Anthony Newley (1931 – 1999) was an English actor, singer and songwriter. Newley achieved success as a performer in such diverse fields as rock and roll and stage and screen acting. As a recording artist he enjoyed a dozen Top 40 entries on the UK Singles Chart between 1959 and 1962, including two number one hits. With songwriting partner Leslie Bricusse, Newley penned "Feeling Good", which was popularised by Nina Simone and covered by many other popular artists; as well as the title song of 1964 film Goldfinger (along with John Barry). Bricusse and Newley received an Academy Award nomination for the film score of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971).
Newley's first major film roles were Dusty Bates in The Adventures Of Dusty Bates and as Dick Bultitude in Peter Ustinov's Vice Versa (1948) followed by the Artful Dodger in David Lean's Oliver Twist (1948), based on the Charles Dickens novel. He made a successful transition from child star to actor in British films of the 1950s, broken by his national service. During the 1950s he appeared in many British radio programmes and for a time appeared as Cyril in Floggits starring Elsie and Doris Waters. But it was probably the film Idle on Parade that most changed his career direction. In the film he played a rock singer called up for national service; the story was somewhat inspired by Elvis Presley having been drafted for army service in the United States. The 1958 film No Time to Die (aka Tank Force) cemented Newley's position as a leading screen actor.
Newley's successful pop music career as a vocalist began in May 1959 with the song "I've Waited So Long", a number 3 hit in the UK charts thanks to the exposure it received as being featured in the film Idle on Parade. This was quickly followed by his number 6 hit "Personality" and then two number-one hits in early 1960: "Why" (originally a 1959 US hit for Frankie Avalon) and "Do You Mind?" (written by Lionel Bart).
The 1960 ATV series, The Strange World of Gurney Slade, which Newley devised and starred in, ran for one series. A comedy series of six half-hour programmres, it completely rejects the sitcom format, being made without a laughter track or studio audience. It has an unusual premise: Newley's character is trapped inside a television programme which is Gurney Slade itself. As a songwriter, he won the 1963 Grammy Award for Song of the Year for "What Kind of Fool Am I?", but he was also well known for "Gonna Build a Mountain", "Once in a Lifetime", "On a Wonderful Day Like Today", "The Joker" and comic novelty songs such as "That Noise" and "The Oompa-Loompa Song", and his versions of "Strawberry Fair" and "Pop Goes the Weasel". He wrote songs that others made hits including "Goldfinger" (the title song of the James Bond film, Goldfinger, music by John Barry), and "Feeling Good", which became a hit for Nina Simone.
He wrote ballads, many with Leslie Bricusse, that became signature hits for Sammy Davis, Jr., Shirley Bassey and Tony Bennett. During the 1960s he also added his greatest accomplishments on the London West End theatre and Broadway theatre stage, in Hollywood films and British and American television.
With Leslie Bricusse, he wrote the musical Stop the World - I Want to Get Off in which he also performed, earning a nomination for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. A hit in London and on Broadway, it was made into a film version in 1966, but Newley was unable to star in it because of a schedule conflict. The other musicals for which he co-wrote music and lyrics with Bricusse included The Roar of the Greasepaint—the Smell of the Crowd (1965) and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), based on the children's book by Roald Dahl.
In 1963, Newley had a hit comedy album called Fool Britannia!, the result of improvisational satires of the British Profumo scandal of the time by a team of Newley, his then-wife Joan Collins and Peter Sellers. It peaked at number 10 in the UK Albums Chart in October 1963.
Newley's contributions to Christmas music are highlighted by his rendition of the "Coventry Carol" which appears on many anthologies. He also wrote and recorded a novelty Christmas song called "Santa Claus is Elvis". And there is a notorious album of spoken poetry which has Newley appearing in the nude on the sleeve with a similarly attired young model.
Newley played Matthew Mugg in the original Doctor Dolittle, and the repressed English businessman opposite Sandy Dennis in the original Sweet November. He hosted Lucille Ball's character on a whirlwind tour of London in Lucy in London (1966). He performed in the autobiographical, Fellini-esque and X-rated Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?, which he also directed and co-wrote with Herman Raucher. He appeared in Quilp (based on Dickens's 'The Old Curiosity Shop'), for which he composed some songs ('Love Has the Longest Memory of All'). His last feature role, in the cast of the long-running British TV soap opera EastEnders, was to have been a regular role, but Newley had to withdraw after a few months when his health began to fail.
In the 1970s he remained active, particularly as a Las Vegas and Catskills Borscht Belt resort performer and talk show guest, but his career had begun to flounder. He had taken risks that eventually led to his downfall in Hollywood. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s he worked to achieve a comeback. He staged a successful American tour of his Stop The World – I Want To Get Off in 1986–87. The production co-starred a then unknown Suzie Plakson, whom Newley had discovered. The tour garnered her some strong notices and led to a steady career on stage and television. In 1985 he was also featured as the Mad Hatter in Steve Allen's all-star television adaptation of 'Alice in Wonderland'. In his later years as a mature singer Newley recorded songs from Fiddler on the Roof and Scrooge. He enjoyed his final popular success onstage when he starred in the latter musical which showed in London and toured British cities including Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester, in the 1990s. At the time of his death he had been working on a musical of Shakespeare's Richard III. He died at the age of 67, soon after he had become a grandfather.
In recognition of his creative skills and body of work, Newley was elected to the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1989.
Pure Imagination: The World of Anthony Newley and Leslie Briccuse, devised and directed by Bruce Kimmel, opened at the Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice, California, on 7 December 2013.
Enjoy Anthony Newley's unique style!
A great medley
A fantastic medley with Sammy Davis, Jr.