The semi-official biography of Chris Morris is well worth a read.
Aside from my pinko, liberal, lefty parents, it was probably Chris Morris who first taught me not to take everything I saw and heard at face value – to poke and prod and, when watching the news, think to myself “just because he’s wearing a suit and has nice hair doesn’t mean everything he says is the truth”.
Which is exactly why watching The Day Today for the first time was such a huge revelation for me. Morris has the sharp suit, the stern expression and, above all, the Paxmanesque voice, but the humour comes from the fact that Morris and his no-nonsense team just happen to be talking complete bollocks; sending up the fact that these sharply-dressed newsreaders could be saying anything and we’d likely believe it.
During his decade-long career in local radio Christopher Morris had learned the language of radio, its tone and mode of address, and used his keen mind to manipulate the message without changing the way it was delivered; fooling anyone who didn’t care to stick their head up and listen closer. He moved onto BBC Radio 4 for On The Hour as part of a team which included The Thick of It and Veep creator Armando Iannucci; playwright Patrick Marber and Steve Coogan – an award-winning writer, actor and comedian still best known for his Alan Partridge character created for these programmes. On The Hour became The Day Today for its TV run in 1994; three years later Morris began on what would be his masterpiece: Brass Eye.
Taking its cue from the over-the-top docu-news series which plagued British screens in the 1990s, Morris joined up with new writers to produce six programmes which debated the issues of modern Britain – and shockingly, Morris found that a slew of fame-hungry celebrities were only too happy to promote the fictional causes he purported to represent.
(This is real. Dr Fox thinks he’s really standing up for something here; as did the comedian Bernard Manning who actually said the words “Cake is a made-up drug” without realising.)
The Paedophile special broadcast in 2001 (and featuring an uncredited cameo from Simon Pegg, who humbly explains that he wouldn’t try to sleep with Morris’ son simply because he doesn’t fancy him) brought Morris to the attention of the national press; one paper declaring him the “sickest man in Britain” on one page while eagerly awaiting a teen pop star’s coming of age on the next. It’s that very same hypocrisy which Morris cuts swathes through in his most subversive work – and the very thing which makes me admire him.
In order to have the anonymity he needs to work under the radar like this, Morris has maintained a low public profile; he very, very rarely gives interviews and shuns any participation in publicising his projects. As such, this book by Lucian Randall doesn’t contain any official word from Chris Morris, though he did give permission for the writer to speak with his closest colleagues from the past twenty-five years including Iannucci, Marber and Charlie Brooker, with whom Morris co-created Nathan Barley – a sitcom spin on the turn-of-the-millennium media hipsters and youth culture. Fortunately the pieces of the puzzle fit neatly enough around the Morris-shaped hole to tell the story of an amazing career built simply on the foundations of being smart and asking the right questions of all the wrong people.
I enjoyed reading this account of Morris’ career simply because so few of them exist in entirety – it neatly fits together his works on both TV and radio, as well as providing good insight into the unique brand of humour which his work has brought. Definitely worth a read – though I’d start by getting up to speed on Morris’ work if you aren’t already.