BY ANDREW MOODY
There’s an old saying that politicians and whores become respectable if enough time passes. The same could be said for iconoclastic comedian and Brass Eye creator Chris Morris, at one point the most hated man in Britain.
Born in 1962 to parents who were both doctors, he read sciences at A Level and later zoology at Bristol University. He graduated with a 2:1, with little idea on the direction of his career.
A passionate musician, one of his main interests was radio. Teaming up with a loyal group of ambitious graduates, including Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci, they created a satirical radio show on Radio 4 called On the Hour which ran for twelve episodes, and contained the origin of Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge character that would propel him to fame.
Expanding on the theme, the core group of performers developed the format of On the Hour into a satirical six episode TV show, The Day Today. The premise was to draw attention to how ludicrous and over the top the news media had become.
The Day Today is composed of six half-hour episodes and a selection of shorter, five-minute slots recorded as promotion trailers for the longer segments. The six half-hour episodes were originally broadcast from 19 January to 23 February 1994 on BBC2. The Day Today has won many awards, including Morris winning the 1994 British Comedy Award for Best Newcomer.
Morris began his rise to fame (or infamy) just as the Conservative government was about to lose power for the first time in decades, to a young, passionate, media savvy New Labour. David Baddiel and Rob Newman had sold out Wembley Stadium for a comedy show, it seemed that if ever it was true that comedy was the new rock and roll, the time was now.
Chris Morris capitalised on his loyal crew of surrealist comedians to create his masterpiece, Brass Eye, an even more savage attack on audience gullibility, the arrogance of the media, and the shameless way that celebrities would endorse fictional charities just to get on TV. Morris biographer Lucian Randall wrote:
Brass Eye came from somewhere completely different, according to Matthew Bannister. ‘He’s on a one man mission to expose the hypocrisy of the media. That is his moral crusade,’ he says, ‘it’s an act, but the reason comes from the core of his being.’ Doon Mackichan, who joined Morris from The Day Today for a few appearances in Brass Eye, feels that his aims were more general, that his motivation came from whatever was in the air that needed cutting down to size. And writer David Quantick similarly says: ‘Chris’s thing is that he seems to me to be really outraged that the world is not the way it should be.”
After six successful shows, Animals, Drugs, Science, Sex, Crime & Decline, each of them topics that it would be impossible to cover within half an hour, by the late nineties Morris was still experimenting with Radio, a late night horror comedy called Blue Jam, which would later be developed into a nightmarish sketch show on Channel 4, Jam. A typically disturbing sketch had a man repeatedly jumping from the first floor of a block of flats, until he dies. Onlookers say that he didn’t want to jump once from a tall building, but multiple times from a short height in case he changed his mind.
Morris and co then decided on their most daring TV special, a Brass Eye episode on paedophilia. Since The Day Today, Jam and Brass Eye are available on YouTube, I won’t spoil your enjoyment/horror. After it was released, one tabloid even printed Morris’s home number. Ever the improviser, he simply recorded a new message to make callers think they’d called the newspaper:
Hello, you’ve reached the news desk. Please leave your message at the tone.
Morris is now a successful film director, with rave reviews for his satirical take on English suicide bombers Four Lions (2010) and FBI critique The Day Shall Come. (2019).
Follow Andrew Moody on Twitter @Voguishfiction