Utterly hilarious comedy
series aired on Channel 4
in early 1998
. A creation of comedy genius Chris Morris
, the six-part show is a fierce and characteristically over-the-top
lampooning of "investigative journalism
" shows such as Panorama
and World In Action
. Each episode tackles a Big Important Issue:
The first show opens with camcorder
footage of a cow
being shot out of a mortar
cannon. (Ack, no it doesn't - it starts with the dinner party
scene.) But Morris's astoundingly surreal
investigation of man's relationship with animals (highlights include assorted celebrities making a heart-rending appeal for help for an elephant
with its trunk stuck up its anus) is only the tip of the iceberg
"Drugs" is nearly wholly given over to a campaign to stop the made-up drug cake (see the node cake for full details), where Morris managed to gull dozens of publicity-hungry celebs. "Science" reveals the dark past of the Apollo 11 astronauts (with clever mixing of real and archive footage), and the scandal of Heavy Electricity.
"Sex" has Peter Sissens receiving fellatio at the newsdesk, homosexuality in the Navy, and an American politician who is a compulsive masturbator (this episode is gleefully offensive, and its somewhat short running time suggests even more stuff was cut). "Crime" has the series at its most technically polished, with a very tightly-written report on a run-down housing estate, and celebrities (Tommy Vance, Geoffrey Boycott and Vanessa Feltz) filming a video to be shown to young offenders.
Finally "Moral Decline" sees the show at loggerheads with Channel 4's top brass. Cuts and alterations abound, and at one point a flashframe is displayed with a rude message aimed at the boss of the network, Michael Grade.
Morris presents the show himself (in his On The Hour newsreader role, as well as several heavily-made-up alter-egos used to interview celebrities), with many of his long-standing colleagues appearing in various sketches. Notably, David Cann (who also featured as the doctor in Jam) makes a couple of hilarious appearances, as NASA spokesman Ripp Candy ("I believe the technical term is a bully-ramming") and as a headmaster who promotes the use of drugs.
A number of the stunts attempted for the show did not come off as planned, in some cases a few seconds of footage from various escapades are shown during the titles. One story goes that Morris and a small crew were interviewing a right-wing MP about asylum seekers and immigration (which the MP had typically bigotted views about). During the interview, they stop to apply make-up to Morris and the MP. The MP is unwittingly "blacked-up" - but unfortunately the assembled crew can't hide their mirth as Morris procedes with the interview, and the MP rushes to the toilet to find a mirror, while everyone else makes a hasty getaway!
Due to extensive amounts of red tape (understandable when you consider the large variety of celebrities who appear, almost invariably approached under false pretenses), the show will never be released on video. This is a great shame, but maybe one day the whole thing will appear on DVD, hopefully with cut and censored material restored. It truly is a milestone in British comedy and should be viewed by everyone at the earliest possible juncture.
Update: In July 2001, E4 showed the entire series as "Brass Eye Night". These versions of the shows were uncut, with extensive new material in the final show, "Moral Decline", including the infamous Sutcliffe : The Musical section. On the 26th of July, Channel Four screened an all-new Brass Eye Special on the topic of Paedophilia. It was superb.
Update: As of May 2002, the collected Brass Eye (all 6 episodes and the 2001 special) can be purchased on DVD and video. Highly recommended.