Rating: 2 stars
Lucian Randall doesn’t know what he wants his book to be: hero worship; analysis of experimental comedy; examination of reclusive auteur? Parts of it were interesting, when it looked at what went into Chris Morris’ ground breaking radio and TV shows, but much of it was frustrating and badly edited. It took 83 pages before I laughed. The first four chapters are frustratingly leaden. I began to wonder what the point of the book was, and why I was reading it. Chris Morris is elusive. There might be a good reason for that. The bare facts of his early days don’t really make for an engaging narrative. There is a sense that Randall needed to stretch the material to justify its inclusion. I Googled Randall at one point to check he was real, and not Chris Morris in disguise. Randall has written other biographies, but that’s not to say Morris wouldn’t take such measures to create a believable ruse.
The book picks up pace when it starts to document Morris’ radio career and the shows that generated source material for On The Hour, The Day Today, and Brass Eye. The subject matter is handled better, and is interesting because the focus is on the technicalities of making such ground breaking shows. Morris fades into the background, the mysterious perfectionist who works best in isolation. Randall still manages to make extraordinary events, such as filming with a live tiger, seem flat and dull, however.
I don’t know why all of the reviews from the time the book was first published praise it for the fluidity of the prose. I found it awkward to read at times, with clumsy links made more so because Randall clearly thought they were clever.
There’s also the odd decision to refer to Morris’ brother Tom in a comparative way, as though Morris’ experimental satire is directly equivalent to his brother’s experimental theatre. Tom Morris is reported as saying he thinks such an idea is tenuous but Randall persists in returning to it. It comes across as Randall inexplicably searching for something to link the two brothers’ work without there being any relevance, and makes it seem as though Tom Morris only agreed to talk to Randall on the proviso that his work was also applauded, as if he felt insecure in some way. Randall certainly seems astonished that two men from a “scientific” family (their parents being doctors, and they having studied sciences at university) should both end up working in the arts at the experimental end of the spectrum, as though it’s only possible to be one thing or the other, and as though children should always follow in parental footsteps. It’s another of the distractions that jars in Randall’s writing.
The book works best when it’s exploring and analysing Morris’ work, when it stops trying to analyse the man himself, and it only really does that effectively in the chapter about the Brass Eye Special.