Morris-dancing fun – who’d a thought it…


With a hole in the house-viewing schedule and silence from the mice, I skipped off to Wiltshire to see the parents, and found a little piece of joy. A few weeks ago a colleague interviewed some Morris dancers, whose big cheese (Morris Major?) had warned portentously that the tradition was in decline. Apparently da kidz have no interest in bells, sticks and hankies, and the whole tradition is under threat. I couldn’t care less, or so I thought. Ho ho, such a silly pastime anyway, why ever do they bother, I’m so cool, etc

But then I watched colleague Adam’s report and heard about this new film Morris: A Life With Bells On, which is apparently sweeping the (grassroots of the) nation. The filmmakers can’t secure a distributor, but village halls up and down the country have been screening it to packed houses. So I hopped off the train, only to find that an unprecedented TWO shows (Tisbury’s never seen the like) were scheduled that very day, up the hill in the Victoria Hall. And this after a display of real-life morris dancing. Delight! Delight! Edging toward hysteria!

So up the high street we straggled, to gather on the steps and watch the men of the White Horse side (as I’ve learned to call a troupe) from Warminster leap and gambol. Maybe it was the spring sunshine in my eyes, or maybe the sap is rising in ways I didn’t anticipate, but the men of the White Horse are actually pretty hot. There. Hate me. It’s out there.

Adding to the sense of gaiety was a film crew from CBS busy capturing the sophistication of Wiltshire locals for a US audience, a dog going nuts on a lead, and bizarrely, Ramon Tikaram mit family who just happened to be in the village. Much of the film was shot around Tisbury and so the writer/star Chaz Oldham was there too, to introduce the film. And all this in the Victoria Hall, site of my own shortlived but they-still-talk-about-it-glorious stage career.

And what of the film? Well, I really enjoyed it. It’s too long and it goes a bit bonkers in the second half, but local chauvinism notwithstanding, it’s lovely. The highlight is Ian Hart (always, in everything) as a frighteningly militant morris man by the name of Endeavour Hungerfjord Welsh. Derek Jacobi, Harriet Walter, Sophie Thompson are all fantastic, Dominique Pinon is brilliant as a French, cider-crazed whelk fisherman, and Chaz Oldham as our hero – just marvellous.

Am I a fan of morris dancing now? Yes, I rather think I am. As the men fiddled and leapt and squeeze-boxed, and I fought through the dying fall of a ferocious hangover, I found myself grinning and laughing with delight – and what, I asked myself, is so wrong with that?


One Response to “Morris-dancing fun – who’d a thought it…”

  1. 1 Tim Hansell

    I would think you would have to work hard not to like Morris dancing … sticks, bells, catchy music … I hadn’t heard of the film though.



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