Brilliant satire will have to wait as C4 pulls `Brass Eye'

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The Independent Online
Channel 4 has made a last-minute decision not to broadcast a new television series made by the wayward comedian and "shock jock" Chris Morris.

The series, called Brass Eye, has been in secluded production for over a year and promised to feature the satirical humiliation of several household names.

It was due to run at 10.35pm on Tuesdays over the six weeks leading up to Christmas, but on Thursday the channel announced that it wanted to look again at the content.

"Brass Eye is a brilliant, innovative satirical format and the channel needs more time to review the series before transmission," a spokesman said.

As an exponent of the guerrilla-style on-air prank, Morris is regarded as second to none, having won his spurs in a series of encounters with broadcasting watchdogs. He was first taken off the airwaves in 1994 when he told Radio 1 listeners that Michael Heseltine had died. Later that year actress Petula Clark and the presenter Jimmy Savile both threatened legal action when they were targeted in a Christmas Day radio show.

The decision to pull the new TV series is a surprise, in spite of this history of outrage, because Channel 4 initially leapt at the chance to buy up the programme when BBC2 turned it down. In the past, too, chief executive Michael Grade has deliberately distanced himself from the "new puritans" he detected behind Broadcasting Standards Council attacks on Morris's work.

Colleagues of Morris think it unlikely he will agree to compromise by editing the show, but Channel 4 is adamant that the series has not been cancelled. Harry Thompson, producer of BBC1's They Think It's All Over, said he was bitterly upset by Channel 4's decision. Morris's talent, he said, lies in allowing his victims to condemn themselves by their own actions.

"I was looking forward to it enormously," said Mr Thompson. "Chris Morris is absolutely brilliant because he has got something to say. It is very rare that you can be funny and have something to say.

"And the number of people who complain is so tiny. It is such a small minority that TV bosses run around chasing their tails about. They assume that righteousness exists entirely within a certain morality. It never occurs to them that there might be any other sort of morality."

Fans of ground-breaking comedy might well be excused for thinking that moral panic is sweeping the networks. Brass Eye is the second comedy show to be withdrawn on grounds of public decency in as many weeks.

At the beginning of the month the in-coming head of Radio Four, James Boyle, stopped the surreal comedy series Eamon, Older Brother of Jesus from going out on air.

Mr Boyle has explained that the show was not funny, but he also said he did not want to have to defend the content against charges of blasphemy. The producer Phil Clarke finds it hard to conceive that his show, which starred gentle Irish comic Michael Redmond, would have upset many Radio 4 listeners.

"I am firmly of the opinion that Eamon would have amused more people than it offended," he said.

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