Chris Morris (satirist)

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Chris Morris
Chris Morris 2010.jpg
Morris in July 2010
Born (1962-06-15) 15 June 1962 (age 60)
Occupation(s)Comedian, actor, filmmaker
Years active1986–present
SpouseJo Unwin
Children2
RelativesTom Morris (brother)

Christopher J Morris (born 15 June 1962) is an English comedian, radio presenter, actor, and filmmaker. Known for his deadpan, dark humour, surrealism, and controversial subject matter, he has been praised by the British Film Institute for his "uncompromising, moralistic drive".[1]

In the early 1990s, Morris teamed up with his radio producer Armando Iannucci to create On the Hour, a satire of news programmes. This was expanded into a television spin off, The Day Today, which launched the career of comedian Steve Coogan and has since been hailed as one of the most important satirical shows of the 1990s.[2][3] Morris further developed the satirical news format with Brass Eye, which lampooned celebrities whilst focusing on themes such as crime and drugs. For many, the apotheosis of Morris' career was a Brass Eye special, which dealt with the moral panic surrounding paedophilia. It quickly became one of the most complained-about programmes in British television history, leading the Daily Mail to describe him as "the most loathed man on TV".[4]

Meanwhile, Morris' postmodern sketch comedy and ambient music radio show Blue Jam, which had seen controversy similar to Brass Eye, helped him to gain a cult following. Blue Jam was adapted into the TV series Jam, which some hailed as "the most radical and original television programme broadcast in years",[5] and he went on to win the BAFTA Award for Best Short Film after expanding a Blue Jam sketch into My Wrongs 8245–8249 & 117, which starred Paddy Considine. This was followed by Nathan Barley, a sitcom written in collaboration with a then little-known Charlie Brooker that satirised hipsters, which had low ratings but found success upon its DVD release. Morris followed this by joining the cast of the sitcom The IT Crowd, his first project in which he did not have writing or producing input.

In 2010, Morris directed his first feature-length film, Four Lions, which satirised Islamic terrorism through a group of inept British Muslims. Reception of the film was largely positive, earning Morris his second BAFTA Film Award, this time for Outstanding Debut. Since 2012, he has directed four episodes of Iannucci's political comedy Veep and appeared onscreen in The Double and Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle. His second feature-length film, The Day Shall Come, was released in 2019.

Early life[edit]

Christopher J Morris was born on 15 June 1962 in Colchester, Essex,[6] the son of Rosemary Parrington[6] and Paul Michael Morris.[7] His father was a GP. Morris has a large red birthmark almost completely covering the left side of his face and neck, which he disguises with makeup when acting.[8] He grew up in a Victorian farmhouse in the village of Buckden, Cambridgeshire, which he described as "very dull".[9] He has two younger brothers, including theatre director Tom Morris.[10] From an early age, he was a prankster and had a passion for radio. From the age of 10, he was educated at the independent Jesuit boarding school Stonyhurst College in Stonyhurst, Lancashire.[11] He went to study zoology at the University of Bristol, where he gained a 2:1.[12]

Career[edit]

Radio[edit]

On graduating, Morris pursued a career as a musician in various bands, for which he played the bass guitar. He then went to work for Radio West, a local radio station in Bristol. He then took up a news traineeship with BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, where he took advantage of access to editing and recording equipment to create elaborate spoofs and parodies.[13] He also spent time in early 1987 hosting a 2–4pm afternoon show and finally ended up presenting Saturday morning show I.T.

