A possible Banksy. Image via: chrisbrady.itgo.com

The definitive list of Morris dance appearances in popular culture

Morris dancing occasionally appears in TV shows, music videos and other aspects of popular culture. It’s often used as the butt of a joke, but in other instances it’s used to add interest, variety and even a sinister edge…

Here’s my definitive* list of Morris dancing in popular culture. Morris has appeared many times over the years, so I’ve tried to draw together as many instances as I can and find out who did the dancing, in order to provide a single point of reference. I’ve sourced info from Google, newspapers, Facebook discussions, etc, so if anything is inaccurate, let me know.

I’ve limited the list to instances where the Morris teams in question are ‘acting’, so have excluded the various appearances by teams on TV quizzes, magazine shows, news bulletins etc. I’m sure there are dozens more examples that I’ve missed, so shout out and, if I can find details, I will make some additions when time allows.

*Definitely not definitive.

Dr Who and the Morris Men

The fourth Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee, came face-to-face with his most harrowing monsters yet in a 1971 episode of the hit show (S8E24): the local Morris dancers.

Children being ushered inside, windows slammed and onlookers heard to mutter, “they’re round the twist if you ask me”, will be familiar to anyone involved in Morris, so they at least got this bit right. The Morris dancers process through the streets of the village of Devil’s End, before taking the Doctor captive and tying him to the Maypole (“well that doesn’t look very traditional,” the same character remarks).

The team involved in this unique piece of science fiction were the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers. In 2011, members of the team attended a Dr Who reunion, with long-time member and EFDSS Gold Badge holder John Graham, commenting: “We had to show Jon Pertwee our dance and make sure we didn’t really hurt him.”

Interestingly, the tune ‘Black Joak’ is being played as the Doctor is called “black witch” by one of the baddies. I’d like to think this was an intentional little Easter egg for Morris aficionados, but I suspect it’s just coincidence.

The episode is above (the action starts at 14:40), or you can find it in better quality on BritBox.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series

Terry Pratchett's Discworld, where Morris dancing is part of the popular culture

Terry Pratchett seems to have been somewhat fascinated by Morris. References pop up in a number of the Discworld books and even his earlier works (Strata and Johnny and the Bomb). 2013’s Wintersmith is entirely based around ‘The Dark Morris’, which also resulted in a collaborative album with Steeleye Span of the same name. 

There was the long-drawn-out chord that by law must precede all folk music to give bystanders time to get away

Terry Pratchett

As a long-time fan of Terry Pratchett, I always get excited by these references. Like so much of the social and political themes and ideas he wrote about, he seems to have really got the essence of Morris and held it in some affection, even though it is gently mocked in some circumstances (“Carter, tears of terror mingling with makeup and the rain, squeezed the accordion. There was the long-drawn-out chord that by law must precede all folk music to give bystanders time to get away”).

Then there’s this quote from Reaper Man (1991):

“The Morris dance is common to all inhabited worlds in the multiverse. It is danced under blue skies to celebrate the quickening of the soil and under bare stars because it’s springtime and with any luck the carbon dioxide will unfreeze again. The imperative is felt by deep-sea beings who have never seen the sun and urban humans whose only connection with the cycles of nature is that their Volvo once ran over a sheep.”

Lords and Ladies (1992) introduces us to the Lancre Morris Men, who count the ‘Stick and Bucket Dance’ amidst their repertoire. However, they are banned from performing it because, “…old Mr Thrupp still walks with a limp… Dancing the ‘Stick and Bucket Dance’ is illegal with women present, as it falls under the heading of sexual morrisment.” The ‘Stick and Bucket Dance’ is never actually described, and there is now an annual competition at Chippenham Folk Festival for the best interpretation.

Pratchett had occasional involvement with a Morris team, as this photo proves…

This is the now-disbanded Ravenswood Morris of Chicago, who surprised Sir Terry at a book signing in Chicago in 2000. Ex-member of Ravenswood Jeremy Kessler says: “He literally fell off his chair when he saw us. He asked if he could get a set of our bellpads (with their special octiron bells), and I said that I’d give him a set on the spot if he’d let us dress him in lit and take a photo. He obviously agreed.”

A few years later, some members of the team moved to Boston and formed Recently Traditional Fictional Morris (RTFM). They still meet once a year on 31st October to dance the other morris dance, as described in Reaper Man and Wintersmith.

