Chris Morris’ brilliant cult comedy turns 20 this weekend.
Fake news is actually kinda old news. Just ask fans of Chris Morris, whose cult classic TV series The Day Today and Brass Eye were absurdist parodies of British evening news shows, pulling apart their hyperbole and moral panics with hilarious fake headlines: “Bouncing elephantiasis woman destroys central Portsmouth! Euro MPs’ new headsets play the sound of screaming women! And where now for man raised by puffins?!”
Twenty years after Brass Eye first hit Channel 4, much has changed – Morris is AWOL and the line between real life and those shows’ surrealist fantasies has totally blurred: “Prime Minister promises a red, white and blue Brexit”? “Public in Boaty McBoatface outcry over David Attenborough vessel”? Any headline beginning with the grim words “President Donald Trump” could easily be a gag from its cutting room floor. But what hasn’t changed is Brass Eye‘s firm satirical punch.
That show – the Panorama to The Day Today‘s News At 10 – is best known for its hugely controversial paedophilia special, ‘Paedogeddon’, in which celebrities were duped into making wild proclamations about how “paedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me.” But one of the show’s funniest moments actually centred on 1990s rave drugs hysteria – a scene rumoured to include a musical contribution from Aphex Twin.
At the height of panic about acid and ecstasy use in clubs, Brass Eye ran a segment on “cake” – a “psycho-active compound” that TV personality Noel Edmunds was fooled into reporting attacks a “part of your brain known as Shatner’s Bassoon.”
Like the current wave of fake news, celebrities and MPs blindly regurgitate lines about how the drug caused one girl to “throw up her own pelvis bone”. The drug “comes from Prague, with its own culture of boom raves where kids wolf down vast quantities” making them “fall around on it like crazed animals, scoff the lot then lie around waiting for a DJ to play music,” various B-listers continued, poking at the ridiculousness of real life reports painting club land drug culture as a vicious epidemic about to kill everyone’s children.
The track played at 4:40 in the clip has long been speculated to have been written by Aphex Twin – a claim which gets less outlandish the more you think about it. It certainly sounds like Aphex. Morris released a number of recordings of his Blue Jam radio show mixing ambient music with edgy sketches on Warp, lending another connection. And in a 2001 interview with The Face, Richard D James described himself as a “massive fan [of Chris Morris]… I think that what he’s doing is 100 per cent spot-on. I wish he would direct an episode of EastEnders.”
Morris gradually disappeared from public view after Brass Eye made him a brief household name – since co-writing Channel 4 Shoreditch hipster satire Nathan Barley and writing and directing suicide bomber farce Four Lions in 2010, there’s been a single stage appearance at a Stewart Lee standup show, select film and TV cameos, some behind-the-scenes work on Veep and vague but so far unsubstantiated reports of a new TV project. After a year in which club drug hysteria reared its head again, as Fabric was brought to the brink of permanent closure, it’s never been a better time for a proper return from a comedian expertly talented at skewering mad moral panics over youth music culture. British comedy feels a bit quadraspazzed on a life glug without him.