In July 1987, he moved on to BBC Radio Bristol to present his own show No Known Cure, broadcast on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The show was surreal and satirical, with odd interviews conducted with unsuspecting members of the public. He was fired from Bristol in 1990 after "talking over the news bulletins and making silly noises".[14] In 1988 he also joined, from its launch, Greater London Radio (GLR). He presented The Chris Morris Show on GLR until 1993, when one show got suspended after a sketch was broadcast involving a child "outing" celebrities.[15]

In 1991, Morris joined Armando Iannucci's spoof news project On the Hour. Broadcast on BBC Radio 4, it saw him work alongside Iannucci, Steve Coogan, Stewart Lee, Richard Herring and Rebecca Front.[3] In 1992, Morris hosted Danny Baker's Radio 5 Morning Edition show for a week whilst Baker was on holiday. In 1994, Morris began a weekly evening show, the Chris Morris Music Show, on BBC Radio 1 alongside Peter Baynham and 'man with a mobile phone' Paul Garner. In the shows, Morris perfected the spoof interview style that would become a central component of his Brass Eye programme. In the same year, Morris teamed up with Peter Cook (as Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling), in a series of improvised conversations for BBC Radio 3 entitled Why Bother?.

Move into television and film[edit]

"If you make a joke in an area which is for some reason, normally random, out of bounds, then you might find something out, you might put your finger on something."

Chris Morris[16]

In 1994, a BBC 2 television series based on On the Hour was broadcast under the name The Day Today. The Day Today made a star of Morris, and marked the television debut of Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge character. The programme ended on a high after just one series, with Morris winning the 1994 British Comedy Award for Best Newcomer for his lead role as the Paxmanesque news anchor.[17][3][18]

In 1996, Morris appeared on the daytime programme The Time, The Place, posing as an academic, Thurston Lowe, in a discussion entitled "Are British Men Lousy Lovers?", but was found out when a producer alerted the show's host, John Stapleton.[17]

In 1997, the black humour which had featured in On the Hour and The Day Today became more prominent in Brass Eye, another spoof current affairs television documentary, shown on Channel 4. All three series satirised and exaggerated issues expected of news shows.[19] The second episode of Brass Eye, for example, satirised drugs and the political rhetoric surrounding them.[19][20] To help convey the satire, Morris invented a fictional drug by the name of "cake". In the episode, British celebrities and politicians describe the supposed symptoms in detail; David Amess mentioned the fictional drug at Parliament. In 2001, Morris' satirized the moral panic regarding pedophilia in the most controversial episode of Brass Eye, "Paedogeddon". Channel 4 apologised for the episode after receiving criticism from tabloids and around 3,000 complaints from viewers, which, at the time, was the most for an episode of British television.[19]

From 1997 to 1999, Morris created Blue Jam for BBC Radio 1, a surreal taboo-breaking radio show set to an ambient soundtrack.[1] In 2000, this was followed by Jam, a television reworking.[1] Morris released a 'remix' version of this, entitled Jaaaaam.[1]

In 2002, Morris ventured into film, directing the short My Wrongs#8245–8249 & 117, adapted from a Blue Jam monologue about a man led astray by a sinister talking dog. It was the first film project of Warp Films, a branch of Warp Records. In 2002 it won the BAFTA for best short film.[21] In 2005 Morris worked on a sitcom entitled Nathan Barley, based on the character created by Charlie Brooker for his website TVGoHome (Morris had contributed to TVGoHome on occasion, under the pseudonym 'Sid Peach'[22]). Co-written by Brooker and Morris, the series was broadcast on Channel 4 in early 2005.

The IT Crowd and Comedy Vehicle[edit]

Morris was a cast member in The IT Crowd, a Channel 4 sitcom which focused on the information technology department of the fictional company Reynholm Industries. The series was written and directed by Graham Linehan (with whom Morris collaborated on The Day Today, Brass Eye and Jam) and produced by Ash Atalla. Morris played Denholm Reynholm, the eccentric managing director of the company. This marked the first time Morris has acted in a substantial role in a project which he has not developed himself. Morris' character appeared to leave the series during episode two of the second series. His character made a brief return in the first episode of the third series.

