Born 24 September, 1931 in Hackney, London
I am interested in Newley's career and am working my way through the recent issue of the first biography on his life. Whilst I admit to never being short of words, this is quite a long piece but even so, only takes us (from 'pre-birth') to the early sixties. If there is sufficient interest, I will (over the next few months) issue the ongoing chapters in Newley's colourful life, as I complete the reading and research
Writer, actor, pop star, singer, songwriter and director; his career spanned more than 50 years and embraced film, repertory theatre, rock and roll, comedy revues, music hall and television. He was a man who gained the world but behind the mask of success lay a fractured life, a man plagued with depression and self-doubt
The dark clown who needed the approval and love of his audience to fight off his despair and loneliness
In the 1950s and 1960s he was everywhere - on the screen, on television and, seven times, in the UK Top Ten
Tony Newley married and divorced, three times. He had four children. He was one of entertainment's genuine triple treats in the 'Big Three': an actor, singer, and composer with an international following, equally adept and prodigious in all three fields. Moreover, he enjoyed success as a performer in such seemingly mutually exclusive fields as pop music (OK, not rock & roll as such) and the legitimate stage. And even more improbably, he did it with a working-class Cockney persona that should never have found much currency outside of England. Indeed for some 30 years he was one of the most imposing talents to come out of England
Tony was born Sept. 24, 1931, illegitimately in Oswald Street, Hackney, east London. Hackney and neighbouring Clapton became his 'manors'. His family history was interesting, let's start with his grandparents:
Arthur Newley a cabinet & birdcage maker and according to the family, descended from the Huguenots. He was a musician, a good oboist
Frances Grace Morris - amateur dancer and singer, her brother Bob Morris was a sometime professional comedian, a regular at the Holborn Empire
Around 1912, the family unit was the above parents with 5 children (six others had died in infancy). We need to concentrate on Tony's mother, Gracie born around 1904. She shared her own mother's first two names. Her father lost a great deal of money when Farrow's Bank collapsed and the onset of World War 1 put paid to any hopes of financial recovery. He was in fact called up and sent as a regular soldier to S Africa
His first son and namesake added a few years to his age and also took the King's shilling, an impetuous decision that would lead to his death from war wounds and T.B. some five years later
Gracie was taken out of school aged 11 and given responsibility for looking after the house and children whilst her mother found other ways of supplementing the meagre soldier's pay
Between 1913 and '16 Arthur and Frances (somehow!) had two other daughters adding to the various pressures. It appears that Frances (quite a beauty) fell into dubious ways and was carried off by consumption before the decade was out
All this hardship added to Gracie's struggles as surrogate mother and although things did improve eventually, it was not before they turned for help to the Salvation Army. Her father was apparently a 'saint' of a man and as the 20s wore on, a little of the good fortune the Newleys once enjoyed, returned to their home
Come the turn of the decade, Gracie made the acquaintance of Nell and George Kirby who ran a Gents' Outfitters. George was some years younger than his wife and quite a charmer. Gracie fell in love with the man destined to become Anthony Newley's father
Gracie started to work for the Kirbys and she and George became lovers. She became pregnant in February of 1931. alone one night she tried to get rid of the baby (as directed by Kirby) but with no success. Her son was born on 24 September, 1931 at Homerton Hospital up Marsh Hill (Hackney way), an institution not far short of a workhouse
The child was named George Anthony Newley, the middle name after a character in a novel she had been reading. On her arrival home it became clear her upset family would not readily accept the name George. So it was just 'Anthony'. The whole family was ostracised and called names, there being a definite stigma having a child out of wedlock back then
