I hadn’t planned to cover this subject when I started out writing these pieces for RealScreen. But, now I can’t write the article I wanted to because of a massive change in circumstances. Nothing to do with the editorial team or publishers, no loss of laptop or crash of hard disk – it’s bigger and different from anything like that, but the change I refer to does concern an irreplaceable loss.
If you’ve not yet celebrated the experience of 35 or more summers you may not know the name of Tony Morris. But, if you’re serious about the profession of program distribution and the essential integrity that must accompany any successful international coproduction, then his name should ring like that of Walter Cronkite in TV news journalism. Tony, the archetypal English gentleman, the long-time and trusted agent of American studios, the sage and immaculate bon-viveur, mentor and friend.
There isn’t room on this page to list Tony’s achievements in factual programming – and his genius with mainstream entertainment TV would need a book to describe. Suffice to say that a name like Partridge Films would not be so internationally revered without Tony’s work with his long-time business partner June Morrow (now Channel 4′s head of acquisitions as June Dromgoole) and the enigmatic founder of Partridge, Michael Rosenberg.
Tony was my boss for about five years, until he retired to his sea-view home in Cornwall in 1990 – and from then he stayed a true friend, advisor, thinker and all round ‘mensch.’ Nearly ten years after his departure from the day-to-day business of acquisition, distribution and coproduction, he still had his finger neatly on the pulse of the business with a sense of exquisite integrity.
Before this article slips dangerously toward the style of a mournful obituary (Tony died about 2:30 in the morning on the 10th of September) let me steer in the direction of some of the many anecdotes about Mr. Morris.
Tony loathed pretentiousness. He could spot a fake of almost anything a mile off. One of his pet hates during that period of ‘nouvelle cuisine’ was the phoniness of it all. He chuckled that nouvelle cuisine was a name for children’s portions served by florists – and told me the story of a lunch in Los Angeles with Ed Cooper of Orion Pictures Television. Tony had a flight to catch back to England, so Ed and he and two colleagues were the first that day to place their order in a recently opened Californian/French/Quasi-Chic eatery. The maitre d’ adopted a heavily-accented obsequious style to recommend the ‘Special du jour,’ which all four ordered and awaited while the restaurant began to fill.
Some minutes later, other tables were being served – but not Tony’s. The head man was summoned, the question asked. The performance given was that of a French/Californian Uriah Heep; all the specials had gone. The head waiter gushed profuse apologies and insisted that whatever they ordered was now entirely on the house. The humility and hand-wringing increased when Ed’s limo arrived to take Tony to the airport. As the restaurant owner and head man both squirmed their apologies, opening the car door after the free meal, Tony turned to Ed and in his clear as crystal English voice called ‘Well done, Ed – that’s the third one this week.’
When he retired, he bought a nicely appointed but not large BMW motorcar. The Cornish country lanes can be very tight and tiny and, not long after, a delivery truck re-arranged the front fender at a junction. Tony called me to ask what I would suggest as an alternative, comfortable vehicle for him. He liked my suggestions, and would look into them. Next conversation, he was almost cagey when I asked what he got to stay safe and cozy in those twisty slow lanes of Olde England. He’d bought a 360 horse-power Ferrari Daytona – in a deep gloss black. It was a bargain, he defended. Next visit, Tony drove my eight-year-old son out, and I reveled in the joy of seeing two boys spanning close to 70 years enjoying an ultimate toy together.
I’m glad that’s how my sons remember him. Mr Morris was clever, ‘cool,’ strong, honest, fascinating – and kind. No matter how many more new devices and channels this business will make available to us all, it is indeed a poorer profession without Tony Morris.