In November 2007, Morris wrote an article for The Observer in response to Ronan Bennett's article published six days earlier in The Guardian. Bennett's article, "Shame on us", accused the novelist Martin Amis of racism. Morris' response, "The absurd world of Martin Amis", was also highly critical of Amis; although he did not accede to Bennett's accusation of racism, Morris likened Amis to the Muslim cleric Abu Hamza (who was jailed for inciting racial hatred in 2006), suggesting that both men employ "mock erudition, vitriol and decontextualised quotes from the Qu'ran" to incite hatred.[23]

Morris served as script editor for the 2009 series Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, working with former colleagues Stewart Lee, Kevin Eldon and Armando Iannucci. He maintained this role for the second (2011) and third series (2014), also appearing as a mock interviewer dubbed the "hostile interrogator" in the third and fourth series.

Four Lions, Veep, and other appearances[edit]

"I don't really see the point of comedy unless there's something underpinning it. I mean, what are you doing? Are you doing some kind of exotic display for the court, to be patted on the head by the court, or are you trying to change something?"

— Morris discussing the motives behind his comedy[24]

Morris completed his debut feature film Four Lions in late 2009, a satire based on a group of Islamist terrorists in Sheffield.[25] It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010 and was short-listed for the festival's World Cinema Narrative prize.[26] The film (working title Boilerhouse) was picked up by Film Four.[27] Morris told The Sunday Times that the film sought to do for Islamic terrorism what Dad's Army, the classic BBC comedy, did for the Nazis by showing them as "scary but also ridiculous".[28]

In 2012, Morris directed the seventh and penultimate episode of the first season of Veep, an Armando Iannucci-devised American version of The Thick of It.[29] In 2013, he returned to direct two episodes for the second season of Veep, and a further episode for season three in 2014.

In 2013, Morris appeared briefly in Richard Ayoade's The Double, a black comedy film based on the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novella of the same name. Morris had previously worked with Ayoade on Nathan Barley and The IT Crowd.

In February 2014, Morris made a surprise appearance at the beginning of a Stewart Lee live show, introducing the comedian with fictional anecdotes about their work together.[30] The following month, Morris appeared in the third series of Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle as a "hostile interrogator",[31] a role previously occupied by Armando Iannucci.

In December 2014, it was announced that a short radio collaboration with Noel Fielding and Richard Ayoade would be broadcast on BBC Radio 6.[32] According to Fielding, the work had been in progress since around 2006.[33] However, in January 2015 it was decided, 'in consultation with [Morris]', that the project was not yet complete, and so the intended broadcast did not go ahead.[34]

The Day Shall Come[edit]

A statement released by Film4 in February 2016 made reference to funding what would be Morris' second feature film.[35] In November 2017 it was reported that Morris had shot the movie, starring Anna Kendrick, in the Dominican Republic[36] but the title was not made public. It was later reported in January 2018 that Jim Gaffigan and Rupert Friend had joined the cast of the still-untitled film, and that the plot would revolve around an FBI hostage situation gone wrong.[37] The completed film, titled The Day Shall Come, had its world premiere at South by Southwest on 11 March 2019.[38]

Music[edit]

Morris often co-writes and performs incidental music for his television shows, notably with Jam and the 'extended remix' version, Jaaaaam. In the early 1990s Morris contributed a Pixies parody track entitled "Motherbanger" to a flexi-disc given away with an edition of Select music magazine.[39] Morris supplied sketches for British band Saint Etienne's 1993 single "You're in a Bad Way" (the sketch 'Spongbake' appears at the end of the 4th track on the CD single).

In 2000, he collaborated by mail with Amon Tobin to create the track "Bad Sex", which was released as a B-side on the Tobin single "Slowly".[40] British band Stereolab's song "Nothing to Do with Me" from their 2001 album Sound-Dust featured various lines from Chris Morris sketches as lyrics.[41]

Style[edit]

Ramsey Ess of Vulture described Morris' comedy style as "crass" and "shocking", but noted an "underlying morality" and integrity, as well as the humor being Morris' priority.[19]

Recognition[edit]

In 2003, Morris was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy.[42] In 2005, Channel 4 aired a show called The Comedian's Comedian in which foremost writers and performers of comedy ranked their 50 favourite acts. Morris was at number eleven.[43] Morris won the BAFTA for outstanding debut with his film Four Lions. Adeel Akhtar and Nigel Lindsay collected the award in his absence.[44] Lindsay stated that Morris had sent him a text message before they collected the award reading, 'Doused in petrol, Zippo at the ready'.[45] In June 2012 Morris was placed at number 16 in the Top 100 People in UK Comedy.[46]

In 2010, a biography, Disgusting Bliss: The Brass Eye of Chris Morris, was published. Written by Lucian Randall, the book depicted Morris as "brilliant but uncompromising", and a "frantic-minded perfectionist".[47]

In November 2014, a three-hour retrospective of Morris' radio career was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra under the title 'Raw Meat Radio', presented by Mary Anne Hobbs and featuring interviews with Armando Iannucci, Peter Baynham, Paul Garner, and others.[48]

Awards[edit]

Morris won the Best TV Comedy Newcomer award from the British Comedy Awards in 1994 for his performance in The Day Today.[49] He has won two BAFTA awards: the BAFTA Award for Best Short Film in 2002 for My Wrongs#8245–8249 & 117,[21] and the BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut by a British director, writer or producer in 2011 for Four Lions.[50]

Personal life[edit]

Morris and his wife, actress-turned-literary agent Jo Unwin, live in the Brixton district of London.[51] The pair met in 1984 at the Edinburgh Festival, when he was playing bass guitar for the Cambridge Footlights Revue and she was in a comedy troupe called the Millies.[51] They have two sons, Charles and Frederick, both of whom were born in Lambeth in south London.[51]

Giving very few interviews and avoiding all social media, Morris has been described as a recluse.[19] He can be heard in a 2008 podcast for CERN, being taken on a tour of the facility by the physicist Brian Cox.[52] In 2010, he made numerous media appearances to promote and support Four Lions in both the UK and US, at one point appearing as a guest on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. In 2019, two lengthy interviews conducted with Morris on The Adam Buxton Podcast were released in the run-up to the release of Morris's film The Day Shall Come.[53]

Works[edit]

Film[edit]

Title Year Functioned as Notes
Director Writer Producer Appeared Role
My Wrongs #8245–8249 & 117 2002 Yes Yes Yes Rothko (voice) Short film; also composer and sound designer
Four Lions 2010 Yes Yes Yes Commentator on end credits (voice)
The Double 2013 Yes Workers' Services Executive
The Day Shall Come 2019 Yes Yes

Television[edit]

Title Year Functioned as Notes
Director Writer Producer Appeared Role
Spitting Image 1984 Yes Episode: "#1.11"
Up Yer News 1990 Yes Yes
The Day Today 1994 Yes Yes Yes Christopher Morris / Ted Maul / Various characters 6 episodes; also creator and composer
I'm Alan Partridge 1997 Yes Peter Baxendale Thomas Episode: "Watership Alan"
Brass Eye 1997, 2001 Yes Yes Yes Christopher Morris / Ted Maul / Various characters 7 episodes; also creator and composer
Big Train 1998 Additional Yes Narrator of Jockey Doco (voice) Episode: "Episode #1.2"
Jam 2000 Yes Yes Yes Yes Chris / Various characters 6 episodes; also creator and composer
Nathan Barley 2005 Yes Yes Yes Place VO (voice) 6 episodes; also creator and composer
The IT Crowd 2006–2008 Yes Denholm Reynholm 7 episodes
Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle 2009–2016 Yes Yes Interviewer Script editor
Veep 2012–2014 Yes Consulting Yes Newsreader (voice) Directed four episodes, appeared in episode: "Full Disclosure"

Other[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Elizabeth Day (4 April 2010). "Disgusting Bliss by Lucian Randall | Book review". The Observer. London: Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 October 2014. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Harrison, Phil (17 January 2019). "'You've lost the news!' How The Day Today changed satire forever". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 3 February 2019. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  4. ^ Brooks, Xan (21 February 2003). "Chris Morris: the movie". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 10 March 2017. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  5. ^ "The distorted world of Chris Morris 'Jam' | The Independent ®". The Independent. 19 April 2000. Archived from the original on 6 January 2017. Retrieved 1 October 2016. in his latest project, Jam, he has created the most radical and original television programme broadcast in years
  6. ^ a b Randall, L. (2010). Disgusting Bliss: The Brass Eye of Chris Morris. Simon & Schuster UK. ISBN 9780857200907. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  7. ^ Rahim, Sameer (15 April 2010). "Disgusting Bliss: the Brass Eye of Chris Morris by Lucian Randall: review". Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 24 June 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  8. ^ "Chris Morris: The movie". TheGuardian.com. 21 February 2003.
  9. ^ If It Bleeds It Leads 6 June 1994 – By Simon Price – From The Melody Maker
  10. ^ Profile: Chris Morris, BBC Radio 4
  11. ^ "Chris Morris: Brass Neck". BBC News. 27 July 2001. Archived from the original on 8 September 2017. Retrieved 23 June 2008. The son of two Cambridgeshire GPs, Chris Morris was educated at Stonyhurst College
  12. ^ Ferguson, Euan (22 July 2001). "The Observer Profile: Chris Morris". The Observer. London. Archived from the original on 10 May 2014. Retrieved 23 June 2008.
  13. ^ Andy Beckett (21 August 1994). "Prank master: Chris Morris's announcement of the death of Michael Heseltine on Radio 1 was just one among many notorious japes. His satire is big with the media, but how popul". London: Independent.co.uk. Archived from the original on 17 December 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  14. ^ "Morris, the Man with a Mission to Cause Offence". Archived from the original on 3 December 2020. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
  15. ^ "Chris Morris / Artists / PBJ – THE exclusive UK-based talent agency. Clients include the best performers, presenters, writers, composers, directors and producers". Pbjmgt.co.uk. Archived from the original on 1 October 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  16. ^ Hanks, Robert (20 April 2000). "The Last Tempation of Chris". The Independent.
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  19. ^ a b c d e Ess, Ramsey (17 July 2018). "Meet Brass Eye, the Original Who Is America?". Vulture. Retrieved 8 May 2021. Titled "Paedogeddon!", Morris satirized a rash of moral panic surrounding pedophilia the previous year in England in which the newspaper News of the World touted a plan to publicly name 150 pedophiles, until it was forced to suspend the campaign after it inadvertently inspired an upswell in vigilante violence.
  20. ^ Stone, Jon (8 December 2015). "The MP tricked into condemning a fake drug called 'Cake' has been put in charge of scrutinising drugs policy". The Independent. Retrieved 8 May 2021.
  21. ^ a b "BAFTA: Film Nominations 2002". Archived from the original on 21 September 2010. Retrieved 23 June 2008.
  22. ^ Brooker, Charlie. "FULL SESSION - The Alternative MacTaggart: Charlie Brooker". YouTube. Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival. Archived from the original on 12 May 2016. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
  23. ^ Morris, Chris (25 November 2007). "The absurd world of Martin Amis". The Observer. London. Archived from the original on 1 September 2013. Retrieved 22 June 2008. Last week Amis was called a racist. I saw him speak at the ICA last month. Was his negativity about Islam technically racist? I don't know. What I can tell you is that Martin Amis is the new Abu Hamza. [...] Like Hamza, Amis could only make his nonsense stand up with mock erudition, vitriol and decontextualised quotes from the Koran.
  24. ^ "Chris Morris on satire in the Trump era and his new film 'The Day Shall Come'". YouTube. Channel 4. 2 October 2019. Archived from the original on 23 November 2021. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