Kirby had made a clumsy approach via his solicitors to 'set her up for life' if Gracie signed an affidavit stating he was not the father. She refused. It was all the more amazing then, that she resumed furtive liaisons with George Kirby for four years until the inevitable happened (again). This time Kirby took control and arranged a termination operation with a dodgy doctor. After this great upset, Gracie unsurprisingly lost touch with Kirby (but see later extracts towards year end)
>From this distance one can criticise and call her actions stupid but it should be remembered she had sacrificed her education, then her adolescence entirely for her family. Why should she be deprived of love and affection? It's just a pity it could not have come from a more suitable source
She became a doting mother and was probably guilty of being too close to her son and smothering him. As he headed toward and beyond the age of ten, whilst he was streetwise up to appoint, Tony was dreamy, almost poetic and gentle
Gracie worked as a barmaid and started seeing Ron Gardiner, one of the barmen. Aged eight, Newley was evacuated at the outbreak of World War 2 with a pal to Sawbridgeworth, Herts (23 miles away). The boys were billeted with Edith Chappell, an elderly lady whom Newley came to despise as callous and mean (Sawbridgeworth is where the England soccer captain now has his £5 million home, 'Beckingham Palace')
Gracie married Ron in 1939 and they moved to Troon, Scotland following his army posting. This exacerbated Newley's feeling of abandonment and the devastation in his young mind was perhaps never healed
TN's second location under evacuation was 255 miles north-west of London in Morecambe, Lancs with George Cornille Pescud and his wife, Belle. He had been a professional music hall entertainer and actor/manager and the couple were hugely welcoming. Newley's luck had turned
Pescud opened up Newley and his friends to a range of arts, including music, writing, and painting, that he might otherwise never have appreciated or understood. He immersed himself in these treasures and perhaps more importantly found people with whom he could connect. He blossomed and found himself wanting to emulate Pescaud
Eventually he went back to London and school, where he was a good student. In spite of this, he didn't enjoy school and was unsettled. On leaving, he had a succession of short-lived jobs but existed to get home to his books and painting
He worked briefly in an insurance office until he saw an advertisement for the Italia Conti stage school, where, aged 14 he was accepted as a pupil and tea boy, his salary covering his the fees. Newley's engaging personality and cocky cheerfulness won the day
He progressed well, becoming an outstanding child actor. A natural talent, impressing Peter Ustinov early on. Petula Clark developed an unrequited crush on Newley and it was she who coerced him into singing. His initial acting performances lead to David Lean casting him as the Artful Dodger in Lean's 1948 film Oliver Twist. Lean, unhappy with the neatness of the boy's face, pushed a walnut up his left nostril to distort his features! Ouch. Newley however gave a remarkable performance opposite Alec Guinness and Robert Newton
At Conti's, he met and fell for Jennifer Jones (well who wouldn't?). He secured a seven-year contract with the Rank Organisation and met, fell in love with and enjoyed the intimate acquaintance of the young Diana Dors (Miss Fluck to designate her given surname). It doesn't appear Ms. Dors reciprocated emotionally ....... clearly she just used poor Newley for her carnal needs ;-)) ;-)) ;-))
His diary entries display for a 17/18 year old, a remarkably negative and gloomy outlook on life (and inevitable death). He long saw himself as a child lost in limbo with an identity number around his helpless neck
His acting career somewhat in the doldrums, 22312441 Private Newley A was conscripted into the Army in the winter of 1949. In every way he was out of his depth in this rough man's world. He couldn't hack the demands of army discipline
Some six weeks after his arrival, he was released from the Army on the grounds of mental instability (Roll Over Terry Dene). Newley, who remember had never known a father, said, "I couldn't take a man's world - I needed a woman's presence and touch"
Aged around 19/20 (that late?) Tony began to drink heavily and become dependent, developing a stomach ulcer. Things improved when he got a contract for a year's Rep. in Dewsbury. Newley reasoned, if it was good enough for Chaplin ...
