2 April 2012

Max Harris - Gurney Slade/ Hat and Cane

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1960

Once every so often a television series emerges which, despite only attracting a dedicated cult following, somehow ends up with an influence far beyond its unpromising viewing figures. The Anthony Newley vehicle "The Strange World of Gurney Slade" has largely disappeared out of the reference books of even the keenest TV critics. If you believe clip shows and potted TV histories, surreal comedy began in Britain with Monty Python (or at the very least "Do Not Adjust Your Set"). And yet...

In 1960, "The Strange World of Gurney Slade" broke most television comedy rules. With a concept based upon the lead character storming off the set of his own shit sit-com to the puzzlement of the assortment of stereotypical characters in the room, the show meandered around in a world of talking dogs, advertising hoardings that came to life, and ill-attended danceband events in the middle of flat, rain-drenched fields. It also frequently criticised and parodied light entertainment and marketing culture, basing an entire episode around an anal critique of advertising hoardings. A strange and elaborate concept even now, it's difficult to imagine how a prime time ITV audience would have handled the combination of slow satire and surrealism at the time - even the breaking down of the third wall aspect predated Garry Shandling and Sean Hughes' efforts much later in the century. Inevitably, most of the public didn't take to the programme much at all, and the show slipped into a late-night slot but ended up being remembered and loved by David Bowie and a quantity of other influential people at the time. Available on DVD now, it's worth a punt purely because even if you fail to enjoy the contents, it will still challenge virtually every preconception you have about the evolution of British comedy and who came up with which innovative idea first.

The jazzy theme tune was also rather iconic in its own way, setting the bohemian and considered tone for the rest of the programme. It might have been a largely forgotten piece after the show's relative lack of success had it not been for the tune also being used in the children's programme "Vision On" in 1974 for the clock sequence. Since then, it's become a reasonably well known piece of soundtrack music whose demand has far outstripped its initial exposure.

Clips of "The Strange World of Gurney Slade" are available on YouTube here and here, and are well worth a look.


Anonymous said...

Just sayin - your new page is bit too wide - 930px is a decent size.

23 Daves said...

Thanks - I've adjusted it as suggested. There will probably be other tweaks over the coming days and weeks as well as I realise other bits don't quite look right!

Anonymous said...

Thats better... we've all been there with the tweaking!

Anonymous said...

On a side note, I've just noticed your background image is Dr. West's The Eggplant That Ate Chicago, very groovy !

23 Daves said...

Ha! Believe it or not it was the first thing I grabbed blind when looking for a record to put on the stacking record player for the photo - and it's actually quite appropriate. The kind of record that sums up the blog rather well.

Mark Back said...

Nice Blog entry, I've just written a bit on "Gurney Slade" and have just stumbled on your blog, great minds, etc. etc.
Anyway, here's a link:

Mark Morb

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