The Strange World of Gurney Slade
The Strange World of Gurney Slade is a British six-part television series made by ATV and transmitted by the ITV network between 22 October and 26 November 1960. A surreal series devised by Anthony Newley, who also starred, it was written by Dick Hills and Sid Green. Unusually for a comedy show on British television, the series was shot entirely on 35mm film; the first three episodes (bar the opening scene of the series) were shot on location, while the rest of the series was studio-bound. The series follows the character of Gurney Slade, played by Newley, through a series of mundane environments with fantastical elements. The first episode opens with Slade breaking the fourth wall of a traditional television sitcom and leaving the set, to the protestations of its director.
The name Gurney Slade is taken from the name of a district (and limestone quarry) in the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England, not far from the city of Wells. Having recently passed through the area, Newley remembered the name at an early meeting, after a number of proposed titles – including Up the Zambezi – were rejected. The series was produced by Alan Tarrant, who directed the series with Newley.
Newley explained at the time: "There is no rhyme or reason for what I do, I merely take life and turn it upside down. We hope to achieve humour without setting out to be deliberately funny." A reputed influence on the early career of David Bowie, the surrealism of the series was considerably ahead of its time for a 1960 television comedy and it soon proved insufficiently popular with the mainstream audience, resulting in it being moved from primetime to a late-night 'graveyard' timeslot by ITV. Some sources claim that it was moved after the first episode had been broadcast, but the published television schedules of the time indicate that the first two episodes were broadcast at 8:35 pm, while episodes 3 through 6 were broadcast at 11:10 pm.
An arrangement of the show's theme tune, which featured a prominent flute part, by composer Max Harris was released on a 7" single together with the "Gurney in Wonderland" theme from episode 1. The single version was later utilised for the "animated clock" sequence on the BBC children's show Vision On, and may be better known today than the series itself.
The Strange World of Gurney Slade was repeated in 1963, and the first episode turned up as part of Channel 4's TV Heaven series in 1992. The whole series was released as a Region 2 DVD by Network DVD in August 2011.
- Catriona Wright "Strange World of Gurney Slade, The (1960)", BFI screenonline
- The Listener, 21 April 1988, p. 16
- Dick Fiddy "The Strange Tale of The Strange World of Gurney Slade", Network DVD booklet, March 2011
- "The Strange World of Gurney Slade", Television Heaven website
- "Television and Radio Programmes". Glasgow Herald. 6 September 1963. p. 18.
- Olympia Zographos "The Strange World of Gurney Slade DVD review", cultbox.co.uk DVD Review, 8 August 2011