CHRIS MORRIS may be a very sick man. He's certainly a comic genius: the game-warden-to-the-events-rhino of 'The Day Today', and a walking controversy machine who's been through more stations than the Orient Express. This week he begins his own show on Radio 1FM. Go on, says unashamed 'Day Today'-spotter SIMON PRICE, fact us till we fart.
People warned me about Chris Morris. They told me he was literally mad, a genuine psychopath, a very sick, bitter and twisted man.
The man across the restaurant table from me seems nothing more alarming than a rather well-brought-up, slightly ruffled overgrown graduate. Like every other comedian I've ever met, in fact.
Morris grew up in a "very dull flat area near Huntingdon", and attended "Public school to get the right accent, Catholic school to get the right guilt complex." He doesn't, however, believe that his perfect elocution had helped him get away with murder ("I think 'motherf***er' is 'mother***er, whoever says it"). Neither does he agree with my armchair-psychology proposition that the regular beatings he received (with an elaborate leather-covered whalebone called a ferula) might have caused his anti-authoritarian impulse.
"No, I had it before I was beaten, during and afterwards. It's what got me punished in the first place. I've never been able to take punishment seriously.
"I've always liked to bugger about with sound. I was given a tape recorder when I was quite young, and used it to record family arguments. I'd press Record, leave it running, go into the room and be mildly provocative. Things would always escalate out of proportion. One time, a row built to a huge crescendo and an aunt says, 'Well, this is a fine way to spend our wedding anniversary' - there's a huge pause - then an uncle says 'The emotional knockout blow.' As if he was commenting (sic)! Me and tape recorders go back a long way."
One Zoology degree and a rather eventful career in radio (see panel) later, Chris Morris devised the real reason I'm here.
The Day Today, I confess, is a programme that my circle of friends can quote word for word (and find it difficult to have a conversation without doing so). "Eat my goal!" "Is this cool?" "Peter, you're lying in a news grave!" "John Fashanu, John Fashanu", and so on.
"That's nice to know. Our following was a small but intense three million, a very loyal Chihuahua. I went on holiday immediately after filming, and thought, 'That was the ponciest, most up-your-arse academic piece of comedy I can imagine, so pernickety. But certain people love the detail, and I can understand that. If I'm not an anorak, I'm at least a greatcoat. Some people like the sound of other people masturbating."
As well as being the funniest and most quotable programme since (for completely different reasons) "The Young Ones", the most subversive achievement of "The Day Today" was to completely denude the news process. I mean, can you take the artificial gravitas of "Newsnight" seriously anymore?
Morris' BBC career has acquainted him well with the "totalitarian voice of news, the soundbite artillery".
"For Christ's sake, the news is considered so important, an untouchable area of BBC excellence. But I don't think it does anyone any harm to realise they're being manipulated. The way 'The Day Today' worked was the gap between how stupid it is, and how seriously it's said. It's that Leslie Nielsen effect. But it's ultimately frustrating, performing an elaborate burlesque for people to laugh at and say 'My my, how closely it resembles the real thing', then carry on as usual. Nobody's ever shamed out of their job. You increasingly think direct action is the only way."
Morris' slick anchorman mannerisms were so perfect you wondered if he'd attended some secret Newsreader Academy, perhaps in the Buckinghamshire countryside.
Did he get any response from real newscasters?
"Alistair Stewart - the news pimp from 'London Tonight' - said 'I'm sorry, there's no joke here, I just don't see what's funny.' When 'London Tonight' came out, we thought 'F*** this parody business...'
"Paxman is the obvious prime target, because he's the most ridiculous. But to me, Buerk is more preposterous because he's less overt. It's an acting performance: 'Hush hush, don't laugh, this is a cathedral, anybody who's feeling remotely unserious can leave the room now because I'm telling you this is powerful stuff.'
"Nicholas Witchell's got that slightly ambiguous attempt at being matey. Trevor McDonald always seems to be disassociating himself from the story by throwing in absolutely meaningless inflections. He never takes you on an emotional journey, does he?
"Sissons tries so, so hard, but his sense of importance is racing way ahead of his mental ability to keep up with events. When John Smith died of a heart attack, he said, 'Has the time come to look at the workload we expect from politicians?' As if, unless there was an immediate review, Westminster would be full of MPs failing to their knees and clutching their chests. Go home, you idiot!"
One of the show's most addictive creations was Collaterly Sisters' incomprehensible but strangely Zen-like 'Businews' (random sample "It was a cowy night for the pound. There was a smell of fear in the city as the German Bordello swapped currencies with the Portuguese Starling. Thanks, Chris. Now a look at the finance arse. In summary, seven was a little bit younger.")
"When you watch the business news, you always assume 'Oh, that's for the business community', But it'd be great to find out that *they* didn't watch it either, but it had a huge, vaguely New Age audience who liked the soothing, rhythmic effect of the numbers, and it eased distressed pets."
Then there was Ted Maul, the ghoulish reporter who clearly got off on the gore of the stories.
"That came from a guy I knew in East Anglia called Pat Beasley. He was the consummate freelance journalist, knew all the tricks, how to chat up the police, etc. One day, he came rushing into the studio, shouting 'Chris, Chris, you've gotta listen to this: Police are out in force today as the county's roads serve up their traditional pre-Christmas cocktail of carnage'. I said, 'Pat, you *can't* say that.' When he did the news, he read 'The roads have served up their traditional pre-Christmas *menu of mayhem*,' smiled at me through the glass, and carried on. This is what goes on. In the eighties, CNN actually had the slogan 'If it bleeds, it leads.'"