Dog Rose Morris on Jools Holland

In my opinion, probably one of the sharpest and more energetic performances of a Morris dance on TV was made by Dog Rose Morris on Later with Jools Holland in 2003, accompanying Bryony Griffth and Eliza Carthy. Unfortunately, the only footage of it I’ve been able to track down is the rather poor-quality effort above. 

Dog Rose were formed in 2001 and folded in 2012. 

Stealing Sheep: ‘Apparition’ music video

Let me start by saying I love everything about this video and song. I remember being initially interested in the video because it featured Morris dancers, and then finding myself obsessed with the whole album it comes from (check it out if you’re interested in some electro-pop).

What I love is that the band and director, Dougal Wilson (who has form for using Morris in music videos, as per this 2003 offering), went to great efforts to fully choreograph the dancing to fit with the song, and the band themselves diligently learnt some Morris stepping. There seems to have been a genuine respect and affection for the tradition; speaking in an interview about the video in 2015, Dougal said:

“I always thought it was an interesting form of dance, because, without the obvious ‘look at these funny-looking characters from Middle England’ aspect, I felt it was beautiful and mathematical, and it had all these patterns in it… [it] is a lovely subculture. The guys and ladies of the Morris sides were all charming, very cooperative, tremendously excited to be involved…”.

The “charming, cooperative” Morris dancers in this case were Abingdon Traditional Morris, Oxford University Morris and Oxford City Morris. There’s also a smattering of straw bears waddling about.

Hot Chip featuring Boss Morris at Glastonbury Festival

In 2019, the “wild, colourful, vibrant, urgent, and entirely relevantBoss Morris made a special appearance on stage with Hot Chip at Glastonbury Festival. 

Fresh from seeing them for the first time at Sidmouth Folk Festival 2022, where they were a breath of fresh air (check out their late-night extra ceilidh spot), it’s probably safe to say the below clip doesn’t show them off at their best. However, I also feel confident in saying there aren’t many Morris teams who can claim a bigger audience than the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.

2012 Olympics Closing Ceremony

Two of the teams that can challenge for a bigger audience than Boss are Bristol’s Rag Morris and Blackheath Morris Men from south-east London. Both teams took part in the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. 

They appeared alongside Eric Idle in a showcase of the best of British music and dance, dancing to ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’. Speaking at the time, Peter Rowlstone, Squire of Rag Morris, said, “Initially we were worried that the organisers would want to change our style or ask us to do something that wasn’t Morris dancing, but that was not the case and it’s been a really positive experience. They wanted a Morris side that would be bright, cheerful and vibrant, which suited our style perfectly.”

See the video above. The Morris action starts at 2:17:30.

Dad’s Army: The Godiva Affair (S7, E4)

No one must see this dance until it is perfect. Otherwise, we might look like a bunch of idiots…

Captain Mainwairing, Dad’s Army

Thus speaks Captain Mainwairing at the start of this 1974 episode of the classic sitcom, Dad’s Army. The platoon is practising a Morris dance, you see, in order to raise funds to purchase a Spitfire for the war effort. Spitfire Funds were common during the Second World War; “a home front phenomenon”, apparently, which eventually funded around 2,600 of the aircraft.

Walmington-on-Sea’s Home Guard unit are trying to help fill a £2,000 shortfall towards their Spitfire, which is a bit more than the £14 Bampton’s Morris dancers apparently raised on Whit Monday, 1941, towards their village’s fighter.

Midsomer Murders

You would think that a show synonymous with picturesque rural middle-England, which bases each episode loosely around a different theme, pastime or hobby, would have managed to produce a Morris-themed episode in its 22-series run. Bell-ringers, wineries, witchcraft (several), historical reenactments, circuses; all have had episodes themed around them. But Morris, it turns out, is too niche even for Midsomer to take on.

Morris dancing has, however, made appearances in a few episodes. Faithful Unto Death (1998) opens with Icknield Way Morris Men dancing at the Morton Fendle village fete. Unfortunately, the writers couldn’t resist a little dig (“I think every one of them is mad”); well I think you’re mad, Joyce, for continuing to live in the murder capital of the UK, but there we go.

The appearance of Motley Morris in blackface in the 1999 episode Blood Will Out unfortunately spawned a host of culture-war-stoking articles from the tabloids due to ITV adding a warning about possible offence when it was broadcast. Given the massive change of stance and opinion by the Joint Morris Organisations and their constituent teams since the episode was recorded, it seems pretty reasonable to include this.

