Ref: MS 288
Title: Morris Papers
Scope: Papers and correspondence of Brian Robert Morris, 4th Dec 1930-30 April 2001: academic, broadcaster, chairman/member of public and private Arts and Heritage related organizations
Extent: 45 boxes
Name of creator: Brian Robert Morris, Lord Morris of Castle Morris
Administrative / biographical history:
The collection comprises the surviving personal and working papers, manuscripts and associated correspondence relating to the life and work of Brian Robert Morris, university teacher and professor of English Literature, University Principal, writer, broadcaster and public figure through his membership/chairmanship of many public and private cultural bodies and his appointment to the House of Lords.
He was born in 1930 in Cardiff, his father being a Pilot in the Bristol Channel, who represented the Pilots on the Cardiff Pilotage Authority, was a senior Mason and was active in the Baptist Church. Brian attended Marlborough Road School, where one of his masters was George Thomas, later Speaker of the House of Commons, and then Cardiff High School. He was brought up monolingual in English and though he learnt Welsh in later life, especially while at Lampeter, no writings in Welsh survive in the archive.
He served his National Service with the Welch Regiment, based in Brecon and it was in Brecon Cathedral that his conversion to Anglicanism from his Baptist upbringing, begun as he accompanied his future wife to Church in Wales services, was completed. Anglicanism remained a constant part of his life: he became a Lay Reader when in Reading, was a passionate advocate of the Book of Common Prayer and a fierce critic of Series Three and the New English Bible, as epitomised in the book he edited in 1990, Ritual Murder. He was deeply moved by church art and architecture but still went on hunger strike in York Minster to protest at the mismatch between the huge notice appealing for funds to restore the building and the tiny collection box for the starving in Africa
He also emerges as a poet during his national service years. Though he only became a published poet in the 1970s, poems survive, including prepared manuscripts for publication, from his army days onward. Poetry became part of his examination of his own Welsh identity and he was in contact with R. S. Thomas, Meic Stephens and Harri Webb so that his poetry can be seen in the context of the Anglo-Welsh tradition, controversial in some quarters.
He had always been a keen athlete and liked to proclaim that he was debarred from boxing as an amateur, having fought for money in a Fairground boxing ring. This commitment to physical fitness persisted, in the form of an annual cycle ride from Foolow to Lampeter. Music was also a great love: he was a supporter of the Lampeter Music Society, and remained its Honorary President after his departure from Lampeter. He took up the flute in middle age, persuading the Clerk to the Lord Chamberlain to let him practice in the House of Lords Crypt Chapel.
He won a place at Worcester College, Oxford to read English Literature, graduating with 2nd Class Honours in 1954 and continued with a D.Phil on the Poems of John Cleveland, awarded in 1963. Drama had been an interest for many years as audience and actor, having performed in Children´s Hour plays for the BBC recorded in Cardiff. He toured with Oxford University Dramatic Society in France in the company of many future luminaries of the Arts world, notably one Margaret (Maggie) Smith. His interest continued as a critic rather than participant, contributing theatre reviews to the BBC Radio 4 programme, Kaleidoscope, though he remained a performer in his many and varied roles in life.
His main career continued on the academic path with a Fellowship at the Shakespeare Institute, part of the University of Birmingham but based in Stratford, from 1956-1958, an associate then full lectureship at the University of Reading from 1958-1965, then a move to the newly founded University of York as lecturer, where he encountered F. R. and Queenie Leavis, then senior lecturer until his appointment as Professor of English Literature at the University of Sheffield in 1971. He was an editor of the New Mermaid series of critical edition of 16th and 17th century drama and of the New Arden Shakespeare, contributing editions of several plays himself.
From the mid 1960s he was also involved in broadcasting on radio and television. He seems initially to have been involved in religious programming in series such as Meeting Point, Seeing and Believing and other programmes but he also participated in discussion programmes such as Any Questions and produced programmes on literary topics as well as providing theatre and book reviews. He was the Chairman of C3WW, which bid for the Welsh TV franchise in 1991 but lost out to HTV.
