2 April 2012
Max Harris - Gurney Slade/ Hat and Cane
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.
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