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Strange World of Gurney Slade, The (1960)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Strange World of Gurney Slade, The (1960)
ATV for ITV, tx. 22/10-26/11/1960
6 x 30 min, black & white
ProducerAlan Tarrant
Written bySid Green
 Dick Hills
MusicMax Harris
ConductorJack Parnell

Cast: Anthony Newley (Gurney Slade); Bernie Winters; Geoffrey Palmer; Una Stubbs; Hugh Paddick; Charles Lloyd-Pack

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The bizarre adventures of a frustrated actor, who walks off a tired family sitcom into a world of talking dogs, and dancing advertisements.

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One of television's genuine oddities, The Strange World of Gurney Slade was a whimsical 'comedy of thought' following one ex- (or so he thinks) actor's meandering journey through a fantasy world. On the back of a burgeoning pop career, Anthony Newley was offered free reign to create of a six-part comedy series in collaboration with comedy scriptwriters Sid Green and Dick Hills (who would later write for Morecambe and Wise). The result, to the bemusement of ATV's Lew Grade, was not a series of pop shows, but an off-beat, stream-of-consciousness comedy.

Unusually, the series was shot on film, marking it out from the largely studio-bound, live, theatrical drama of its time. The first episode sees actor Gurney Slade, in protest against a hackneyed sitcom script, abandoning the studio set for the streets of London. What follows is a fantastical journey unlike anything on television by 1960: Lewis Carroll-style linguistic invention, conversations with dustbins and dances with Hoovers, culminating in Gurney's entering a home to find an average TV viewing family (his former acting colleagues) watching his show.

Gurney Slade displays the irreverence to authority - Gurney witnesses a politician desert his duty for a buxom mistress, and reacts with petty acts of rebellion when bothered by a policeman - that would become the province of the youth movements later in the decade. At the same time, it captured the 1960s' youthful spirit, combining images of everyday contemporary life (London street, and the shortie raincoated Gurney himself) with sped-up fantasy sequences consisting of romps in parks with girls, as well as songs - anticipating The Beatles films A Hard Day's Night and Help! (d. Richard Lester, 1964 and 1965). But the series' most lasting legacy remains its theme tune, written by Max Harris; Newley's contemporaneous cover of 'Strawberry Fair' was also a Top-10 hit.

The series is often described as ahead of its time (although for Lew Grade, this might represent an attempt to excuse its sizeable budget and poor reception), and likened to the surrealist comedy of the late-1960s - notably Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74) and Marty Feldman's Marty (1968-69). It also captured the kind of surreal kitsch take on conspiracy drama evoked by The Prisoner (ITV), admittedly more glamorously, in 1967. The first episode provoked enough complaints (and newspaper headlines) to see the series moved from its initial primetime Saturday evening slot to a late night one arguably better suited a younger, more responsive audience.

Catriona Wright

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Video Clips
1. Walking out (4:08)
2. Choosing one's neighbours (2:27)
3. Language is no barrier (1:43)
4. Gurney's wonderland (3:59)
Complete first episode (23:29)
Winters, Mike (1930-) and Winters, Bernie (1932-1991)