In 1980 he took up the post of Principal of St David´s University College, Lampeter, to the bemusement of some of his colleagues in Sheffield, and steered the College through a difficult period from which it emerged as The University of Wales, Lampeter with increased student numbers and a much higher profile. In part this move stemmed from his concern to explore his Welshness and he immersed himself in many aspects of Welsh life but he retained his home in Foolow, Derbyshire and on his retirement from Lampeter left Wales to split his time between Foolow and London.
In parallel with his academic career he also developed a public role, as a council member/trustee/chairman on a range of bodies concerned with Arts, Heritage and Nature, notably the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries, later the Museums and Galleries Commission, the National Portrait Gallery, National Heritage Memorial Fund and the British Library Board. He was also involved with private organisations such as the Museums Association and its Museum of the Year Award, the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust and its offshoots and the Bronte Society and many, many others. He was less involved in Charities with a social/personal dimension but, apparently through personal contacts, became involved with a few such as Crossroads, a charity for carers where his reputation as a speaker spread rapidly.
In 1990 he became a Life Peer and engaged as energetically with that role as with all other aspects of his life. However, the combination of roles meant that, despite his willingness to drive through the middle of the night between Lampeter and London, in the end it proved impossible to manage all these commitments and this led to his early retirement as Principal. He became very active within the House of Lords, known to him as `Old Peoples´ Day Centre´, and was spokesmen for Labour on a range of topics, some of which were new to him such as Energy and Northern Ireland, and then later Opposition Deputy Chief Whip. He was disappointed when he failed to gain any commensurate appointment following the Labour victory of 1997.
In 1993 he was appointed Chairman of the Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture and, though his tenure ended amid controversy in 1997, he remained on close terms with many he met there. This gift for friendship comes through clearly in the papers. Even though he moved onto highly exalted circles, he retained an interest in, and helped in practical ways such as providing references for, people he met at all stages of his life.
He was in high demand as a public speaker, able to turn the most routine of occasions into a delight while challenging his audiences. He had a fund of anecdotes and jokes, drawn from a variety of sources, possibly including Christmas Crackers, but also drawing on his extensive knowledge of the Bible, Shakespeare, Horace and English and Classical literature to add gravitas.
The impression given by Brian Morris to most who encountered him in his many and varied capacities was of a penetrating intelligence and wit, a formidable gift with words, an impatience with forms and structures that impeded the true work of any organization fortunate enough to attract his attention and a delight in confounding expectations. Above all, in the words of HRH The Prince of Wales, in the Forward to BRM´s Collected Poems `He is also one of the funniest and most erudite people I have ever met and, as such, is a wonderful life-enhancer´. The range and sincerity of the letters of condolence on his death in 2001 testify to this.
The papers consist of :
Material collected from BRM´s home in Foolow with supplementary material consisting of: family papers including material relating to BRM´s father; personal material relating to childhood and early years; material relating to his death; lecture notes and related materials; speeches and related material including slides; poetry and related materials; broadcast scripts and related materials; selected correspondence;
A fairly systematic and complete set of papers relating to his public life after he left Lampeter, held by his secretary, Corrinne Brown which consists of: correspondence out from 1991, with some gaps; correspondence in and out 1998-1999; papers relating to BRM´s activities with a range of organizations and to the House of Lords; papers relating to speeches and other materials with some personal material.
This division has been retained in the arrangement and cataloguing of the papers, but in a few cases material has been amalgamated under one or other heading: such material is marked in the catalogue.
- Source: By bequest in 2002, 2004 and 2005
- System of arrangement: By category
- Subjects: English literature – Study and teaching (Higher) – Great Britain; English poetry - 20th century
- Names: Morris, Brian (1930-2001); University of Sheffield; University of Wales (Lampeter)
- Conditions of access: Available to all researchers, by appointment
- Restrictions: Certain documents are subject to restriction
- Copyright: According to document
- Finding aids: Listed