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EDITIONS
Friday, 27 July, 2001, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Chris Morris: Brass Neck
Chris Morris's controversial series, Brass Eye, has provoked a storm of outrage
Chris Morris has emerged as one of the most astute, and controversial, satirists of his age. With credits such as On The Hour, The Day Today, Jam and Brass Eye under his belt, his brand of humour is frequently dark and uncomfortable, as Andrew Walker of the BBC's News Profiles Unit explains.

There can be no doubt about Christopher Morris's abilities. Performer, writer, journalist, musician, he is at the centre of a loose group of cutting-edge artists which includes Steve Coogan, alter ego of Alan Partridge, the playwright Patrick Marber and Doon Mackichan of the Smack The Pony team.

But, while the others are showered with plaudits, Chris Morris has ploughed his own controversial furrow as television's ultimate taboo-breaker.

Brass Eye: near the knuckle
His most recent Brass Eye, dealing with paedophilia, has been branded by The Sun newspaper as the "sickest TV ever". If Chris Morris set out to rattle a few cages, he has clearly succeeded.

But Brass Eye is only the latest in a long list of superbly-crafted, if outrageous, hoaxes perpetrated by Morris. His comedy is unsettling and often disturbing, ridiculing the medium as much as the message, more Lenny Bruce than Lenny Henry.

The son of two Cambridgeshire GPs, Chris Morris was educated at Stonyhurst College, alma mater of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the actor Charles Laughton, and read zoology at Bristol University.

Local radio beckoned, but he was soon shown the door at one station after providing his own commentaries during news bulletins. After joining the BBC's London station, GLR, he was sacked once again after broadcasting "Kiddie's Outing", in which a child would "out" a celebrity as homosexual.

Next came On The Hour on Radio 4, written with Armando Iannucci and featuring, for the first time, the voice of Radio Norwich, Alan Partridge.

Paxmanesque: Chris Morris on The Day Today
The series transferred to television as The Day Today but, to Morris's credit, with completely new material. With its absurd, seemingly endless, graphic sequences and headlines like "sacked chimney-sweep pumps boss full of mayonnaise", the programme built up a cult following and Morris, who starred as a Paxmanesque anchorman, won the 1994 British Comedy Award for Best Newcomer.

The Day Today showed news television in all its absurd glory. A particularly grotesque sketch featured Patrick Marber as a condemned US prisoner who had requested to die like Elvis, electrocuted on the lavatory.

Doon Mackichan was Collaterly Sisters, a City reporter spouting financial gobbledygook, "the outlook for the markets: slightly fractious in the nines and sevens" and Alan Partridge struggled with the complexities of the Tour de France: "like cattle on bikes."

The former Conservative MP, Jerry Hayes
Jerry Hayes: fooled by Chris Morris
But controversy was never far away. Morris was suspended from Radio 1 after falsely announcing the death of Jimmy Savile and insinuating that Michael Heseltine had also died, provoking an instant tribute from the then Conservative MP Jerry Hayes.

For Chris Morris, 1996 was the year that changed everything. In June, he appeared on the daytime programme The Time, The Place, posing as an academic, Thurston Lowe, in a discussion entitled "Are British Men Lousy Lovers?"

He was rumbled when a producer alerted the show's host, John Stapleton.

His next venture, Brass Eye, produced by Channel Four and written with Peter Baynham, went further than any satire before it.

Using a documentary, rather than a news, format it set out to examine serious themes like crime and animal abuse, using unsuspecting celebrities as diverse as Clare Short and Bernard Manning to endorse its message and stoke up moral panic.

Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge on The Day Today
Alan Partridge: "Welcome to my Desk of Sport"
One episode, which dealt with a fictitious drug, Cake, prompted the Tory MP David Amess to ask questions in the House of Commons and led to Morris being sacked by Michael Grade, then chief executive at Channel Four.

Chris Morris's disquieting brilliance seems to lie in his perfectionism. Everything he does looks and sounds genuine. Film is shot just as it is for the news itself and unsuspecting guests are seduced into believing that they are appearing on a pukka show.

Morris's motives are difficult to discern. Audiences are shocked, tabloids suitably outraged, but is this comedy, performance art or purely offensive?

Chris Morris with another unsuspecting interviewee
He once explained himself thus: "If you make a joke in an area which is for some reason, normally random, out of bounds, then you might find something out, you might put your finger on something."

For many people, though, it is difficult to reconcile the idea of deconstructing humour with the realities of child abuse and drugs.

Now that the spoof interview, whether it be by Chris Morris, Mrs Merton or Ali G, is rapidly becoming old hat, it maybe time for him to move on to pastures new, to find new targets, and outlets, for his creative abilities.

Whatever happens, it is certain that Christopher Morris's considerable talent to both amuse and shock will continue to delight and disgust the nation.


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