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The Strange World of Gurney Slade

You won't have seen anything like before, trust us…

4 stars

 

 

Gurney's DVD cover

Commissioned by Lew Grade off the back of Anthony Newley's emerging pop career, The Strange World of Gurney Slade has remained stubbornly out of reach since its broadcast in 1960. Unlike The Prisoner, Grade's later ITV head-scratcher, Gurney Slade was too innovative too early. After two episodes, it was shunted into the shadows of late night scheduling and after six was never seen or spoken of ever again.

 

The series is essentially Newley wandering around his own imagination. Its delicously subversive opening scene has Newley sat silently in the middle of a northern living room, while chirpy family members argue about tonight's dinner. But then when he's asked a question and doesn't answer, there's the first hint that something isn't right about this show. He gets up silently, wraps some biscuits in a newspaper and walks calmly off the set, as the production manager runs after him. Fourth-wall breaking is so commonplace now that it's hard to conjure the shock and bewilderment of Gurney Slade's audience back in 1960.

 

You can almost imagine the private guffawing of its writers Sid Green and Dick Hills as they set to work on a series that Grade probably expected to be some perky Tommy the Toreador-style singalong caper. What's striking about the series is the brazen career-killing confidence of it. By episode four, Newley is on trial for creating an unfunny television programme, suggesting that Green and Hills knew exactly how audience-repellent their little offering was. It's not just a smart act of taking control of the criticism, it's also an interesting argument about the what responsibilities art has to any audience. But it wasn't preaching to the converted, it's was preaching to the unconvertible. This was ITV, remember, and after two episodes of prime-time glory, it was banished to the death slot of 11.10pm, to be watched only drunks and night-watchmen.

 

A man with mighty strange ears, and...a back pack!

This being a Network DVD, everything that was possible to get is in the extras. Not that there's much. It's mostly a collection of promotional photos, but their inclusion is welcome. Newley and its writers are long-dead now, and we've lost any chance to find out what the hell they were playing at back in 1960. Some great joke on the conservatism of TV audiences or the first real deconstruction of the artifice of television?

 

But it deserves a proud mention alongside The Prisoner and The Avengers as a quintessential programme from the 1960s.

 

It's just that 1960 just wasn't 1960s enough for it.

 

Steve O'Brien

 

 

 

The Strange World of Gurney Slade
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