined by social marginalisation and personal isolation. Unloved, misunderstood and wryly self-deprecating oddballs, these wounded men, so frequent in 1920s films, attempt to draw those around them into the fatalistic, melodramatic life of their imaginings. With Ivy Duke as foil, Newall wove from this material a series of stylish fantasies, laced with wry humour, in which his outsider heroes confront the materialistic corruption of a dying aristocracy and the changing class and gender relations of postwar modernity.

Although regretting the loss of Newall's charming dude personations of the Lucky Cat comedies, British review press and audiences responded positively to this new direction. Feted as 'Britain's finest actor', Newall's new style of minimalist but psychologically revealing performance projected the ordinariness of inarticulate characters whose yearning for the extraordinary was realisable only in fantasy. Appreciation of Newall's sincerity, restraint and naturalness was supported by pictorial camerawork displaying skilfully contrived framing and lighting, and by powerfully restorative images of the English countryside, which set his self-centred protagonists within a broader context of rural hardships and timeless landscapes.

After 1922, the film industry's downturn refocused Newall's career. He handed over the scripting of Mirage (1923) to Duke and direction to Arthur Rooke, and, after making The Starlit Garden (1924), retreated to his Norfolk Broads home to concentrate on his novel and play, Husband Love. Between 1924 and 1927 Newall was absent from the cinema, though, like Ivy Duke, he appeared regularly on the stage. When he returned, in Geza Von Bolvary's 1927 version of The Ghost Train, it was in a silly-ass role which can be seen as a satirical undermining of the soulful protagonists of his George Clark films.

Newall was divorced by Ivy Duke in 1929, and returned to directing, making a series of low-budget films, most of them starring Elizabeth Allan, for Julius Hagen at Twickenham. Competent and amusing though they are, they share little with the artistically adventurous films Newall had made in the '20s. His health deteriorated in the mid-1930s and he died suddenly on 25 February 1937 at his home in Hampstead, leaving a four-year old daughter by his third wife, actress Dorothy Batley.

Newall, Guy, Husband Love, (London: Constable, 1924)
Low, Rachael, The History of British Film 1918-1929 (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1971)
Gledhill, Christine, Reframing British Cinema 1919-1928: Between Restraint and Passion (London: British Film Institute, 2003).
'More British Pictures: George Clark's Plans', Bioscope, 2 Oct. 1919, p. 31
'The New George Clark Studios', Kinematograph Weekly, 8 April, 1920, pp. 88-9
'Guy Newall and Ivy Duke: All British Stars', Stoll's Editorial News, 15 April 1920, pp. 5-6.
'George Clark Productions', Supplement to Bioscope, 1 July 1920, p. xxiv; entry on Guy Newall, p. xliv
'The Importance of Being Ernest', an interview with Newall and Ivy Duke, Picturegoer, March 1922, pp. 43-46, 58
'Down on the Farm: a Visit to the George Clark Film', Pictures: The Screen Magazine, April 1922
'Film Favourites on the British Screen: n. 26: Guy Newall', Picture Show, 25 Aug. 1923, p. 18.

Christine Gledhill

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