Biography

 

ANTHONY GEORGE NEWLEY  was an actor, singer, songwriter and director of unusual versatility; his career spanned more than 50 years and embraced film, repertory theatre, rock and roll, comedy revues, music hall and television.


Born Sept. 24, 1931, in Oswald Street, Hackney, east London, his education, at the Mandeville School for Boys, Clapton, was interrupted by the Blitz and he was evacuated to Morecambe, Lancashire, where he was fostered by George Pesckett, a former music hall performer who first introduced the boy to the theatre. After the war ended, Newley 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. He had only been at the school for a few weeks when the film director Geoffrey de Barkus came to look for a boy to play the title role in THE ADVENTURES OF DUSTY BATES. Newley got the part at the age of 14. He also trained for the stage with the Dewsbury Repertory Co.


He made his theatre debut in 1946 in WINDS OF HEAVEN at the Colchester Repertory Theatre. He made his West End debut in 1955 in the revue CRANKS, which dispensed with sets and relied on John Addison's music, clever lyrics and surprise tactics to hold the attention. This played in New York at the Bijou in 1956 for 40 performances.  CRANKS fired Newley's imagination, and in 1960, after his success in IDLE ON PARADE, he began his career as a director with his own television show, THE STRANGE WORLD OF GURNEY SLADE, a comedy about a social misfit.


He was the original East End boy made good, born illegitimately in Hackney and leaving school at 14.  He then found success as a child actor, most notably as the Artful Dodger in David Lean's 1948 film OLIVER TWIST.  Propelled by his role in OLIVER TWIST at the age of 17, Newley made his U.S. debut in 1956, appearing in six films that year.  In the 1950s and 1960s, Newley was everywhere - on the screen, on television and, seven times, in the top ten.



His singing career came about almost by accident. In 1959, he took the part of rock and roll star Jeep Jackson - a spoof on Elvis Presley - in the film IDLE ON PARADE. A ballad from the film, I've Waited So Long, took Newley to the top of the British charts and started a three year run of hits which included Personality, If She Should Come to You, And The Heavens Cried and the novelty numbers Pop Goes the Weasel and Strawberry Fair. He also had two No 1s, with Why and Lionel Bart's Do You Mind?  "So overnight I had this incredible power," he said years later. "I was a rock and roll singer and and it lasted for ten wonderful years."


His film appearances included DOCTOR DOLITTLE and THE COCKLESHELL HEROES. But he is likely to be best known for co-writing and starring in the hit musicals STOP THE WORLD - I WANT TO GET OFF and THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT - THE SMELL OF THE CROWD, as well as a number of best-selling hit singles, including What Kind Of Fool Am I?, The Candy Man and Goldfinger.  In 1987 he and frequent collaborator Leslie Bricusse were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.


STOP THE WORLD was a landmark in the history of the British musical, notable for its freedom of form and cynicism of content as it charted the bitter-sweet rise of its central character, played by Newley, from teaboy to millionaire. For Newley, its lasting legacy was its songs. They included Gonna Build a Mountain and What Kind of Fool Am I? which sold more than a million records and became his signature tune.


STOP THE WORLD for which he was the director, star and co-author (with his longtime collaborator, Leslie Bricusse), was his greatest showcase. The show was conceived as "a simple, lighthearted satirical life cycle of the seven ages of man." (Namely, youth-and-adolescence, decision, sophistication, maturity, sagacity, retirement and senility.)  In the UK, it played to packed houses for 15 months before transferring to Broadway in 1962, where it ran for 555 performances. An allegory about acquiring fame and power but ending up disillusioned, STOP THE WORLD was a tour de force for the star, who portrayed a symbolic Everyman named Littlechap.



In the States he became one of the very few British crooners to make it big on the US cabaret circuit (In Las Vegas he commanded the same attention as Tony Bennett, Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra) and his Cockney rags-to-riches story made him a chat show favourite.  In 1977 he was voted the Male Musical Star of the Year in Las Vegas.


Even the Mafia gave him a special welcome. "They said to me, 'We'd like to buy you a gift', so I asked for a Jaguar and they drove a Jaguar onto the stage," he recalled.


He had a gift for striking an emotional chord with a mass audience. But Anthony Newley was also an influence on David Bowie among later performers, because in all his songs he maintained a distinctively British voice, ending with his right arm extended for effect in his trademark signoff.


Anthony Newley married and divorced three times. His first marriage in 1956, to Elizabeth Ann Lynn, was dissolved in 1963, the same year he married Joan Collins; they divorced in 1971. His third wife was an air hostess, Dareth Dunn, whom he divorced in 1989. He is survived by his mother, Grace, 96 (with whom he lived in Surrey since 1992 after 22 years living in the U.S.), and four children, a boy (Sacha) and girl (Tara)  with Joan Collins and another boy (Christopher) and girl (Shelby) with Dareth Dunn.



Newley was a lifelong home movie enthusiast and even filmed his first date with Collins. Twenty years later they teamed up again in London to appear in two of Noel Coward's one-act plays for BBC Television.


He recently appeared on BBC television in cameo appearances in the drama series THE LAKES and as an amorous used car salesman in the soap EASTENDERS.


Ill health had plagued the star for many years. He was first diagnosed with renal cell cancer in 1985, and had one kidney removed. The cancer returned in 1997, this time attacking his lungs, then spreading to his liver.


Speaking once about his illness, he said: "When they told me I had a growth on my left kidney I had a bet with the surgeon. 'A dollar that it's not malignant', I said. "Before they wheeled me into the operating theatre they pinned a dollar on my gown. It had gone when I finally came round. That's when I knew I'd lost the bet."


Newley lived in Surrey for many years and moved to Florida permanently in December.  He had donated his papers to the Boston University Library Special Collections Dept.


His third wife, Dareth Newley Dunn, described him as "a dear, sweet, loving friend and father ... consummate performer and ultimate composer.”


In addition to writing the score with Leslie Bricusse for 1971's film WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, Newley wrote the score for the 1975 film MR. QUILP (now broadcast on TV under THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP) and, with Bricusse, the title song for the 1968 film SWEET NOVEMBER; and, finally with Bricusse, the songs for the 1976 TV version of PETER PAN.  He also co-wrote with Stanley Ralph Ross the book, music and lyrics for the 1983 stage show CHAPLIN and created the 1985 revue ONCE UPON A SONG.  Newley had been working for many years on a musical version of RICHARD III and sang some of these songs during his last New York cabaret appearance at Rainbow and Stars in 1996.  The BMI database lists over 150 songs for which Newley wrote the music or lyrics.  His four U.S. hit songs were Why?, If She Should Come to You, Pop Goes the Weasel and What Kind of Fool Am I?   By contrast, he had 12 hit singles in three years in the U.K., all included in the 1997 CD, THE VERY BEST OF ANTHONY NEWLEY.  Newley went from child star to pop idol, to composer, author, director and leading man and leaves an amazing body of work.


                                                                                                                                                                        – Judy Harris