The opening scene shows a genteel dinner party where the guests in turn agree with each other over the issue of animal rights, when the camera scrolls to Chris Morris, who tells a guest “You're wrong, and you're a grotesquely ugly freak “, before getting up, doing a piece to camera, and slapping meat on a hook. This was a show that started as it meant to go on.
Having lampooned news broadcasting to within an inch of its life with The Day Today , Brass Eye brought TV audiences to the limit by focusing its attention on the even more histrionic hard-hitting news magazine concept. Some things carried over from The Day Today : the slightly-too-long music credits, the nonsensical statistical graphs, the roughneck investigative journalist Ted Maul (joined in the field by the brilliant Gina McKee), the surreal newspaper headlines (“Very Sexy” Says Kenneth Clarke As He Urinates Over London From A Helicopter), but the elements that set Brass Eye so notoriously apart was its targeting of gullible celebrities.
There was Paul Daniels appealing for help for an elephant that got its trunk stuck up its anus. Geoffrey Boycott extolling the virtues of getting all the way out of bed. Noel Edmonds warning the youth of a new, made-up drug that makes a second feel like a month. Boycey from Only Fools And Horses reacting to the murder of Clive Anderson. The whole show is in many ways a testimony to two things: anyone will believe anything you say if you say it with enough authority, and celebrities will say pretty much anything if you indulge them.
The barely believable pieces to camera are one thing, but the mock interviews conducted by Chris Morris' various alias characters are, if a little more low-key, no less funny, like Clare Raynor saying how many people she'd be willing to beat off, or the former editor of the Daily Telegraph being made momentarily uncertain as to whether wasps actually sting.
As every episode of the show dealt with a different hot-button societal issue, so did every episode use a different trick of the current affairs format book to showcase it. The best example of this is the live audience in the episode about sex, where Morris orders a man to leave the studio for having the wrong kind of AIDS to wild cheering from the rest of the crowd. And the Crimewatch model was breathtakingly seared for the most famous Brass Eye edition of all: their Paedo-geddon special.
Paedo-geddon is to news satire what Spinal Tap was to music documentaries, it's hard to imagine it can ever be bettered: The self-important walking and talking and interaction between presenters, the reports of paedophiles disguising themselves as schools and the appeals to get everyone's children in a football stadium to keep safe and subtle editorialising (“Yes, we must catch him, he really is a shit.”) And then there's the celebrity appeals. Phil Collins talking “nonce-sense”, Kate Thornton warning of kids' computer games secretly controlled by paedophiles, Richard Blackwood sniffing his keyboard. Their willingness to appear is all the more extraordinary given the fact the special was made four years after the original series.
But the real genius of the show was that simply by existing it garnered all the publicity it could ever need. And, inevitably, the media it was taking the piss out of missed the joke completely. One tabloid ran a story about how Brass Eye was the sickest thing on TV, right beside a large picture of a then-underage Charlotte Church.
The show's influence wasn't restricted to record press complaints. The show featured writers like priest inventors Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews and TV crank par excellence Charlie Brooker, and featured actors who'd later on to great success in Big Train and Outnumbered . And one of the lynchpins of the show was Peter Baynham, who made a living in the nineties considering Pot Noodles to be too gorgeous.
The more you look at current rolling news and the constant need to fill time, the increasing hysterical moralising, the enduring horrendousness of Kay Burley, the more eerily prescient Brass Eye looks. But for all the valuable points it makes, it is first and foremost bloody funny. Especially now.