‘Christopher Morris, does that ring a bell?’: when Brass Eye ambushed The Time, The Place

“He went into all this nonsense about ‘this is outrageous, how dare you, I’ve got a new book, it was one of the conditions of me coming on,’” says Stapleton. “Complete b–––––ks. The audience must have been pretty bewildered.”

Morris then pretended to confuse Stapleton with BBC chat show host, Robert Kilroy-Silk. “You’ve changed the colour of your hair… why’s it not white anymore?” “I have not,” replied Stapleton, moving swiftly on. “But thank you very much indeed.” 

(Morris also took aim at Kilroy-Silk in the unnerving sketch show, Jam, in which Kilroy-Silk – or a Kilroy-Silk look alike – strips naked and runs amok in a shopping centre.)

Stapleton confronted Morris afterwards. “I was pretty pissed off, I can tell you that,” Stapleton says. “I explained to him that I wasn’t too pleased. It was probably an overreaction on my part. Because at the end of the day, does it matter? Of course it doesn’t. I just felt a bit used and abused, as it were. Also, you don’t want that sort of thing to start a trend because it undermines the programme. But we all laughed about it afterwards.”

If the stunt was intended for Brass Eye, it wasn’t the only thing that didn’t make the broadcast. The series was briefly delayed while Channel 4 boss Michael Grade fretted over its controversial content – pushed back from November 1996 until its debut on January 29, 1997. A skit about Peter Sutcliffe, in which Sutcliffe is released from prison to star in his own West End musical, was removed before broadcast – Grade’s reaction to a Daily Mail campaign against Brass Eye. Morris responded by sneaking a subliminal message into one frame of the episode: “Grade is a c–––”

When Brass Eye returned in 2001 for a special about paedophile hysteria, its skewering of moral panics almost started one. The Mail branded Brass Eye “the sickest TV show ever.”

“It was bonkers after the paedophile special,” says Peter Baynham. “It was clear that it was satire. I remember the News of the World printed a centre spread saying ‘these people must never work in television again’. They’d just gone through the credits of the show. Sound supervisor, catering. They included Peter Fincham who went on to become controller of BBC One! I took it completely seriously at the time. It was almost like their attempt at cancelling before cancelling came along – they tried to cancel us all.”

Morris’s appearance on The Time, The Place became a small cult moment within the notoriety of Bras Eye. In the pre-YouTube age, a friend of mine had an illicit copy of it on tape. One contributor to the Cookd and Bomd comedy forum recalled seeing it live: “One of the most fortuitous media moments in my life. Cleaning up my room with it on in the background and recognising the voice and realising what I was watching, trying to video it, but being too late.”

Now, John Stapleton takes it all in impeccably good humour – there’s an amusing coda, too. “Years later, my son, who lives in London, advertised a bike for sale – and guess who knocked on the door?” says Stapoleton. “My son said, ‘I think you know my dad!’ He never came back to buy it… No hard feelings, it was a bit of fun. Not TV history – that makes me sound too pompous – but quite a moment.”

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