It afforded a highly varied theatrical bill of fare, not all of which was appreciated by the public. With the relative security of £12 a week, Newley began to regain his confidence and his desire to be an actor
The manager of the theatre became Tony's personal manager for 10 years. TN rejected the chance of another 12 months in Rep. in Leicester choosing instead to get back into films after two years' absence
It paid off .... he got several roles and he also started writing again - a number of revues. He started a double act with Dick Vosburgh (Leslie Crowther's own film success had removed him from the team)
Newley was becoming quite the ladies' man now and took a shine to 18 year old actress Ann Lynn. They soon moved in together and in 1954 Newley made a Navy feature film with Ronald Shiner. Ann became pregnant but a back street clinic abortion was arranged
1955 saw Newley in 'Above Us The Waves' [Rank] with leads Mills, Sinden and Gregson. Tony became friends with fellow bit-parter William (Schweppes) Franklyn. They shared digs and Franklyn taught Newley to drive
Soon Tony finally got a more substantial role in the much-vaunted 'Cockleshell Heroes'. Bryan Forbes wrote the screenplay for the movie and carefully constructed for himself, the role of Clarke. He was bitterly disappointed when the part was given to Newley. It was a significant break despite it being another Cockney cheeky chap (which got him work)
More variation came in the form of a late 1955 review 'Cranks', his West End debut. This allowed Newley's vocal prowess and stagecraft to flourish. He became involved with young designer Gina Goldberg who was destined to play a major role on his later life
During 1956 Ann became pregnant again. Tony didn't want the baby. In an echo of his own life, Ann tried to abort the child without 'professional' help. She failed
Filming in Spanish Morocco, Newley roomed with Christopher (Dracula) Lee and our man also appeared in a Hammer horror film. This was in 1956's 'X The Unknown' something of a rip off of the previous year's smash 'The Quatermass Experiment'
Ann's continuing pregnancy seemed to soften Newley, so she moved back into their UK home and Gina quietly ended the affair with Tony
Tony's mother Gracie had never liked Ann Lynn (whom Newley called 'Face') but the wedding nonetheless took place on 30 August, 1956 at Chelsea Register Office. That morning Newley received a letter offering him a five-year film deal contract worth £30,000. The wedding party included a late night fleeting visit from Sean Connery (007 to be)
Some six weeks later, Newley pleaded guilty to driving whilst disqualified and got 28 days in Brixton Prison (step forward No. 5989) and a further three year ban
Unlike the Army, he couldn't fiddle his way out of this. The 'Cranks' review went to Broadway but owing to his being 'banged up', Newley's place went to Kenneth Haigh. On emerging from prison, Newley worked on TV with Alfred Marks and on radio with Elsie and Doris Walters, The Floggetts & Askey Galore. With his new found 'fame' Newley told his Mum to quit her charring and look for a house, which he would pay for
Haigh didn't work out (singing-wise), was paid off and Newley went to New York to make his Broadway debut. Three of the cast (incl. N) appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show but 'Cranks didn't make the grade Stateside
Ann gave birth to a son, Simon on 21/12/56. Sadly however he had spina bifida, extensive brain damage (+ another ailment) and died six weeks later. Before long, on location, Newley was in amongst the ladies again. Ann resumed her acting career incl. playing opposite Charles Laughton and Albert Finney
In 'Fire Down Below', Tony played a Spanish waiter alongside Jack Lemmon, Robert Mitchum and Rita Hayworth. Small parts they may have been but Newley made big impressions in them. Although Tony upstaged Frankie Vaughan in two movies, they remained great friends for life and Tony described the high kicker as 'the sweetest man to have ever drawn breath'
Idle On Parade (1959 film) Newley played Jeep Jackson, a rock and roll star who is called up into the British Army - a sort of 'Elvis in England' theme. Co-stars incl. Lionel Jefferies*, Sid James, Harry Fowler and Hollywood veteran William Bendix. It was at Newley's instigation that songs were added. The title track + 'I' ve Waited So Long' were by Len Praverman and Gerry Laudan. Newley and Joe 'Mr. Piano' Henderson contributed two rock-a-boogie numbers, one of which made Phil Davies' Best of British Rock 'n' Roll list
