Canon David Winter writes:
THE Revd Dr Colin Manley Morris, who died on 20 May, aged 89, was probably the best-known Methodist of his generation. His voice was heard by millions over four decades on Thought for the Day on Radio 4, broken only by the years when he was on the senior staff of the BBC.
Early in his broadcasting career in 1970, he used a passionate and eloquent script to attack a Bill on Citizenship, which was due for debate in Parliament that day. The talk was judged to have broken the BBC rules on political impartiality. The Corporation duly apologised, and the producer, Roy Trevivian, was reprimanded. Morris himself, however, after a brief break, returned to Thought for the Day, and, a few years later, was appointed to senior management posts at the BBC.
It is easy to see why. Morris combined eloquence and wit with a life-long commitment to individual freedom, human rights, and justice. Having grown up in a mining village near Bolton, he understood the deprivation of working people in the 1930s. The Methodism that shaped his life included both the Wesleyan “warmed heart” and the social conscience of its early followers. He was very proud of their contributions to the founding of trade unions — with their “fathers of the chapel” — and indeed the Labour Party.
These views were confirmed during an early spell in Northern Rhodesia in the 1950s and ’60s. The “wind of change” was blowing through Africa, and the young Methodist missionary gave it his full support. He became life-long friends with Kenneth Kaunda, who was destined one day to lead the new nation of Zambia.
Coming back to Britain, the Church quickly recognised Morrris’s unique gifts, particularly as a preacher. He became minister of Wesley’s Chapel in London, preaching from the great man’s pulpit. He worked hard at his sermons, often for many hours, but when delivered they always sounded spontaneous and fresh. Later, he was director of the Methodist Church’s mission work; his was a constant voice for a relevant, gospel-based Christianity. In 1976, he was elected President of the Methodist Conference, and used his year in office to drive his message home.
As a BBC manager, he was equally gifted. Indeed, his years at Television Centre probably represented the high point of religious broadcasting in Britain. He assembled a formidable team of producers, and was able to negotiate high-profile slots for their work. Then he left for an even more strategic post, controller of BBC Northern Ireland during the turbulent final years of the Troubles. It says much about his standing as a manager and strategist that he was chosen for this most sensitive of posts.
Although personally warm and friendly, he knew his own mind, and all through his career argued for the Good News of the Kingdom with vigour and conviction, “in season and out of season”. He may well have been one of the “trendy left-wing vicars” on Thought for the Day identified by Margaret Thatcher’s press office. If so, he would have taken it as a compliment.