Exclusive: Morph talks to Northern Soul
It’s not easy interviewing a superstar. There’s the nervousness on the part of the interviewer of course, the knowledge that whatever you write will be pored over by fans across the world. And the fear that this icon you’ve loved for ages might be a bit of a twit.
So it was with great relief that Morph, that plastic-fantastic, clay-hey-look-at-me character known and loved by gazillions of people turned out to be a top bloke. Think about it. It’s intimidating chatting to your idols. As a lady of a certain age (for that, read born in the 1970s), Morph is up there with Ivor the Engine, Mr Benn, Captain Pugwash, and, if I’m being honest, Magnum P.I. And now, thanks to Aardman Animations, Morph is a hero to a younger generation, including my six-year-old niece, Scout, who thinks Morph is the absolute bees-knees.
It’s not surprising that Morph is managing to appeal to new audiences. Yes, we 30 and 40-somethings look back on the Tony Hart days with fondness but Morph has since expanded his repertoire. You only have to watch the superlative Twin Decks to see that much is true (oh yeah, that one-minute something film has amassed 3.5 million views on YouTube). Having said all that, there are questions that need to be answered, not least this: Morph, if you could change into just one more shape, what would it be?
“It’s a tricky one,” he tells me. “I mean I’ve done just about everything in my time – octopus, lion, submarine, and quite a few things that don’t have any name. It’d be quite good fun to be a warthog, I guess. Either that or a dodecahedron-icosahedron compound.”
“I always like the ones with a bit of magic in them. Ideally a lot of magic. We did one called Box of Tricks – that’s a real favourite with me – and not just because I got to cut Chas in half [note to readers: Morph’s fave video has seven million views]. I love the stories where something strange and absurd happens, something you can’t actually explain, like ‘how did that happen?’ There’s one story where Chas sticks my box up on the wall during the night and then I just climb out and casually walk on the wall as if it was the ground. Stick Up it’s called [more than a million views]. That was a good one too.”
I confess to Morph that my all-time top episode is Rapper’s Delight. For the uninitiated, the classic hip-hop tune was made famous by The Sugarhill Gang. I’m not saying that Morph and his pal Chas did it better but, well, anyone with satellite TV can form their own opinion (they totally did). So Morph, did you like making that episode?
“Did I like it? I loved it! We had such fun. I mean, Chas’s breakdancing guarantees a few good laughs at any time, right? Kidding. Kidding. No, it was great. We really got into the whole hip-hop thing when we made Twin Decks and worked out a whole new way of mixing and dancing.”
Much of the Morph world includes his box, which looks pretty comfy. I wonder what is in there?
“Oh, just the usual really. You know: home cinema, rowing-machine, weights, dressing-up-box, pool table, La-Z-Boy armchair, barbecue (though I have to be a bit careful with that one). It’s quite crowded in there, come to think of it. Oh, and cakes. Mostly cakes actually. There’s nothing quite as comforting around the home as a good supply of cakes.”
You got that right. But presumably you have to share those cakes with the rest of the Morph family? Are there many relatives?
“Ah well, there’s Gillespie, big blue bloke – he’s the most chilled person in the whole family, nothing ever bothers him. Then there’s Grand-Morph, of course, who’s much older and wiser that the rest of us. I say ‘wiser’, but he rides around on a skateboard, and with his hip I’m not sure that’s the smartest thing to do. Folly is a lovely, shiny, caring sort of person who’s always trying to sort things out between me and Chas. She’s made of foil and she can get a bit ‘unwrapped’ at times. And Delilah, well, Delilah’s pretty tough. I’d even say scary. The strange thing about her, which I really don’t understand, is I sometimes think she doesn’t respect me. It seems incredible I know. Then there’s a Morph’s best friend, Nailbrush, who is just brilliant. I mean a pet that cleans up after itself? Amazing. And there’s a whole bunch of little fellows. I’m sorry, after all this time I still don’t know all their names, but they seem happy to answer to ‘Very Small Creatures’ so that’s what we call them.”
I almost hesitate to bring it up but I’m curious as to whether Morph thinks about Tony Hart. Older viewers will remember the TV show Take Hart and its genial presenter Mr Hart. In fact, Morph made his first tele appearance on this programme. Morph confides that he was born on February 15, 1977 (coincidentally when Take Hart premiered). Morph says: “You might think that’s quite old, but I just think that I’m forever young.”
Morph, can I ask, do you miss Tony Hart?
“Every day, yes, every single day. Tony was everything to us. He was a father-figure, and an inspiration and a friend. He was a brilliant artist, and a great sport. Sometimes we used to be a real pain in the neck to him but we’d always end up on the best of terms. And we had so many good laughs over the years.”
Moving on to happier times, I’m mindful of the fact that Morph lives close to such characters as Shaun the Sheep, Wallace and Gromit, and the Chicken Run heroes and heroines. But let’s get down to brass tacks, have you ever met Shaun the Sheep?
“Yes, I bump into him every now and then, round the animation circuit. It’s a pretty small world, really and everybody knows each other, but unfortunately I don’t speak much sheep, and he doesn’t speak much Morph. Still, he’s a class act. I’m a big fan of his work and we have great mutual respect, even though he’s a relative newcomer compared to Chas and me. In fact I did audition to be in an episode once but I never heard back. Probably a language thing.”
“Thank you, that is an excellent question, and one that I ask myself every day. Why is he so darned silly? Dear old Chas. The truth is, he can’t help himself. Some of us were born wise and mature and sophisticated, and some of us were just born Chas.”
I sense that my time with Morph is drawing to a close. I’ll miss this little guy but I’m fairly convinced that, oh, pretty much everyone I know, will be madly jealous that I’ve had some up close and personal time with him. I’ve saved the best question until last: who is your favourite plasticine character? (apart from yourself, obviously)
“Well, I think everyone in our industry admires Gromit. What that dog can do with his eyebrows is completely amazing. And then I’ve always loved Pingu. Before he came along, I just thought penguins were scary – I’m thinking of Feathers McGraw, of course – but Pingu really opened my eyes to the comic possibilities, he’s got the best walk and a funny voice. What’s not to like?”
To see lots of Morph, click here.
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