Anthony Newley (1931-1999) b. Hackney, London, England.
George Anthony Newley was born on 24th September 1931, in Hackney in the east end of London, to un-married parents, Frances Grace Newley and George Kirby, who were to separate soon after he was born, meaning he was raised by his single mother and later his stepfather, Ronald Gardner. He started his schooling in London, but in 1940, was evacuated to the country when the Luftwaffe began their Blitz on the capital. It was during this period that he first became aware of acting and singing, being taught for a while by an old music hall entertainer, George Pescud. This certainly fired the young boy’s imagination and on his return to London, after responding to an advertisement for boy actors, he applied to the Italia Conti Stage School. He soon realised he couldn’t afford their fees, but after some negotiation, they agreed he could work for them as an office boy for a wage of 30 shillings plus school fees per week.
Almost immediately he got his first role, when he was cast as Dusty in the children’s serial The Adventures of Dusty Bates followed by his first film role as Dick Bultitude in Vice Versa and amazingly, less than twelve months later in 1948, aged sixteen, he landed the plum role of the Artful Dodger in David Lean’s version of Oliver Twist, playing alongside Alec Guinness’ Fagin and Robert Newton’s Bill Sykes.
After appearing in several more films, including The Guinea Pig and The Little Ballerina (both 1948) and Vote for Huggett (1949) he was required to complete his two years of National Service duty and his career was put on hold. He returned to films in 1953, after a very unhappy time in the Army, with Those People Next Door, with Jack Warner and Top of the Form (1954), before in 1955 making two of his most well known films, Above Us The Waves with John Mills and Cockleshell Heroes opposite Jose Ferrer and Trevor Howard. It was his 1959 appearance in Idol on Parade however that really changed the direction of his career, playing the part of a pop star called up for National Service and in which he sings I’ve Waited So Long which he took to number 3 in the hit parade. Making the most of the moment, he quickly followed this up in 1960 with two number-ones, Why? and Do You Mind? and his meteoric rise in the pop world was confirmed in 1963 when, as a songwriter, he won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year for What Kind of Fool Am I? He also recorded popular versions of The Joker, Once in a Lifetime, Gonna Build a Mountain and On a Wonderful Day Like Today, and he wrote the lyrics for the Bond theme Goldfinger and the Nina Simone hit Feeling Good.
He also co-wrote the musical Stop the World – I Want to Get Off with Leslie Bricusse in which he starred and for which he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. Together they also co-wrote The Roar of the Greasepaint—the Smell of the Crowd (1965) and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), based on Roald Dahl’s book.
In 1963, Newley, in partnership with his then wife Joan Collins and Peter Sellers, also released a comedy album called Fool Britannia! a collection of improvisational satires based around the Profumo scandal that rocked the Government and in 1989, to recognise his contribution to music, he was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
As a result of his extraordinary success in the music industry, his opportunities in films reduced dramatically and although he did appear in several well known productions, including as Matthew Mugg in Doctor Doolittle in 1967 and as Daniel Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop in 1975, the future of his acting leaned more towards television.
His personal life was as full and colourful as his professional one. He was married three times, to Ann Lynn (56-63), Joan Collins (63-71) and Dareth Rich (73-89) and talking later of his failed marriages, he said that his “only regret was that in a show business career you can have no private life.” He had four children, although a fifth, born to Ann Lynn sadly died in infancy from a congenital condition. He did have a sixth child, a daughter, after an affair with Anneke Wills, but tragically, the girl died in a car crash without Newley ever finding out that he was her father. His infidelity was a very badly kept secret as he allegedly enjoyed dalliances with, amongst others, Diana Dors and Barbara Streisand, not to mention chorus girls aplenty.
In 1985, he joined the cast of the BBC soap-opera Eastenders in what was intended to be a long-term role, however his failing health meant he had to withdraw after just a few months on set, his last acting engagement for over fourteen years. He made several attempts at a come-back during this time, but his poor health unfortunately prevented him from doing so. He did finally manage to return to our screens to make an appearance in one episode of The Lakes in early 1999, but by now he was very ill and, not wishing to be alone, he moved back to live with his beloved mother Grace, who by then was aged 96. Shortly afterwards, he became a grandfather and then on 14th April 1999, Anthony died from renal cancer in Jensen Beach, Florida, aged 67.
Compiled by Clive Saunders.