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Blue Jam

Radio 1
Series One 1997
Series Two 1998
Series Three 1999 (six programmes each)

Almost three years after dust settled on The Chris Morris Music Show, a long-running series which attempted to burn Radio 1 to the ground on an almost weekly basis, Radio 1 allowed the legendary Chris Morris back on the air.  This time, it was clear, they were taking no chances.  The programme was entirely prerecorded, was confined to short series runs, and was originally transmitted at midnight.  The repeats and second series went out even later, at 1am, with another chance to hear them later in the week -- at four in the morning.  [The early Radio 1 comedies from the late 1980s had also tended to receive awkwardly late slots, although this was usually more to do with poor scheduling, a persistent R1 difficulty, than anticipated content problems].

But Blue Jam, as the new programme was called, was a million miles from the Music Show in both style and content.  The faux-DJ presentation, hoaxes, gangsta rap and situationist terrorism were all gone, replaced by a succession of quiet monologues and dialogues interspersed with ambient mood music.  The exclamations and expletives of Morris's trademark persona -- the unhinged, overbearing news gatherer -- gave way to soft, subtle murmurings.  But this was no climbdown.  As could sometimes be glimpsed on the Music Show, it is when he is at his most mellow and relaxed that Chris Morris produces his most powerfully surreal ideas.  The items in Blue Jam, besides often being violently funny, were deeply bizarre and, at times, very disturbing indeed.  Some consisted of simple rambling narratives with no clear destination, others (such as a sketch involving a doctor and practice nurse discussing a series of patients who would need to have their ailments kissed better) were concept pieces, the unsettling distant cousins of familiar idea gags.  The scheduling (although it denied many the chance to listen) was, in fact, probably appropriate: the early hours of the morning were arguably the perfect time to be tuned into this hermetic and highly atmospheric show. 

In fact, trouble was never too far from the horizon.  The final episode of Series One featured a re-edited version of the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech at Princess Diana's funeral; this was judged unacceptable by the station, but Morris swapped the tapes over at the last minute and the offending item was broadcast.  A studio engineer -- who happened to be a fan of Morris's work -- realised what was going on and deliberately took his time cueing up an alternative tape in its place, allowing most of the material to be transmitted. A censored version of this episode (which featured 45 minutes of unheard material) was broadcast as the first show in Series Two. 

Morris produced the series himself, but was not the sole writer.  Large chunks of the material (which was often part-improvised) were developed by long-standing collaborators Peter Baynham and Robert Katz  and, among others, Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, the writing partnership famous for Father Ted (the duo had also contributed to Morris's ultra-controversial Channel 4 project, Brass Eye).  Performers in the sketches and dialogues included Baynham, Kevin Eldon, Phil Cornwell, Sally Phillips, Amelia Bullmore, Julia Davis, David Cann and Mark Heap -- several of whom also appeared in Linehan and Mathews' similarly 'experimental' 1998 BBC2 show Big Train.  Special mention must go to the brilliant Cann, who played the doctor: a regular in Brass Eye, this character (and indeed the whole of Blue Jam) seems to have its roots in the sketch where a headmaster suggests to a schoolgirl that she become a prostitute to feed her drug habit.  Michael Alexander St John, himself a habitual Morris contributor, was also on board to count down the dance charts. 

Unusually, the first spin-off from Blue Jam was a performance piece for the stage, and a project by Battersea Arts Centre where tapes of the show were played to an audience in a pitch-black room (Morris' involvement in both projects, however, was probably non-existent).  A television pilot was said to be in production after the second series aired.  At the time of writing, it is expected that a series, probably entitled Jam, will be aired on Channel 4 some time in 2000. 

It is worth noting, finally, that Blue Jam was first broadcast more than six months after Radio 1 put into effect a policy decision to wind down its comedy programming altogether.  As such, it is now the station's only comedy show.  Why Chris Morris receives this special treatment is not clear: Blue Jam could (rightly) be classified as experimental broadcasting rather than mainstream comedy, but the present-day Radio 1 is not noted for any kind of experimental output either.  In fact, the show is not merely the only comedy, but the only hour-long feature of any description, occupying a unique place in the schedules.  Rumours that Morris has been actively bullying the station's management are entirely unfounded.

External links: The cabinessence page ('Jam Festival'), from which you can download entire episodes of Blue Jam to your heart's content
The Blue Jam Sketch Guide, covering all three series
Glebe's Thrift Funnel, a large Chris Morris-related site, including a Blue Jam page with transcripts of several shows, and an assortment of WAV files 
The Rethink Chris Morris site, specialising more in sound samples, also has a Blue Jam page with synopses of the first two series, plus about the most comprehensive links page to various bits of Morris stuff elsewhere on the web. 
The Felchspoon, with various excerpts from Blue Jam in RealAudio

© JB Sumner/Mike Scott 1998-2000. Additional material supplied by Rich Henderson. Last modified 10/3/00