Tag Archives: cult

The very highly talented and now slightly forgotten Anthony Newley

(A slightly revised version of this blog was published in the Huffington Post)

When I got back from the Edinburgh Fringe at the start of last week, the newly-released DVD collection of The Strange World of Gurney Slade was waiting for me – a TV series by the immensly talented Anthony Newley so obscure that even the word ‘cult’ cannot be attached to it, although its style allegedly influenced the young David Bowie.

When originally transmitted on ITV’s sole channel in 1960, the first two episodes were screened to general apathy at 8.35pm on (from memory) Friday nights, but were then quickly moved to the graveyard slot of 11.10pm.

The Strange World of Gurney Slade was far too strange and avant garde for the mass audience and did not quite have the right ingredients to be a cult for Guardian-reading trendies.

But strange and quirky it certainly is.

The Prisoner – which, when first transmitted in 1967/1968, received high levels not of apathy but of active dislike, became a lasting cult success – I suspect, partly because it was screened in the US so had a wider fan base… and partly because it was transmitted on ITV at 7.30pm peaktime on Sundays

But, The Strange World of Gurney Slade is weird even for a surreal neo-Brechtian fantasy. Even so, it was but a mild trial run for Tony Newley’s 1969 all-stops-pulled-out feature film jaw-dropper of a Fellini-esque fantasy Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Merchant Humppe and Find True Happiness?   

Newley – a creative all-rounder – singer, songwriter, actor, director, fantasist – will be remembered, if at all, as an idiosyncratic performer and writer of mainstream songs. But he should also be rated as a considerable experimental creator of visual fantasies.

I have blogged previously about my only encounter with Tony Newley – and it was a very favourable encounter. He impressed me as a person.

TV producer Danny Greenstone knew Newley peripherally through theatrical agent Jeremy Hicks, who had been the company stage manager for Newley’s West End musical The Good Old Bad Old Days and spent a year working with Newley at the Prince of Wales theatre in London.

In The Good Old Bad Old Days, Newley played the Devil and wore horns and a tail, the edge of which he used in the show to peel an apple. Before going on stage, he always took a swig from his ‘honey flask’. Danny Greenstone says:

“Lord only knows what formula was in there but it did contain honey as well. After taking a swig, he would stomp on stage, perform and stomp off again on cue. As he came off stage, he would reach for the honey flask again and, referring to the the bit of business or gag or song he had just performed, would mutter under his breath: ‘Masterly…. Masterly….’.

“During the interval, his favourite thing to do, with various members of the cast – but notably with Bill Kerr – would be to sit and watch videos of The Bilko Show, one of his very favourites.

“For the 50th performance of The Good Old Bad Old Days, he and his writing partner Leslie Bricusse wrote parody lyrics to fit all sixteen of the show’s songs for a celebration party held in the circle bar of the Prince of Wales for all the cast and crew. I have that recording. I also have a whole recording of the show from start to finish and it’s a crime that the original cast recording (once available on cassette and LP) has never been made available on CD.

“When my daughter Katy was about eight years old I took her to see Newley perform at the Dominion Theatre in London, where he was appearing as Ebeneezer in Bricusse’s musical adaptation of Scrooge!. I had rung him beforehand to say we were coming (we had front row seats) and asked if we could come round and see him after the show. It was New Year’s Eve.

“In typical Newley fashion he said: ‘No! Come round before… and then come round after…‘.

“We met him in his dressing room, which was lovingly adorned with posters from the films he’d appeared in and we spent a good half hour just chatting happily. He laughed his way through at least 28 of those 30 minutes while removing the scalp latex that covered his own hair during the show in which he had a long grey wig as Ebeneezer Scrooge. We both watched, transfixed, as he removed the makeup and prosthetics.

“He took Katy’s hand, kissed it, took her programme and wrote on it – with a silver gel pen – To Katy – you are very beautiful. I still have it. I don’t think it meant very much to an eight year old, but it meant the world to me.

“He told us of his plans to create a musical based on the life and career of Charles Chaplin. We wished him a very Happy New Year ahead and much success with everything.

“The Chaplin musical (co-written with Stanley Ralph Ross, an American who also wrote for the Batman series and the Monkees series on US TV, was doomed to never get onto Broadway or anywhere near the UK.

“The Chaplin estate denied Newley rights to portray the image of the Little Tramp character for reasons we can only guess at.

