Morph is back

The anarchic plasticine character from 70s’ telly is back after fans raised £110,000 to fund 15 new shorts. Etan Smallman squeezes in a meeting with him

“Thin at the chest and sloping at the shoulders... but nice bum,” Peter Lord tells me, not – mercifully – describing my physique, but in judgement of my Morph, the version of the children’s television character that I’ve just manufactured out of a slab of modelling clay.

While most TV personalities take an age to get camera-ready, it turns out that a professional can transform Morph from an inanimate 162g lump into a squeaky-voiced, slapstick star in just 20 minutes.

So, I asked – well, begged – to have a go myself. The six-year-old inside me couldn’t contain himself when a “yes” came back from Aardman Animations HQ in Bristol (also home to Wallace and Gromit, and Creature Comforts). And that was before I was told that I wouldn’t be competing against just any old animator – Peter Lord, company co-founder and co-creator of Morph, would be putting me through my plasticine paces.

The masterclass/duel takes place in the dedicated “Morph Memory Room”, surrounded by dozens of historic incarnations and tiny props. There’s even a hooded Morph with a spray can representing another Bristol legend who never speaks: Banksy. I’m here because Lord has decided to bring “the little guy” back. The resurrection was crowd-funded on the Kickstarter website, with £110,000 donated by fans to produce 15 one-minute films that will be broadcast on YouTube.

Morph was designed as an anarchic foil to artist Tony Hart’s straight man, first appearing on the BBC in 1977, but hanging around for decades – in time for me to get hooked in the early 1990s. But these are the first new films in almost 20 years, and Morph is as greedy, grumpy and vain as ever – and the production techniques are identical, with painstaking stop-motion animation still the order of the day. The only concessions to modernity are the addition of a smartphone alongside the cotton reels and paint pots (Morph tries to disrupt sidekick Chas’s selfie-taking), and a shift from 16mm film to digital stills cameras.

Morph is still spineless, with no armature to support his delicate frame. Lord uses his original scales – which have a little “M” marked on the dial – to measure out the raw material. And we start squeezing. All of Morph’s limbs are stretched from this single terracotta ball. A five-pointed star begins to emerge before the arms, legs and head pop out.

I confess to having pored over a diagram before my trip to Bristol and to watching several YouTube how-to videos, but it makes little difference. Lord has the hands of Houdini; Morph’s limbs seem to magically materialise with the mere swipe of an Aardman palm.

We then get to work on his thumbs (he was never furnished with other fingers, which made a recent episode of BBC 2’s programme for deaf people, See Hear – in which Morph was asked to use sign language – rather tricky).

“Out of a sense of fair play, I’m finding his nose in his feet,” Lord chips in. “It’s like serious reconstructive surgery.” The eyes are stuck on near the end and the crucial smile is carved with a wooden stick.

My Morph looks slightly squashed and confused but, apparently, I’ve done rather well. Lord tells me to take heart: a recent delegation of comedians – including Al Murray, Richard Herring, Dara Ó Briain and Graeme Garden – tried their hands at Morph-making, with “disastrous results... disastrous!”. Was Lord secretly pleased? “Yeah. Absolutely delighted.” Herring’s creation, he adds, “looked like a crack addict Morph that had caught fire”.

What’s more, mine looks so convincing that Morph’s PR (yes, he has his very own spokeswoman) interjects: “You’ve been practising with Blu-Tack, haven’t you?” (If only I’d thought of doing that). Indeed, my Morph is so darned good that he starts animating himself – falling flat on his face as he poses for the photographer, leaving him with a rather wonky nose to complement his substandard shoulders.

Later, on Aardman’s sun-drenched terrace, Merlin Crossingham, the director of the new episodes, explains Morph’s appeal. “He has a boyish charm, which makes you think, ‘Ah, isn’t he sweet’. But he’s up to something. He looks young and innocent – but not in a pre-school way. There’s a level of understanding and intelligence.”

One gets the sense that the creatives here are driven by a conviction that children deserve more than the saccharine schlock served up in US digital cartoons. After all, which other children’s show would you hear described with the words “slapstick” and “surrealist”? Which other character can count Prince Philip as an avowed fan?

So why hasn’t Morph captured hearts in the same way overseas? “Only because we haven’t tried. There’s no language involved, so hopefully it will cross boundaries quite easily,” adds Crossingham, who for the first time has also been given the job of voicing Morph’s high-pitched gibberish (he “scripts” it as he goes along).

“This time, we’ve got Kickstarter and YouTube and potentially some international broadcasters are going to pick him up as well. It’s a whole brave new world for us.”

Who’d have thought it? Thoroughly modern Morph – aged 37 and a half – is only just getting started.

The first of 15 films will be released on July 4 at 5.15pm on youtube.com/morphofficial

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview