Grieving for a colleague: a year without Mozzer - a personal reflection

ITV News Granada Reports presenter Tony Morris
  • By ITV Granada Reports presenter Lucy Meacock.

How much have you missed the work banter with friends this year? You know the stuff - the secretly raised eyebrow, the shared jokes and jargon – that strange place, worlds away from home that only colleagues can understand.

There are times we know we can only survive the battlefield for one more day because we have them at our side to be fiercely loyal or hilariously funny.

Grieving for a special colleague has been tough for all of us at Granada Reports. We like to think of ourselves as a family and at the end of our day it sometimes feels like we’ve climbed Snowdon together – with a lot of laughs along the way.

As one viewer put it Tony Morris made the TV smile. Even when the news was grim he’d cheer us up. We had thousands and thousands of messages of condolence after he died. We appreciated every one of them.

Tony Morris passed away on 1 August 2020 after he was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

I know I am not real family like his lovely daughters who he adored but there is no word for that close bond between colleagues and you spend more time with them than anyone else.

So I wanted to share my thoughts about him because sometimes we assume our best work buddies will be there forever. They won’t. We need to make the most of them while we can.

Tony Morris carried the heavy weight of being a role model to kids who have a tough start in life. But it was a role did he carried so well. He grew up as the only black kid on a council housing estate in Portsmouth and was fostered to a single white woman Audrey. It WAS tough. She was strict but fair and kind.

Tony often spoke of her fondly and quoted some of her bluntest one-liners. Whenever we covered stories about people behaving badly he’d say "I wonder what our Mums would have made of that!"

He arrived home from school one day to discover she’d sold their TV. She said firmly he was watching too much of it. Instead he learned to play the piano beautifully. He was also in his school choir. That love of music endured - he became a DJ for a while and latterly had taken up guitar lessons which he loved.

But Tony also learned that sense of fairness from Audrey too. He said there was never a good enough excuse to be unkind to someone else. After she died he kept a box full of childhood treasures to remind him of her – and of those values.

He was a man with that very rare close connection with the viewer. He won two Baftas and countless awards from the Royal Television Society. If it had been viewers or colleagues who voted for awards he would have won them all.

Tony always believed strongly that whatever your start in life you can turn your life around and build a better future for your children. What an inspiration he will be to young kids forgenerations to come.

He was never bothered about showing off – or about what other journalists thought of him. He was there to ask the question the viewer would ask.

He interviewed all the Prime Ministers and politicians and the stars – his favourites included Lionel Ritchie, Rio Ferdinard, Elkie Brooks, Andy Williams and Peter Kay.

But he always preferred people who weren’t celebrities. The people who unexpectedly ended up in the headlines for their courage or their selflessness.

The Mozzer we knew was an unassuming man who never courted the fame and attention. In the newsroom. If he didn’t want to chat the headphones went on, the tennis went on or the music (probably to drown me out!)

There was never a dull moment with him around. Our conversations were sometimesvery deep about painful stuff and the next minute we’d be laughing our heads off.

He always had great book recommendations like ‘Where The Crawdads Sing’ ‘EleanorOliphant is Completely Fine’ ‘Olive Kitteridge’ or anything by Ann Tyler.

He had an appreciation and an understanding of life that gave him compassion, gentleness and a loving concern for those around him. 

The technical team and producers loved him so much they would squirrel away extra secret seconds when Mozzer was presenting so we could always have some banter at the end of the show.

Viewers often told me it was their favourite part of the programme. It was certainly mine. Or in studio he’d be dancing around before rehearsals, serenading us all usually wearingmy glasses for comedy effect! On air though, he was the consummate professional, the absolute best.

With a quick look between us we would instinctively know how to get the best out of a guest. It was generally by listening rather than talking! We never talked over each other. We were like an old married couple who instinctively knew when the other one wanted to say something.

In studio we never panicked. We were never floored by anything – because we always trusted each other totally and we always looked out for each other.

He was always a smart as a new pin (he’d started out in the RAF), and never used bad language unless he was on the table tennis table and losing to our PS Josh Turner! Tony was so polite, and thoughtful always seeking out people dealing with hard times of their own.

He had a clever knack of deflecting attention away from himself by asking about our home lives our families and our friends.

When I had a tough split from a partner a few years ago he called me many, many times. He was the only person I could face. He patiently kept reassuring me as I took my first steps towards recovery. We laughed a lot about it later.

By the way his best advice to the struggling newly single was to always make sure you had something planned for Sunday mornings. He took up tennis lessons, I took up horse-riding.

At least once a week I would find a Crunchie or Frys Chocolate Cream on my desk. He’d find a Blueberry muffin or scone from me. I still have the last Crunchie I found on my keyboard.

On his final visit to me in Chester I offered him a scone with a cup of tea. He said: ‘I’d rather have the scone with a vodka!” it was a far better idea!

On my last visit to see him at his home in Ramsbottom I took my dog George. As soon as we arrived Tony promptly gave him best delicatessen ham out of his fridge. He straightaway had another devoted fan.

When I gave him a lift home from the Christie – we made a bit of a detour because he wanted to see a particular view from Ramsbottom over the moors. It was especially poignant and brought a tear to his eyes and mine.

Typically, he then said: “Come on suck it up. Remember we lived through the 80s.” That was always his response to anything tough!

Then he asked to stop at the supermarket? I said: “I can nip in for you. What do you need?”. He said firmly: “No, I just need milk. If you don’t mind I’d like to get it myself.”

I respected him for being so self-sufficient. He emerged with no milk proudly carrying a bottle of gin which made me smile. And then gave it to me saying thank you for being such a great friend which made me cry.

I saw him for a chat at The Christie where he was having his cancer treatment. We weren’t allowed inside so we sat together on a bench in the freezing cold. He laughed because people were doing double takes. He said they’d be thinking we were doing an outside broadcast from there. We had a good chat about life.

When I got upset he said sternly: “We don’t do crying or quitting. And the show must go on. You will have my obit programme to do. I don’t envy you that one. I wouldn’t have liked to do it the other way round.“

That obit programme in tribute to my friend in a strangely quiet studio was the hardest and loneliest of all.

We had laughed over the years about one day being in an old folk’s home together, a home for bewildered presenters with young people baffled by us thinking we’d once been on the TV.

We always thought we’d be found out one day. You can’t be allowed to have that much fun at work forever.

That last time at The Christie he told me he didn’t feel it was his time to go. He felt he had so much more living to do and so much more to give. I don’t think he realised how much he had already given us all. What an impact he’d had on so many lives. The world is adifferent place because of Tony Morris. He made life better for all of us lucky enough to have known him.

He told us not to put off anything that would bring us joy whether it was having family time, time with friends. He told us to love more, read more, go to live music, the theatre or football more, to go on holiday more and to make the most of every precious second.

A huge photograph of him is still on one of the lift doors at work. But none of us needs a picture to remind us of him. He is still everywhere.

So a final thought if you are lucky enough to be returning to ‘something like normal’ at work (even socially distanced) alongside your favourite work buddies make each day count. Look after each other while you can.