Night of the Stag (2001) includes a kind of weird horn dance (performed by Headington Quarry) relating to fertility rights, and in Judgement Day (2000), Joyce Barnaby refers to being shown, “long sword dancing, clog, and molly dancing, a Norfolk border dance with sticks, and… something called an Abbots Bromley Horn Dance.” All in one Cotswold-inspired village, which I think we can agree is an impressive repertoire.

Finally, Midsomer Murders has had an episode centred around a fictional folk festival. The Ballad of Midsomer County (2015), features some truly excellent murders taken from a folk song of the same name written for the episode and performed by Lucie Jones & Seth Lakeman. 

Incidentally, if the writers of Midsomer do ever fancy a Morris-themed episode, I am very happy to act as an expert adviser. I’ve got some great ideas for Morris-related murders; throttled with a hanky, beaten with sticks, choked on a bell. We could take inter-Morris rivalry to a whole new level.

Ten Foot Wizard: ‘Covered in T*ts’ music video

In 2015, Manchester-based heavy metal band, Ten Foot Wizard, engaged Leyland’s Stone the Crows border Morris to appear on their video for their single ‘Covered in T*ts‘.

The result is this pretty intense three minutes of robes, whirling tatters, sticks and… kittens. While the song itself might not be to the taste of some readers of this site (it personally appeals to the heavy metal tastes of my university days pretty well), it’s undeniable that the dark, mystical nature of border Morris fits perfectly with the atmosphere of the video and tone of the music.

As you might expect from the title, there is some explicit language involved.

Downton Abbey

The 2012 Christmas Special of Downton Abbey, Journey to the Highlands finds Berkshire Bedlam dancing at the Thirsk country fair. 

I’m not actually aware of any Cotswold Morris teams dancing around the North Yorkshire area in 1921, but I could be wrong. I’ll admit that while some longsword (Kirby Malzeard perhaps) might have been more historically accurate, it doesn’t give off quite the vibe the programme producers were looking for.

Chuckle Brothers

What links Downton Abbey with the Chuckle Brothers? Turns out it’s Morris dancing! Or, even more specifically, Berkshire Bedlam…

While researching which Morris team featured in Downton, I found Berkshire’s very helpful guide to their media appearances, which included this gem from 2005. I haven’t watched the episode in full to find out why the team are dressed in some kind of lederhosen and dancing to oompah…

World Student Games open ceremony, Sheffield, 1991

Ok, this is perhaps stretching ‘popular culture’, but the organisers of the 1991 World Student Games in Sheffield actually did a pretty good job of involving the city’s various Morris teams in the festivities.

On display are several of the city’s Morris teams, including Yorkshire Chandelier, Handsworth Sword Dancers, Sheffield City Morris and (I think) Lizzie Dripping. (There’s also another team of North West dancers in red I can’t place).

As everyone is no doubt aware, Sheffield is in the grip of a Morris dance revolution. Speaking from experience, it’s unfortunately incredibly difficult to get any kind of interest from the city council or other cultural bodies in Morris, but this ceremony shows it was not always so.

ZingZillas featuring Boggart’s Breakfast

Border Morris is a funny thing. It can be equally at home in a heavy-metal music video called ‘Covered in T*ts’ as it is alongside foam puppets in a kids’ TV show. Just don’t mix them up.

Yes, in 2012, Boggart’s Breakfast took their lovely little blue faces to the CBeebies studio to appear on ZingZillas, where they amazed the stuffed monkeys with their twirling and clashing. 

See the video above. The Morris action starts at 3:00.

Endeavour – ‘Harvest’

Dancers from Whitchurch Morris Men, Towersey Morris Men and Armaleggan all appear in the 2017 episode of Endeavour, Harvest

The episode features ancient local rites connected with the harvest, which is clearly why they went with some Border dancing; again showing the versatility of Border for TV appearances. Unfortunately, given the ‘first’ Border team, Shropshire Bedlams, weren’t founded by John Kirkpatrick until 1975, we will have to give the programme markers some artistic licence. Maybe they could have borrowed the Cotswold dancers from Downton?

The Fast Show

Is The Fast Show the best British sketch show of all time? It’s up there for me, but perhaps it’s because it’s what I grew up watching on a Friday night.

This sketch (I think from S3E4 in 1997), features Richmond on Swale Morris Men (when they were the Richmondshire Morris Men, before re-amalgamating with Swale Dale Morris Men in 2000), and includes a very young Stu Giddens, who now fronts York’s folk-rockers Blackbeard’s Tea Party and dances with Ebor Morris. He recalls: “It took over 30 takes if I remember rightly. The Fast Show team looked after us so well, putting on a massive barbecue for the whole pub, all us dancers and our families. It was a great evening.”