Morris considers the accusation that he's a shock-hungry sicko.
"When I heard about Kurt's death, I thought, 'That's a very sad thing but, at the same time, it's an image on a stick'. I heard a comedian make fun of Courtney's croaky voice at the funeral, saying 'She sounds like Lucille Ball just before she died.' And he imagined these Geffen executives going 'Yeah, Kurt, we'll take you down the store, we'll get you any gun you want.' And slowly the corners of your mouth start turning up.
"At my grandfather's funeral, my grandmother was in a wheelchair, dabbing her eyes with a lace hanky, and it was a moving moment. Then the hearse reversed right into her! I looked at my brother, and my blood pressure must have quadrupled trying to keep the laugh in.
"Things like that are red rags to me. It's not as if I'm on a campaign to make people psychologically less imprisoned, people ought to acknowledge that *of course* they laugh at sick jokes in the privacy of their own homes. Don't be so fucking precious about it."
Morris' manically prolific output is due to a fear of "ending up a 37 - no, that's tempting fortune - 68-year-old man on a Taboo-Breakers' Gold station, sitting there with Victor Lewis-Smith doing these asinine, arthritic, Alzheimers-induced programmes." His next project is a weekly show ("fairly eclectic, handbag to gangsta") on Radio 1 FM.
"DJs are slightly shell-shocked at the moment. They've been lampooned to buggery. I even did it myself with 'Wayne Carr' - that's where Smashie and Nicey ripped off the 'rock-a-doodle-doo' phrase. So you hear them distancing themselves from what they're doing. You find yourself screaming for a Bruno Brookes or a Gary Davies, and shite jokes like, 'Where do you find a dog with no legs? Where you left it!' Their job is to play records, not say, 'I've got a degree', constantly reverting to very clumsy irony. Steve Wright, at least, has a degree of devil-may-care."
Morris' first show, as luck would have it, goes out on an official NUJ/BECTU strike day.
"We tried to get Alice Cooper to say 'Listen. Striking is immoral. It's a form of blackmail, don't you see? So stop whingeing and get back to work, you commies.' His manager stopped it, but we did get him saying 'Hi, I'm Alice Cooper. Isn't Sybil Ruscoe [BBC consumer watchdog] a twat?"
Chris Morris is, as you might have gathered, the anti-luvvie.
"I tend to operate as a bit of a loner. 'The Day Today' is an exception. You have to protect yourself against becoming friends with people."
As a result, he's refreshingly willing to name names, even among his 1FM colleagues-to-be.
"I have it on good authority that Nicky Campbell has a thesaurus in his studio. The other day he said 'At two, it's Simon De Mayo - not to be confused with the French author Simone De Beauvoir.' Excuse me?! He's gonna start talking in Latin soon. He's the master of the death interview, too. He's asked both Holly Johnson and Derek Jarman, 'You're gonna die soon. How do you feel about that?' Who next? Kenny Everett? Did he have Jackie Onassis in? Stiff Of The Day!
"So when my show starts, we might invite Dennis Potter in, so that if he drops dead, we've got the exclusive. Keep him topped up with laudanum, he wouldn't really care. Make him climb a greasy ladder! When Melvyn Bragg does the Potter interview, he looks like some kind of archbishop, but come on - the real appeal is a sort of prurience.
"Actually, I'm gonna get Eddie Vedder. 'Here's a gun, it's loaded, do what we all want you to do'. Or have a live feed from Michael Heseltine's heart monitor. 'Beep, beep...'"
'The Chris Morris Music Show' begins on Radio 1FM tonight (Wednesday) at 9pm
THAT CONTROV CV IN FULL
"Radio West was set up by Johnny Walker, and students were allowed to run riot. Then I made a joke about Johnnie Walker's and Coke"
Suddenly found himself persona non grata.
Added sarcastic running commentary to late-night news broadcasts. Filled studio with helium, forcing newsreader to announce horrific motorway pile-up in Smurf's voice. "Some idiot in Swindon heard it". Sacked. ("To be fair, they gave me a lot of rope before they finally hanged me")
Re-edited the Queen's Speech to say, 'I am speaking to you today - not from Buckingham Palace - but from a long, drawn out and terminal illness.' Asked Sonia, the SAW teenybopper, what it's like being married to Peter Sutcliffe.
Won the New York International Radio Festival Award. Morris later left, declaring 'GLR and I are no longer wearing the same trousers'
On Christmas Day, 1990, announced that the Pet Shop Boys were recording a version of 'Little Children' with Myra Hindley.
Sacked after one show.
'THE DAY TODAY', BBC2
War footage of burning bodies to the sound of 'Disco Inferno'. The corpse of Ian Curtis swinging from a noose. The Royal Family culling disabled members of staff.
A deluge of complaints, including some from viewers convinced it's a real news programme.
RADIO 1FM (AGAIN): 'THE CHRIS MORRIS MUSIC SHOW
'Will hit the air like a seven-litre Ford Capri driven by a speedfreak mandrill'
Scenario No.1: "There's so much backslapping and furious laughter between Matthew Bannister and me that any hope of controvery is out of the window. I'll probably do jokes about flies in my soup". Scenario No.2: A national wave of 'Shut up, I'm listening' murders.