Review: The Strange World of Gurney Slade

DVD. Network

“It’s wonderful to be out of my mind again.”

We first meet Gurney Slade (Anthony Newley) as he walks out of the bland sitcom that he is a character in and out into a world where flights of fancy, musings on life and surreal imaginings collide – talking dogs, advertising posters that come to life, imaginary figures who come back to demand a fuller existence and digs at the artifice of TV all mix with Gurney’s internal monologues as he ponders the mysteries of life. Very little actually happens as the episodes go nowhere, but the trip is a thoroughly engaging one.

It’s no surprise that this delightful TV show  – a huge influence on a young David Bowie, so it is said – bombed in 1960 and has scarcely been seen since. It was years ahead of its time with its offbeat humour and general strangeness. At times, it resembles some archetypal British Sixties comedy – Morgan: A Suitable Case for TreatmentBilly Liar, The Knack, even A Hard Day’s Night – yet the show preceded all of them by a few years. Comparisons have also been made to The Prisoner, interestingly, and there is a certain similarity in the bizarre courtroom episodes of both series. Notably, here Gurney is on trial for making a comedy show that is clever instead of funny – a nice self referential moment that carries on to the final episode, which is all about being the final episode, making verbal asides about how unsuccessful the show had been.

Newley (who created the show alongside writers Sid Green and Dick Hills) is excellent as Gurney, a wandering, pondering misfit in a world of absurdity, and the theme tune – an instantly recognisable piece even if you’ve never seen the show – sets the scene for six seemingly unconnected episodes of eccentric fantasy and whimsy.

The amusement spreads to the promo clips that are included here – mocking the lack of success for the show and blurring the line between fiction and reality, I imagine they would have bewildered viewers even more than the actual show.

The world featured in this show is indeed a strange one – gloriously so. You really owe it to yourself to pay it a visit.