Richard Herring: Take heart, Morph’s still going strong
Wednesday 11 Jun 2014
Last week I met the only remaining 1970s entertainer whose reputation remains unsullied: Morph! He has a reassuring lack of genitalia. How different the world might have been if the BBC had made eunuch status a contractual obligation for all its stars.
Morph was created by the geniuses at Aardman. If you’re as old as me then you will remember him from Take Hart but, nearly 40 years on, he is still going strong, appearing in all-new short films on YouTube, funded by Kickstarter. I’d been invited to the studios, along with some other comedians, to have a look around and then to attempt to make our own Morphs.
In spite of their Hollywood deals and case full of Baftas and Oscars, the people who work at the Bristol HQ are reassuringly down to earth. They demonstrate that if a business loves what it produces and creates something of quality, it will make money. Evil, tax-dodging, corner-cutting, tat-merchants, watch and learn.
I was hoping this trip would be like a Charlie And The Chocolate Factory-style contest and that whichever one of us made the best Morph would be given the keys to the building. But I was forgetting the only thing I am adept at doing with my hands is dropping stuff.
Morph begins as two and a half strips of orange putty-like modelling clay (and two tiny balls of white and black). It’s more or less the same material God used to make Adam (if I remember rightly, he made Eve out of Play-Doh). I am not saying Morph co-creator Peter Lord is a divine being but it’s a coincidence his surname is the same as the Almighty’s. I’d rather live in a universe that Peter had created, though. If only for the big, fluffy sheep.
I don’t know if I can give away the trade secrets of how that Plasticine-like stuff metamorphoses into a Morph (I suspect so, as there’s a great tutorial on YouTube). Like all of us, the character evolves from a formless blob into a starfish, into a human shape (I didn’t read the whole of Darwin but I think that’s the gist). Unless I am making it. In which case, it evolves from a blob into another blob, into a wrinkly mutant with a crab’s claws. If Morph had been smoking crack since 1976 and accidentally set himself on fire, then he’d look like the version I created. The never-ageing Morph has a portrait in his attic that’s exactly like it.
My Morph then fell over, squashing his priapic nose into a flaccid sausage – that’s what I call a Willy Wonka. Though I was not going to win the Cartoon Factory. But perhaps I shouldn’t throw out my Abominable Clayman. It could star in its own show. The adventures of the mutant Morphs that don’t make the grade and get sent down the rubbish chute. They live underground, a gang of shunned outcasts, plotting their revenge on the world and the animators who conform to one perfect Morph-body type. It could be a telling satire of the expectations of beauty that we’re all increasingly supposed to live up to. I’d call it Morpheus In The Underworld, which would be hilarious to anyone with a working knowledge of the opera bouffon of Jacques Offenbach, the poetry of Ovid and 1970s kids TV. That’s everyone, right?
The beauty is that Aardman would need me to make the series. Because a proper animator would be incapable of recreating my horrific, artless Morphenstein. I might win the competition after all.