If, as Philip Larkin infamously observed, they f**k you up, your mum and dad, what about the other way round? What do children do to mum and dad? A fair few parents have certainly been f**ked-up by awful offspring whose appalling activities are conducted with a conviction mummy and daddy will love them regardless and forgive them anything. It’s a bit harder to ensure love and forgiveness when the target of verbal patricide has been dead for almost twenty years, however. The fact that Sacha Newley, skint artist with a book to plug, has decided to brand his deceased father Anthony a ‘paedophile’ seemingly to drum-up interest and make a fast buck is as sad an exercise in celebrity grave-pissing as we’ve had for quite a while. His comments in last weekend’s Sunday Times, derived from the Woody Allen/Mia Farrow manual, have provoked public rebuttals from both his mother Joan Collins and his sister Tara Newley.
Sacha Newley is either a vindictive and shameless publicly seeker with unresolved father-son issues or is in possession of a limited grasp of the English language. Like many who retrospectively invoke such a contentious term, he seems to believe his father’s liberation from the repressive 50s via having a good time with the opposite sex in the 60s made him a paedophile. ‘My father was drawn to youthfulness,’ he declares. ‘He thought innocence was an aphrodisiac. That was his sexual proclivity, and it’s a very dangerous, destructive thing.’ I hardly think, as a successful singer and actor, Anthony Newley was an anomaly in the Swinging decade when it came to enjoying the company of young ladies. Indeed, it’s hard to name anyone of comparable fame and fortune that didn’t do likewise given half the chance – and any ageing Lothario with a handsome bank-balance will always pull women young enough to be their daughter. Just ask Bernie Ecclestone; or maybe the current occupant of the White House.
To even call the late, great Anthony Newley a pederast would be an abuse of that term’s true meaning; to call him a paedophile, which implies he had a sexual interest in pre-pubescent children, is both lazy and inaccurate. Newley’s ex-wife and Sacha’s mother Joan Collins has called her son ‘naive’ and questioned his understanding of the word. ‘Tony loved young women,’ she said. ‘Young women of 17, 18 (and) 19 years old, not children by any means. Never in a million years would I be married to somebody like that. It’s categorically not true. I never saw any of that kind of behaviour from Tony.’ The couple’s daughter Tara said she was ‘shocked by my brother’s comments…I had an incredibly close relationship with my father and am deeply upset by these false allegations.’
Chiefly remembered these days for playing the Artful Dodger in David Lean’s celebrated 1948 version of ‘Oliver Twist’, being one of Joan Collins’s numerous husbands, and for exerting a key influence on the early recordings of David Bowie, Anthony Newley was an unsung national treasure who subverted the career path he could have followed by doing things his own way. An unlikely pop star in that odd little period between the decline of 50s Rock ‘n’ Roll and the rise of The Beatles, two chart-topping singles in 1960 made him the hottest property in British showbiz, and the call came from ATV (the light-entertainment leader of the original ITV companies) to star in his own television series.
What makes Anthony Newley so special and admirable is that he spurned the routine variety show ATV clearly expected and instead opted to produce the first ever genuinely ‘out there’ series UK TV created, predating ‘The Prisoner’ by seven years. ‘The Strange World of Gurney Slade’ was not what Lew Grade ordered, and after debuting in prime-time, the programme baffled both audiences and critics so much that it was shunted to a late-night graveyard slot thereafter. Basically, a mainstream viewing public was simply not ready for ‘Gurney Slade’ in 1960, though it’s no wonder considering how radically different it was to anything that had preceded it.
What the unprepared viewer is exposed to as Newley’s character exits the set of a generic TV show of the time and wanders out into a real world that his imagination transforms into something wonderfully surreal is his inner voice; Newley uses facial expressions in the style of silent movie actors to convey what he’s thinking as his dubbed thoughts provide a running commentary on what he sees. It’s remarkable to realise ITV had only been in existence for five years when the series was made, yet Newley satirises commercial television’s formulaic clichés with the genius of someone who had spent twenty years shouting at his TV set.
In my humble opinion, Anthony Newley isn’t remembered enough as it is; the last thing he deserves is to be only remembered for this kind of unproven and un-provable accusation, though this pernicious trend now appears to be the default setting of so many seeking attention that even if Sacha Newley doesn’t suggest his father acted inappropriately towards him (and he mercifully doesn’t), the damage is already being done to a life and a reputation.
It’s a strong, sorry possibility that half-a-decade of relentless post-Savile historical revisionism has now served to cultivate the belief that every man in the 60s and 70s expressing his natural red-blooded tendencies with willing and consenting women of a legal age was a retrospective rapist at best or Paedo at worst. Sacha Newley’s irresponsible comments have poured further fuel on a fire that shows no sign of burning itself out because there is now an entire industry that relies upon the heat it generates. And those flames don’t distinguish between the guilty and the innocent.
© The Editor