Brass Eye clips show brutal TV comedy was just the tip of an iceberg | The comedy
IIts original broadcast was carried over by a jittery Channel 4, leading to questions in the House of Commons and a (Labour) Culture Secretary declaring herself ‘shocked and appalled’ at 10 O’Clock News. It is also “one of the greatest comedies ever broadcast on television”, explains David Walliams, who hosted a screening of a film on the set of the legendary series Brass Eye by Chris Morris on Sunday evening – 25 years this year. year. Oxide Ghosts: The Brass Eye Tapes collects outtakes and outtakes from the series, and is directed by Brass Eye director Michael Cumming, who extracted the material from his own vault of floppy disks and VHS tapes. He’s on tour now, and for Brass Eye fans, that’s me! – it’s a must.
Why? Because it reveals the aired series – just six short episodes, plus the infamous “Paedogeddon” special – as the tip of an iceberg of amazing material. Scenes such as the West End musical about Peter Sutcliffe and the footage of Morris with a spacehopper over his head noting down invented drugs on a street corner were often choice cuts from much longer footage, shown here. Then there are whole unseen elements that are just as harsh/funny as the material aired – like the “Lady Parliament” skit, in which Morris convenes an all-female panel to rule on animal cruelty, then confuses and patronizes the panel in a hurry conclusion.
But you can also take advantage of Oxide Ghosts to peek behind the veil that tends to hide the show’s reclusive star. There are flashes of how he persuaded his famous cronies to appear on the program – or failed, in the case of Jeffrey Archer. An idea dawns of the risks its creators were exposed to while making the show, as Morris fashions an impromptu stab vest from a Vogue magazine, and Reggie Kray orders a hefty one to visit the office of production after Morris pranks him on the phone. call to Maidstone Jail.
Then there’s the corpse, which can only humanize an artist whose human side is more jealously guarded than the crown jewels. Here, Morris chuckles at the list of animals he improvises as a livestock supplier to British MPs. He laughs when an elephant pees on his studio floor. And he breaks his daytime TV presenter persona for a laugh at one of the show’s most wicked moments, when he interviews a fictional teenage girl who was sexually abused by her uncle. “Was he,” Morris asks, concerned about creaminess and self-esteem vying for stardom, “as handsome as I am?”
Phew. But then there are so many “oof” moments – when you can’t believe Morris’ celebrities who praise a quote are actually saying the nonsense he feeds them; or the moments of cruelty or lewdness you marvel at, Morris got away with it, even (or perhaps especially) when seen 25 years away. We’re more delicate now than we were in the 90s – this is not a series made for the era of personal care and safe space.
In a post-screening chat with Walliams, Cumming discusses scenes Morris might not dare if the show were made today. A sketch on a Holocaust board game was mentioned – though it ended up on the cutting room floor anyway. The show’s rape jokes and overt interest in gay sex strike me as more disgusting a quarter of a century later. Then there’s the single-frame subliminal swearing directed at Channel 4 chief executive TV great Michael Grade – for which Cumming is apologizing tonight, because Grade, he admits, was bolder in programming and defense of the show than they attributed to him.
But Brass Eye’s brutality is the point: it’s a bonfire of propriety. (Cumming cited Pete ‘n’ Dud’s Derek and Clive albums as an influence.) You take it with that in mind, or not at all. His genius – beside creeping stupidity, Edward Lear linguistic flamboyance, great performances – is to be appallingly tasteful on the one hand, and driven by palpable moral contempt on the other. Contempt for the pompous inanities of the infotainment culture that was still emerging in 1997, when social media was just a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye. The contempt for the cult of celebrity that suggests no charitable cause is worthwhile unless led by a C-list personality. (One of the pleasures of seeing Brass Eye again is remembering how quickly such people – your Tamara Beckwiths, your Caesar the Geezers – return to darkness.)
Inevitably, Cumming’s Q&A veered towards the question: Could Brass Eye happen today? Its director in doubt: The Internet has changed everything, including the likelihood (more or less the work of Sacha Baron Cohen, Brass Eye’s most obvious heir) that such a daring show could ever be broadcast directly to television in network. It’s also a show of its time, when hindsight was still possible on the interaction of media and celebrity or the flattening effect of streaming news. These days, it’s just the air we breathe. Brass Eye takes the torch for all of this and for all the bridges that still connected Morris to a career in TV comedy. Artists this wild don’t come around often — and when they do, they’re rarely given their own TV show. It happened once – and Oxide Ghosts gives us a great opportunity to celebrate it.