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Brass Eye (1997, 2001)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Brass Eye (1997, 2001)
For Channel 4, tx. 29/1/1997 - 26/7/2001
6 x 30 min episodes plus 1 special, colour
Director Michael Cumming
Production Company TalkBack
Producers Duncan Gray
 Christopher Morris
Written by Christopher Morris, Peter Baynham, Jane Bussmann, Graham Linehan, Arthur Mathews, David Quantick

Cast: Christopher Morris, Amelia Bullmore, David Cann, Barbara Durkin, Kevin Eldon, Mark Heap, Doon Mackichan, Gina McKee, Claire Skinner, Albert Welling

Show full cast and credits

Hard-hitting investigations of vital current issues - animals, drugs, science, sex, crime, social decline and paedophilia - with numerous celebrity contributions.

Show full synopsis

Rejected at pilot stage by the BBC in 1995, then further delayed by a nervous Channel 4 chief executive Michael Grade, this high watermark of Chris Morris's career eventually surfaced in 1997. Its strategy of blurring the gap between documentary and comedy created many uncomfortable moments for the viewer and made the life of its broadcaster difficult, with Grade pointedly announcing his departure in the week of Brass Eye's premiere.

Cautiously introduced by announcers as "a satirical look at television current affairs", Brass Eye operated at the boundaries of acceptable broadcasting practice, its elaborate set-ups designed to dupe celebrities into endorsing nonsensical campaigns. Where the general public had often been his gently roasted target in earlier 'vox pop' interviews for The Day Today (BBC, 1994), the focus here was on drawing out the opinions of lightweights on matters of great seriousness: crime, drugs and moral decline. Very few of those featured in Brass Eye were recognised experts in their fields - Morris preferred to invent those - and the point to which the host sought to exploit the bluff was often devastating, reducing complex issues and taking his guests into impossible 'right or wrong' debates. It was an implicit criticism of the celebrity's temerity to appear on television without apparent forethought.

Morris's fusion of documentary and entertainment emerged with the help of a production team previously found making sensationalist packages for The Word (C4, 1990-95). As director, Michael Cumming showed an extraordinary command of many different styles and approaches. Morris's need for spectacular graphics illustrating meaningless statistics was again served by Hilliard & Norley, who with composer Jonathan Whitehead had helped to define the stentorian air of The Day Today. Regular collaborator Peter Baynham continued as chief co-writer and many cast members from the later Jam (C4, 2000) first appeared in a Morris project.

Brass Eye Special (C4, delayed tx. 26/07/2001) caused further headaches, but found in the new Channel 4 leadership an ally ready to protect Morris's attack on the media hysteria surrounding paedophilia. The tabloid backlash was ferocious, prompting a wider defence of the special that was cripplingly obsessed with highlighting the show's basic satirical point. This was at the expense of offering much qualitative analysis of a stylistically and ethically problematic show, too eager to trade off the earlier series' glories rather than be genuinely progressive. With current affairs exhausted, Morris would concentrate on narrative from hereon.

Ian Greaves

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Video Clips
Day Today, The (1994)
Davis, Julia (1966-)
Mackichan, Doon (1962-)
Morris, Christopher (1963- )
TV Satire