It transpired that Newley was a rare talent - a trained actor also possessed of genuine musical talent
Henderson had a hit with the instrumental "Trudie", a theme written for an earlier Newley film, 'The Man Inside' in which Newley plated a Spanish taxi-driver. The diamond heist caper starred Jack Palance and Anita Ekberg (and no, we don't know whether N 'did a Dors' on her as well)
Writer Laudan metamorphosed into Jerry Lordan, writer of such classics as 'Apache', 'Diamonds', 'Scarlett O'Hara', 'Atlantis', 'Wonderful Land' , 'I'm A Moody Guy' and 'A Girl Like You'
Newley recorded the four songs on a Decca label E.P. (extended play 45 rpm). Gina had now come back into his life and N asked her to marry him but she knew she couldn't tolerate or cope with his womanising. She answered 'Maybe one day'. They parted once more and Gina later married again, surname Fratini
* Jefferies thought that as an actor colleague, Newley was 'wonderful ...... never late ...... always knew his lines ....... never threw his 'weight' around ..... he just got on and did it. He was very basic and had this God-given talent and a yearning to amuse. There was a volcano inside of him, bursting to get out, he was this little power-house and always had to be doing something'
Although the film 'Idle' (or 'Idol') was a muddle of half-developed story lines and characters, with pedestrian direction, audiences loved it. The most remarkable thing about the movie was the E.P. Within days of its release, the E.P. + 'I've Waited So Long' single simultaneously hit the charts running, the latter climbing to 3
Overnight, Anthony Newley the actor and 'serious comedian' was a pop star and a sensation. Even had the E.P. been delayed, it's unlikely that 'Waited ' as a standalone 45 would have been a debut release chart topper, as following Holly's posthumous 'It Doesn't Matter Anymore', Elvis was entrenched at No.1 for quite a long run with the mighty double-sider 'I Need YL Tonight/A Fool Such As I'
Promoting the film, Jefferies and Newley came across Paul Robeson sat alone in a train compartment. Newley could hardly contain himself and stammered 'Excuse me Mr. Robeson, I think you are one of the great singer-actors of all time". Robeson beamed and replied "You couldn't be more right"
After the Army film, Newley flew to Kenya to film with fading matinee idol Robert Taylor. Anth played a sort of Charlie Chaplin on Safari, which dented the 'serious comedian' persona
Returning to England, Newley was informed he'd won the Variety Club of Great Britain Award for Most Promising Newcomer of 1959. Tony was tickled and in his speech said "I've been making films since the age of 14 and I am very happy to have been discovered"
Building on the success of the 'Idle' E.P. Newley now under contract to Decca, recorded a cover of Lloyd Price's 'Personality', getting to No. 6. Since the start of May, he had notched up 31 consecutive weeks of hit songs
Cruising on a six-month round-the-world honeymoon, Leslie Bricusse heard Newley's songs on board. He'd seen 'Cranks' and recalled the two had met through a mutual girlfriend. He resolved to reacquaint as soon as possible and to try to have Newley record a few of his songs
The producers of 'Idle', dusted down Jazz Boat as a follow-up (it had been hanging around, waiting for an 'owner' for quite some time). Newley had even worked on it whilst in Brixton jail! He was Bert Harris, teaming with Bernie Winters and our subject developed his friendship with Lionel Blair's sister, Joyce
Lionel's friend and fellow hoofer Sammy Davis Jnr. visited the set. Newley had met him back in New York but it was through Lionel that the two became friends
The next film 'Let's Get Married' cashed in on what was now the Newley phenomenon, shifting from an intended drama into a comedy with songs. Newley was involved in bringing Hackney born composer Lionel Bart on board
The film was a bit of a stinker but as consolation, another cover disc "Why?" shot to number one in UK, duly repeated by a Bart song from LGM "Do You Mind?" Maybe Newley should have continued recording singles with 'question marks'
"Why?" was helped into the top slot (and a long stay) following a televised, live performance on 'Sunday Night at The London Palladium'