“And  three years later, after a fleeting appearance in BBC TV’s EastEnders and far more sumptuous but likewise fleeting appearances as The Bishop in BBC TV’s The Lakes, Tony Newley was dead.”

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For comic Charlie Chuck, the Edinburgh Fringe is just like juggling spaghetti

One day is a long time in the run-up to the Edinburgh Fringe.

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned that cult comedian Charlie Chuck was thinking of staging a semi-serious show called Charlie Chuck’s Guide to the Universe at next year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

At this August’s Fringe, he is staging Charlie Chuck’s Laughter Lounge at SpaceCabaret @ 54.

Just a few hours after I posted that blog, a production cancelled their show at the Fringe and their six-day run became available in theSpaces @ Surgeons Hall. Because tickets for Charlie Chuck’s Laughter Lounge are already selling well, suave and ever efficient Charles Pamment, who runs the SpaceUK venues, offered those six days at Surgeons Hall to the esteemed Mr Chuck.

So now – pay attention – there will be a show called Dave Kear’s Guide to the Universe (Charlie Chuck’s real name is Dave Kear) running 15th-20th August the Fringe. It won’t be listed in the already-published main Edinburgh Fringe Programme, but it will appear in SpaceUK’s printed programme and their online webpages.

Ah! The Edinburgh Fringe!

It’s like juggling spaghetti in a high wind.

Who knows what tomorrow may bring?

Who knows what today may bring?

Did I say juggling spaghetti?

That’s another story.

To be continued.

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Surreal cult comedian Charlie Chuck – balancing on the cusp of a big change

I spent an afternoon with comedian Charlie Chuck this week. Mad, bad and dangerous to know. Staring eyes. Shouting. A plank of wood in his hand. Talking gibberish with occasional mentions of a donkey. That’s Charlie Chuck on stage.

Whenever people hear that I know him, the inevitable question is:

“How dangerous is he?”

The answer is Not at all.

Off stage, he is a lovely, gentle person. He is a Christian.

In the early 1990s, I was up at the Edinburgh Fringe with the then-relatively-unknown Charlie Chuck. He was playing at new Venue 45 in Old St Paul’s Church, hidden away under the North Bridge and, with an unknown venue and a relatively unknown comic, audience figures were – at best – variable. He was thinking of giving up and going home. My advice to him then was – and to anyone at any time is:

“It’s the Fringe. Even if you have an audience of one person or no audience at all, play the gig and play the full run of the show because you don’t know who may be in the audience or who may turn up.”

A few days later, there were only four people in the audience. Charlie Chuck performed the show. Two of the audience members were preparing an upcoming BBC TV series The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and, as a direct result, Charlie Chuck was cast as ‘Uncle Peter’ in the series.

Well, in fact, there was no ‘Uncle Peter’ character created; they just shot the established Charlie Chuck act. Personally, I have always thought they ripped him off and took the script credit.

Now Charlie Chuck, under his real name of David Kear, has just finished filming a small role in a short film Teddy starring Sally Carman of Channel 4’s Shameless and directed by Rebecca Papworth who won the 2011 UK Film Council/ CTBF John Brabourne Award. It was a straight acting role played with his trademark hair slicked back.

He came down to London to talk to me about his Edinburgh Fringe show this year, still called Charlie Chuck’s Laughter Lounge but now – like many a Fringe show – somewhat unlike its description in the Fringe Programme. It will include two guest comics each night and it may or may not also include snippets of a ‘testimony’ show called Charlie Chuck’s Guide to the Universe which he had been going to perform at Old St Paul’s Church this year but which he will now develop for the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe – either as a play or as a one-man show.

This year’s show in SpaceCabaret @ 54 will be his traditional surreal mayhem and non-sequiters and, I suspect, much talk of ducks and donkeys and waving around of a plank will be involved.

Charlie Chuck’s Guide to the Universe next year will be about why he is a Christian, the effect on him of his father’s death and about how, by changing your perception, you can change your reality.

“Do you know,” he asked me, “that you grow a new stomach lining every three days? Our entire blood renews itself every three or four months. You get a new liver every six months and a new heart every six months.” But he could not resist adding: “An apple pie could be part of your back leg by next week.”

Charlie Chuck certainly seems to be on the cusp of a big change. But I think bits of surrealism may hang on in there.

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