Goodness Gracious Me – Bhangraman Fights the Evil Morris Dancers

Another classic British sketch show from the same era as the Fast Show also had a take on Morris dancing. Albury Morris Men are the team featured here. I think there’s a Morris-Bhangra fusion movie waiting to happen.

Yard Act – ‘The Overload’ music video

Everyone’s favourite Leeds post-punk band, Yard Act, featured Leeds Morris on their 2021 video for ‘The Overload’. 

Another track on the album also contains the line “knobheads Morris dancing to Sham 69”. 

The Coral – ‘Secret Kiss’ music video

I’m including this one in order to give it the award for the briefest appearance of Morris in anything on the list (although an honourable mention goes to Bristol Morris Men’s appearance in Skins.)

I was reliably informed that Southport Swords appear in this video from The Coral from 2003. On my third watch, I managed to pinpoint their appearance to about three seconds around the 2:40 mark. Still, all publicity is good publicity…

Men Without Hats – ‘Safety Dance’ music video

I don’t even know where to start with this video. 80s synth-pop meets pseudo-mediaeval renaissance fayre. The song is, according to lead singer Ivan Doroschuk, a protest against bouncers who were prohibiting people from ‘pogoing’ to 1980s new wave music in clubs when disco was declining (pogoing being a type of dance in which the dancers jump up and down, while either remaining on the spot or moving around; not using an actual pogo stick in a club, which seems a reasonable thing to prohibit.)

I have no idea where the Morris dancers come into this, but they are, incidentally, the Chippenham Town Morris Men.

Banksy painting, Waterloo 

A possible Banksy, featuring a Morris dancer clashing with riot police
A possible Banksy, as featured on chrisbrady.itgo.com

Or certainly Banksy-ish.

This was an apparent Banksy which featured on Leake Street, under Waterloo Station, London around 2008. I can’t find any verification for this, other than the website which is hosting the image.

The image itself is actually taken from a photo of Exeter Morris, with the side’s distinctive green waistcoats altered to fit the grimy style. The image can be found on Wikipedia and is one of the first images to come up in a Google search for “Morris dance”. So if it is a Banksy, he didn’t look very far for inspiration…

Luke Haines – ‘Smash The System’ music video

I’d never heard of Luke Haines before researching this article but, (1) I quite like this song, and (2) I very much like the vibes of a slightly chaotic summer dance-out outside a good boozer. The album this track is taken from also features an old photo of Oxford City Morris Men from 1953 as its front cover. 

So, well done Luke Haines and well done Blackheath Morris Men.

Generation Game

It seems several teams have appeared on Generation Game at various times. Herga Morris (1974-1990ish) were apparently on the show in 1979, but given the above clip of a team getting pied in the face includes Mr Blobby, I think this is from later – and I’m not sure which team it is. 

The Bow Street Rappers (active during the 1980/90s), a team made up of members of the Royal Ballet, also appeared and performed this excellent rendition of the Upton Stick Dance. Bow Street apparently toured their Morris and Rapper repertoires during Royal Ballet tours of Europe and the Soviet Union.

Hammersmith have also apparently appeared, but I can’t find any clips of this.

The Witches and the Grinnygog

King John’s Morris Men from Southampton appeared in episode six of this frankly wild-sounding TV series from the early-80s. It features a strange statue (the eponymous Grinnygog), three witches who have slipped through time, a walking mannequin and an African witch doctor. 

I have no idea what is going on in this episode; I’m just here for the 20 seconds of morris dancing.

Father Brown

The episode Demise of a Debutante (S7E4) of Father Brown in 2019 featured dancers from Jockey Morris, Knightlow Morris Men, Peterborough Morris and Lassington Oak

I like this episode as a murder actually takes place in the middle of a dance, which I think we can all agree is very fitting for folk. I also really like the kit they created for the team, and I’m definitely going to be suggesting waist sashes for my Morris team.

Trigger Happy TV

Another classic sketch show, Trigger Happy TV was one of the original hidden camera shows. 

I really hope there are still some Americans telling stories about the traditional English Morris dancer they witnessed, performed beautifully by Dom Jolly. I assume no teams were consulted to provide artistic direction in this particular case.

BBC2 Indent

This charming little indent was made for BBC2 in 2005. Not sure what they’re dancing… Lichfield perhaps?