The Strange World of Gurney Slade on DVD

Vintage TV fans will probably know all about this, but I thought I should mention that The Strange World of Gurney Slade is coming to DVD. The Strange World of who? I hear you ask. That’s a perfectly valid question, as the series in question was transmitted in 1960 and only lasted six episodes, but it’s lingered long in the minds of those who saw it.

Anthony Newley stars as the lead character of Gurney, an actor starring in a situation comedy who breaks through the fourth wall and into our world, or a close approximation. Exploring the very nature of television production and viewers’ consumption of the medium, the programme has been described as The Goon Show meets The Prisoner and perhaps baffled more people than it entertained on original transmission, one of the reasons it didn’t last.

Now restored from the original 35mm, The Strange World of Gurney Slade is out on Monday from the ever-brilliant Network DVD, whose site is currently down following problems caused by the London riots, and it’s screening at London’s BFI tonight. You can read a review over at Cathode Ray Tube and my order has been in for a while now – I hope to be able to report back on the show in a week or two.

In the meantime, here are some trailers from the Network YouTube channel:

DVD Review: Shelley – The Complete Series Five

Returning for a fifth series of less-than-heroic adventures in 1980s Britain, James Shelley (Hywel Bennett) is a man of his time. Or rather, he’s a man of every time, particularly if that time involves a Tory Government, unemployment and an economy that’s well and truly knackered. Sound familiar?

With his wife and landlady long gone, Shelley decides to rent his mate’s (Warren Clarke) flat, instantly falling foul of the doorman (Garfield Morgan) before realising that the single life he had once tried to leave behind has now well and truly returned.

Like that other comedy stalwart, Frank Spencer, Shelley is constantly on the lookout for new work. However, while Frank would happily go for an interview and end up roller skating down the local high street, Shelley is more likely to end up debating the state of the nation or bunking off down the pub for a booze-sodden afternoon of despair.

The plight of the (not) working man is very much at the heart of the series, Bennett’s incomparably bemused look and stinging replies to those in authority as important a record of the social disquiet of the era as any contemporary newspaper report or documentary.

Perhaps the highlight of the series is Shelley’s new temp job, filing: it’s one so menial that the viewer instantly knows it can’t last. His reaction to the instructions are classic Shelley.

With most episodes taking a while to gain momentum – this is a series that revels in dialogue rather than sight gags – this could be too slow for modern viewers, but stick with it. With its themes as relevant in 2011 as they were in 1982, this really does feel like timeless comedy: quite whether we should be glad of that or not is another matter.

When you coming back, Shelley?

Shelley: The Complete Series Five is available from Network DVD

DVD Review: The Boy Merlin


Typing the name “Merlin” into Wikipedia is a frustrating exercise, particularly if you’re attempting to summarise the facts behind the legend which resulted in Thames Televison producing their 1979 series, The Boy Merlin: fact is, there aren’t that many “facts” out there.

The legend portrayed in Anne Carlton and Stewart Farrar’s six-parter, spun-off from the anthology series Shadows, takes as its basis Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, the 1139 tome which itself took elements from various sources to portray a wizard called Merlin Ambrosius living under the rule of King Vortigern.

The Boy MerlinAs its title suggests, The Boy Merlin gives us a younger Merlin (Ian Rowlands) who is living in Wales with his foster family: Dafydd (Donald Houston), Blodwyn (Margaret John), and Myfanwy (Rachel Thomas). Merlin’s mother is a princess who lives close-by in Vortigern’s castle, knowledge of the boy’s magical prowess (which is nurtered by Myfanwy) suspected by the royals and their servants.

As established in the original pilot, Merlin’s powers are still a little rough around the edges, his abilities resulting in concern from his family when they fear he may “out” himself to the authorities. As the series progresses Merlin learns new tricks, such as refilling empty cups with wine and making his foster mother invisible, but the threats he faces remain minor until towards the end of the run.

Rowland may not be the most natural of child actors but he does well with the straightforward scripts. In just six episodes there’s not enough evidence of the character’s development, but his confrontation with Grimbald (Derek Smith) in The Book of Magic, showed promise.

Rachel Thomas is the most enjoyable aspect of the series, her old granny character initially an irritant before it becomes clear that she’s wiser than all of those around her.

Budget was clearly something of an issue for the production team, much of the series filmed indoors, including the exteriors of Merlin’s home. For anyone used to dramas of the period this isn’t a major problem, but it can be jarring when actual exteriors make an appearance straight after an interior.

These six episodes suggest that an interesting world was being formed around Merlin, one which deserved further exploration. As it is we’re left with a fun little entry into the Merlin cottage industry, one which may not have generated its own magic in such a short run but which, with a little of Myfanwy’s assistance, could have gone on to bigger and better things.

The Boy Merlin is out now from Network DVD

DVD Review: Jokers Wild – The Complete Series One

A product of a bygone age, when sexism in the media was rife and women were the butt of many a joke, along with the odd Irishman and Scotsman, series one of Jokers Wild arrives on DVD to show today’s presenters how it’s really done.

Jokers WildBeginning with 1969’s unbroadcast pilot, Barry Cryer is the host of a weekly panel show in which top comedians of the day were asked to come up with jokes relating to the topic written on a randomly chosen playing card. Opposing panelists could interrupt at any time with what they assumed to be the punchline.

Ted Ray and Ray Martine were the two regulars, joined each episode by four more names which obviously meant something to 1960s viewers but who may raise a few querulous eyebrows today. Les Dawson, Lennie Bennett, Roy Hudd, Don Maclean and Ted Rogers are just some of those guests, with each line-up getting at least two episodes together.

Perched uncomfortably on a stool and flanked by a pair of lovely ladies in bathing suits for the pilot, things settle down for the series proper. Filmed in monochrome for the first few episodes, things then stutter into colour as the series progresses, though one thing that doesn’t change is the constant smoking of the contestants.

It’s fair to say that the first handful of episodes are a slightly uncomfortable watch. Whether it’s nerves or a lack of preparation, the banter between the comedians doesn’t always work, Ray Martine’s prickly persona a particular cause of discourse between guests.

With the series’ move into colour, the arrival of a new title sequence and a move to a different studio there’s some settling down of the format, while fresh faces on the panel to give things a different feel from week to week. Of the guest stars, the young Hudd is a breath of fresh air and Rogers is clearly adept in front of the audience. Lennie Bennett seems to be enjoying himself immensely while Alfred Marks doesn’t quite take to things as well as the others.

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Space: 1999 hi-def trailer and clip online

Two clips arrived on YouTube yesterday from Network DVD to promote their upcoming Blu-ray release of 1970s sci-fi drama, Space: 1999.

The series, which was created by Gerry Anderson and aired between 1975 and 1977, depicts the adventures of the 311 inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha as the Moon is blasted out of its orbit following a nuclear explosion and left drifting in space.

The new Blu-ray release has been extensively restored from the original film negatives and the episodes look as good as new (I’ve watched a few and can vouch for that fact). The following trailer and clip can be viewed in 1080p if you want to see the full effects of the restoration.

And here’s a clip from The Metamorph:

Limited edition box sets can be ordered from the Network website now, with a standard box also available.