Stewart Morris: Producer who worked in BBC light entertainment for over 30 years

The credit “Produced by Stewart Morris” was the final caption on hundreds of BBC light entertainment programmes from 1958 to 1992. Although Morris would never have been recognised in the street, the British public knew his name and associated him with quality productions, usually involving plenty of song and dance. They included seamlessly professional series for Shirley Bassey, Cliff Richard, Marti Caine and Les Dawson, as well as broadcasts of the Eurovision Song Contest and the Royal Variety Performance.

But every programme with Morris was a rollercoaster ride, as artists and technicians knew he was a big, powerful man who was quick to criticise faults, although he handed out praise and was a wonderful drinking companion when it was all over.

Stewart Morris was born in 1930 and educated at Winchester College but turned down a place at Oxford University as he preferred to be working.

His father, William Southan Morris, owned the Astoria chain of cinemas and after managing one of them for a few years Stewart realised that the future – as well as his future – lay not in cinema, but in television.

In 1958, the TV producer Jack Good was producing the very exciting rock ’n’ roll show, Oh Boy! for ITV, and the BBC wanted something similar. Morris was recruited to produce their reply, Drumbeat. Morris favoured a studio production over a theatre audience, but otherwise the shows were identical. Many of the performers were the same but Morris made Adam Faith a star and established John Barry as the leader of a rhythm combo, the John Barry Seven. The visiting Americans were Paul Anka and the Poni- Tails. “Drumbeat made me a star in Scotland,” the singer Vince Eager said, “as they didn’t have ITV there and had never seen anything like it.”

Johnny Worth, the songwriter of Faith’s first hits, recalls, “Adam had an amazing face, a most endearing face, and something within me said, ‘This kid is going to be a star. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t sing very well.’ Stewart Morris liked to present him with a stern, rocker, motorbike image and I told Adam to smile at the camera, gently, and the world would light up when he did. Stewart Morris was furious when he was stuck with a smiling Adam Faith singing ‘Love Is Strange’. He tore him off a colossal strip and told him never to do it again, but I knew he was wrong. When he smiled that wistful smile, he went zonk! into the hearts of millions.”

Drumbeat only ran for six months, but Morris had shown his capabilities and he was then entrusted with Juke Box Jury. This was hardly demanding work and hardly a TV format – four panellists listening to the latest releases and commenting on them – but it had a popular host, David Jacobs, and high viewing figures.

Morris worked on several one-off shows including specials with Sammy Davis Jnr, Allan Sherman and Beryl Reid, where he recruited Harold Pinter and N.F. Simpson to write for her.

In 1965, he recorded a highly regarded concert (in two parts) by Bob Dylan in front of an invited audience at the BBC. He was adamant that none of the audience would see Dylan before the broadcast. He ordered the concert to start and Dylan appeared, only to retreat as the videotape machine wasn’t ready. Morris was furious that the initial impact had been lost, but Dylan, wholly unaffected by Morris’s outburst, gave a superlative performance.

In 1966, he saw the potential of Kenneth Williams as a host for the BBC2 series International Cabaret, and he proved to be a fine anchorman as the public saw European acts which would not otherwise have a UK outlet.

He put together the song-and-dance group the Young Generation and used them in numerous productions, as well as realising the commercial potential of the Nolans.

In January 1967, Morris produced The Rolf Harris Show in which Harris sang, joked, painted and played ethnic Australian instruments. Harris was born on the same day as Morris and they referred to each other as twins. During the first season, Sandie Shaw sang the potential UK entries for the Eurovision Song Contest, and the public voted for “Puppet On A String”, which led to the UK’s first victory in the contest. The following year, Morris produced the live TV broadcast of the contest from the Royal Albert Hall and also produced the Royal Variety Performance from the London Palladium. In 1976, he produced the first live broadcast of a Royal Variety Performance.

In 1973, Morris was appointed Head of Variety and for two years had overall responsibility for the BBC’s variety programmes. However, he felt uncomfortable and much preferred making programmes himself. He had a flair for creating excitement and came up with the novel idea of a week of shows about the Osmond family, hosted by Noel Edmonds, when they came to the UK in 1974. In order to get them into the BBC Television Centre without being mobbed, Morris smuggled them in using a furniture van.

Shirley Bassey had resisted overtures to make her own series, but she relented in 1976 and the lavish Shirley Bassey Show did, at one stage, top 20 million viewers in the UK and was sold to 70 countries. Bassey, who could match his tough talking proved to be more game for his stunts than he imagined and they included singing in a crane from an oil rig in the North Sea.

When BBC2 started in 1964, Morris was put in charge of the Saturday afternoon alternative to sport on BBC1 and ITV. Open House was fronted by Gay Byrne and featured such American stars as Gene Pitney, the Supremes and the Beach Boys.

The show’s musical director, Tony Osborne, said: “Two hours of live television every week requires a producer with an iron nerve and iron will and the ability to get things done. Stewart had all of that, and although he could be a bully, it was for the good of the programme.”

In 1986, Morris produced his biggest spectacle: the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, which involved over 10,000 sportsmen and musicians.

Less successfully, he presided over a revival of the TV talent show Opportunity Knocks from 1987 to 1990, first with Bob Monkhouse and then with Les Dawson. The programme, which invited viewers to select the winning act by sending postcards, led the way for the interactive TV talent shows we see today. The backstage dramas, however, dwarfed what was seen on screen as Hughie Green, the original host, demanded, and received, an on-screen credit and fee as programme adviser.

Morris retired from the BBC in 1992. He then produced a Royal Gala for the 50th anniversary of VE Day for Carlton TV in 1995 and four series of Barrymore with Michael Barrymore for LWT from 1992 to 1995. He married his fourth wife, Hazel Silverman, in 1996. His son from his second marriage, Southan Morris, works in television and film production, but Morris himself could not be persuaded to write his autobiography: no one, he said, would be interested.

Spencer Leigh

Stewart John Southan Morris, television producer: born Luton 30 March 1930; married four times (one son, three daughters); died Sutton 10 January 2009

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments