In his relatively short life, Patrick Newley, who died aged 54, combined a remarkable variety of careers in journalism and entertainment.
Ironically, he was best known to Stage readers as the main contributor to this page, as well as for his weekly column which took an informed but iconoclastic look at showbiz history. He was also editor of the British Music Hall Society journal, a regular Times obituarist and author, and previously worked as an agent, publicist, entertainment manager, actor and club comedian.
From his early twenties, Newley exhibited a precocious talent for reviving the careers of some of the more louche and eccentric figures from the showbusiness and literary worlds. These included Quentin Crisp, the entertainers Rex Jameson and Douglas Byng, the playwright and novelist Robin Maugham, and the former gangster turned public speaker ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser.
Much of his knowledge derived from an early background in entertainment. Born Patrick Nicholas Galvin on March 25, 1955, he was the son of Diana (nee Ferrier) and Patrick Galvin, the distinguished Irish poet and playwright, whose Raggy Boy trilogy was the inspiration for a 2003 film. After his family moved from Dublin to Brighton in the sixties, Newley dropped out of school to work in the underground Unicorn bookshop. Through the owner, the American poet Bill Butler, he met counter-culture figures such as Allen Ginsberg and became part of the town’s gay community.
A move to Better Books on Charing Cross Road, owned by John Calder, British publisher of Samuel Beckett and William Burroughs, led to a friendship with the American author that lasted until Burroughs’ death in 1997.
Another mentor, Byng, encouraged Newley’s stage ambitions. In 1972 he was offered a place at the now defunct London School of Dramatic Art, changing his surname in imitation of his stage hero Anthony Newley on graduating. Aged 17 and finding little opportunity in theatre, he turned to light entertainment, beginning with a 22-week season at Butlins in Barry Island, South Wales. Pantomime was another source of employment. Still in his early twenties, he was acknowledged by The Stage as “one of the country’s youngest pantomime dames”, with stints in a variety of English venues, and for the producer Aubrey Phillips, playing opposite the comic Ken Platt. He also worked as entertainments manager for the North Wales Holiday Camp in Rhyl.
A first attempt as a comic on the northern working men’s club circuit failed when he was booed off stage in Middlesbrough, but Newley went on to perform a double act with his friend and fellow actor Richard Ruck.
With clubland in decline, Newley switched full time to journalism and public relations. From the late seventies to the early eighties, he worked as manager to Rex Jameson and press agent to Maugham. Jameson, alias Mrs Shufflewick, had been a major variety star, but was by then an alcoholic, often performing for drink instead of money. Newley persuaded ‘Shuff’s’ old friend Dorothy Squires to include him on her 1974 London Palladium show. Newley tipped off the press, Jameson won a standing ovation and became the highest-paid performer on the gay pub and club circuit, continuing to work until his early demise in 1983.
Newley helped secure Maugham a three-book deal on the strength of his novel The Corridor, released in 1980, a year before his death. His reward included the iconic mirror that features in the film adaptation of the writer’s most famous work, The Servant.
Early journalism included articles for Gay Times and in 1982 he began work on the short-lived Video Viewer, credited with helping to end the BBC and ITV duopoly on television listings. It provided an introduction to national newspapers. As a freelance, he went on to write prolifically for The Times, The Sun, Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express.
He combined this as manager to Byng and served as press agent on Quentin Crisp’s one-man tour. Newley directed a documentary with Byng, won him a slot on Michael Parkinson’s television show and teamed him with the thirties musical star Billy Milton. Byng’s finale was a one-night appearance at the National Theatre in 1986, aged 93.
Latterly, Newley concentrated on his work as an obituarist for The Times and for The Stage, for which he wrote a weekly column. He also contributed to The Oldie, to BBC radio’s Brief Lives, edited the BMHS house journal, The Call Boy and was an active member of the Savage Club.
His autobiographical The Krays and Bette Davis was published in 2006 and he wrote biographies for Third Age Press on Jameson, Tommy Trinder and Byng. The latter was published less than a week before his death on May 29, from complications arising from oesophageal cancer.
Patrick Newley is survived by his partner John Walker, both parents and a brother, the video producer and former entertainer Liam Galvin.
Brian Attwood, Editor, The Stage