With rumours emerging that he is very soon to be back on our movie screens, ÉCU thought this would be an opportune time to shine our famous spotlight on this infamously shadowy and elusive British writer, director, comedian, and so much more.
Although he is now known as one of Britain’s greatest satirists of all time, it would be fair say that Morris’ career trajectory would not have been one necessarily predicted from the outset. He was born to GP parents Paul Michael Morris and Rosemary Parrington in Colchester, Essex, and raised in the quaint village of Buckden, Huntingdonshire. From the age of ten, he attended Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit boarding school located in the county of Lancashire, before going to study Zoology at the University of Bristol. With this epitomic upper-middle class upbringing in mind, as well as the strong scientific vein stemming through his familial and academic life, a medical or otherwise scientific vocation would perhaps have seemed more in-keeping. Yet, perhaps subversion from the standard was always to be inevitable with Morris; with his outstanding abilities, love of radio, and “prankster” mind present from even a young age, he does not seem to be one made for any sort of known, thoroughly-trodden route.
After some time entertaining desires to be a musician, a rite of passage for many of us postgraduates, Morris did find his call to fame and glory through his old love, the radio, although this time without any instruments in tow. Whilst he did work for a while pursuing his own shows on local radio stations, it wasn’t until he joined Armando Iannucci on BBC Radio 4’s spoof news show “On the Hour” that Morris’ career really took off. This was in part due to the fact that this show was to be televised (under the new name “The Day Today”) and this move would be the one that launched Morris’s own successful, and undeniably controversial, television career.
It would not do justice to the legacy and the character of Morris if we failed to mention one of the most pivotal works of his career: Brass Eye, a program that has had undeniable consequence on how we view the television, film, media, and even the world to this day. This spoof news programme looked at controversial topics within society, including amongst others, drugs and paedophelia, presenting itself in the style of a “breaking news” broadcast. It was a show designed to challenge the esteem we held for the so-called “wisdom of the media” by shaking our understanding of the fine line between information and entertainment. In this aim, it greatly succeeded. With its dark themes and unwitting stars it made of celebrities and politicians a like, believing they were involved in real campaigns rather than in a farcical program, it sent tremors across the press, the public, and the living rooms of the 90s. Many called for Brass Eye to be banned. Fortunately, for fans of ground-breaking new ideas and visual spectaculars, as well as those of us who just love dark comedy, Brass Eye remained and still continues to be watched and admired to this day.
One of Morris’ most famous works is his debut film “Four Lions”, one that has achieved great critical acclaim over the years. Much like Brass Eye, it focuses on a subject of mass hysteria with society and the media, in this case terrorism in connection to extremist Islam, and mocks the coverage around it. However, it also goes further than Brass Eye; it gives us a human face to those loathsome agents of evil we believe to be “beyond human”. Through our four protagonists’ incompetencies, we do not see them as clued-up, perfectly immaculate Bond villains, nor supernatural forces beyond our control. They are instead lost, bumbling, and very much fallible humans just like us who, to honest, don’t really know that the f-k they are doing. It’s poignancy, masterful direction and writing (a responsibility Morris shared with Peep Show writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain), as well as its utter-hilarity truly show Morris to be deserving of his “genius” title.
Despite his abundance of talent, Morris is almost as well known for his media shyness off-screen as his boldness on-screen. He rarely conducts interviews, nor makes his projects known to his adoring fans nor his main love/antagonist, the press, until they are well underway. When he does agree to an interview, however, we can see him to be a charismatic and intelligent speaker, with a depth of understanding and knowledge that is incredible to witness. We can see one of his rare interviews discussing “Four Lions” here.