During winter 1959, he had his own television series for ATV, an avant-garde six-parter which confounded viewers and was soon consigned to a late-night slot. It was 'The Strange World of Gurney Slade', a small Somerset village, which TN knew
The series was weird - ahead of its time ....... it had no equal, or sequel. One plus from it was a new relationship with Anneke Wills, an actress of Dutch descent. She moved in with N but it was the virtually ever present figure of Gracie (Tone's Mum) who waited on them, then washed and tidied, leaving the young ones to themselves
Newley did a short variety tour in the spring of 1960 with Anne Aubrey (one of his film company actress colleagues) and the Winters brothers. It was a twice-nightly sell-out but Newley felt himself to be a visitor in the pop world
His complex personality caused him angst, in spite of and because of his success. He was desperate to be loved by everybody but didn't suffer fools gladly and had a selfish disregard for the feelings of his lovers
Bricusse (some eight months older) did meet up again with Newley and they became instant friends, agreeing they would try to work together. Leslie (as with his marital partner) thought it predestined. Theirs was a forty-year friendship
At first glance they had little in common, Bricusse being Cambridge educated, middle class and happily married (to Evie). In spite of his appearances in the West End of London, Leslie was resolved to write rather than perform. Under the surface however, B & N were very compatible, especially with their shared sense of humour. Evie Bricusse was third corner of the Bricusse-Newley triangle
In pre-announcing the project, Bart scuppered Newley's potential involvement as co-writer and star in LB's new musical show 'Blitz'. The eventual production prompted a favourite, withering Noel Coward remark after the first performance ......... "Just as long as the real thing and twice as loud ......... "
Newley again went top ten with 'If She Should Come To You' and recorded a Bricusse song 'A Boy Without A Girl'
'Strawberry Fair' reached No. 3 (Newley part wrote the update of this traditional folk song using his old pen name Nollie Clapton). Not long after, into the top ten again with the passionate ballad 'And The Heavens Cried'. It was Elvis again who prevented 'S Fair' becoming Newley's third No. 1 ... "It's Now Or Never" was unassailable
Between Elvis and The Beatles: Newley's hit records, strewn around that corner where the 1950s turned into the 1960s, were a curious mix from fragmentary times. Post-(rocking) Elvis, pre-Beatles (all of Newley's hits predated the Moptops)
On 'Do You Mind' he attempted supper-club Bobby Darin; he covered Frankie Avalon schlock with 'Why?' and had the rarity of a top twenty extended play disc
Then there were novelty songs which were early essays into the end-of-Empire music-hall pastiche which was to so occupy The Kinks and to a lesser extent, also The Beatles, later in the decade. In 1967, a young David Bowie recorded 'Laughing Gnome', a dreadful pastiche of a Newley song and Ziggy continued to emulate Newley's flattened-out vowel sound for some time afterwards. Listen again to "Ground control to Major Tom ... "
Newley always aimed to be different ....... not to repeat things, to search for something to shock or surprise. He said "I've no illusions of grandeur, I'm just a hard worker"
His Warwick Films contract was terminated in summer 1960 when the studio heads' partnership ended (Irving Allen & Cubby Broccoli)
Aside from the occasional ATV spectacular, Newley found he had more time on his hands. On the TV shows he couldn't resist dabbling and meddling into many other activities, incl. those of the director and production team! He went back on the road for quite a time and was often mobbed
In Bricusse's view, Newley was first and foremost a man of the theatre. But those are stories for another time. Bricusse has some wonderful comments about the way Newley's life unwound and what might and should have been
Acks. Especially to Bardsley's biog. as below Judy Harris at http://www.geocities.com/anewley/bio.html Nigel Fountain (The Guardian)
The Anthony Newley Society Worldwide contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Reading: Stop The World - The Biography Of Anthony Newley an authorised biography by Garth Bardsley, published by Oberon Books in 2003
Records: dozens, search your favourite site
COLIN KILGOUR SEPT. 2003
|These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at email@example.com