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  26. ^ "2010 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES FILMS IN COMPETITION | Sundance Festival 2010". Festival.sundance.org. Archived from the original on 4 April 2010. Retrieved 20 August 2010.
  27. ^ Roberts, Geneviève (6 January 2009). "Wannabe suicide bombers beware: Chris Morris movie gets go-ahead". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 31 March 2009. Retrieved 20 May 2009.
  28. ^ Brooks, Richard (13 January 2008). "Satirist turns terrorists into Dad's Army". The Sunday Times. London. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2008.
  29. ^ Veep: Season 1, Episode 7 Full Disclosure (3 Jun. 2012), Internet Movie Database, archived from the original on 29 April 2012, retrieved 23 May 2012
  30. ^ Chortle. "Chris Morris, live on stage". Chortle. Archived from the original on 1 October 2020. Retrieved 17 February 2014.
  31. ^ Lee, Stewart. "The material is cooking with gas". Chortle. Archived from the original on 25 February 2014. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
  32. ^ BBC. "Chris Morris Exclusive". www.bbc.co.uk/programmes. BBC. Archived from the original on 4 December 2014. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  33. ^ "Noel Fielding: Radio Past and Future". thevelvetonion.com/. The Velvet Onion. 3 November 2011. Archived from the original on 21 August 2012. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
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  35. ^ "Channel 4 announces major increase to Film4 funding'". www.film4.co.uk. Film4. Archived from the original on 13 February 2016. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  36. ^ "Brass Eye's Chris Morris has secretly shot a film in the Caribbean starring Anna Kendrick". The Independent. 28 November 2017. Archived from the original on 4 December 2017. Retrieved 3 December 2017.
  37. ^ "Rupert Friend and Jim Gaffigan join Chris Morris film". Chortle. Archived from the original on 27 November 2018. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
  38. ^ Kilday, Gregg (16 January 2019). "SXSW: Olivia Wilde, Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey to Premiere New Work". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 28 March 2019. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  39. ^ "Chris Morris – Mother Banger (Pixies Parody)". YouTube. Archived from the original on 15 May 2016. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  40. ^ "Amon Tobin (feat. Chris Morris) at Discogs". Discogs.com. 21 May 2002. Archived from the original on 18 April 2010. Retrieved 20 August 2010.
  41. ^ "Stereolab's 'Jam' Session". NME. 21 June 2001. Archived from the original on 4 August 2011. Retrieved 20 May 2009.
  42. ^ "The A-Z of laughter (part two)". The Observer. London. 7 December 2003. Archived from the original on 27 January 2008. Retrieved 13 January 2008.
  43. ^ "Cook voted 'comedians' comedian'". BBC News. 2 January 2005. Archived from the original on 15 December 2006. Retrieved 23 June 2008. Modern TV satirist Chris Morris was in 11th, followed by Tony Hancock, Bill Hicks, Peter Sellers and Steve Martin.
  44. ^ "King's Speech reigns over Bafta awards". BBC News. 14 February 2011. Archived from the original on 13 February 2011. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  45. ^ Brown, Mark (14 February 2011). "Baftas 2011: The King's Speech sweeps the board". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  46. ^ Clark, Tim (22 June 2012). "The Top 100 most influential people in comedy: 20 – 1". Such Small Portions. Archived from the original on 10 November 2018. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
  47. ^ Day, Elizabeth (4 June 2010). "Disgusting Bliss by Lucian Randall". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 October 2014. Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  48. ^ Black, Sophie. "BBC - Raw Meat Radio". www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre. Archived from the original on 19 November 2014. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  49. ^ "British Comedy Awards: 1994 winners". Archived from the original on 28 April 2011. Retrieved 23 June 2008.
  50. ^ "Awards database". Archived from the original on 14 June 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2011.
  51. ^ a b c Maher, Kevin (3 April 2012). "The return of the most hated man in Britain". The Times.
  52. ^ "Cern podcast: Chris Morris visits the Large Hadron Collider". The Guardian. London. 30 June 2008. Archived from the original on 16 September 2015. Retrieved 20 May 2009.
  53. ^ "EP.104 - CHRIS MORRIS 1". ADAM BUXTON. Retrieved 4 October 2021.

External links[edit]