Neil Morrisey, actor

4 July, 1962

Lives North London

Life and career Born in Stafford, Morrissey trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After completing his training he found it relatively easy to get stage work, then made his first television appearance on Juliet Bravo, a police drama series. His first big role came when he won the part of Michael Elphick's long-haired, leather-clad sidekick in the private detective series Boon. It ran from 1986 until the early Nineties, when Morrissey began to get offers of more interesting roles. The breakthrough came when he took over from Harry Enfield as Martin Clunes' flatmate in the laddish sitcom Men Behaving Badly. The chemistry between Morrissey and his co-stars ensured the comedy's success when it moved from ITV to BBC1, and it became the signature sitcom of the Nineties, as popular with viewers as Fawlty Towers in the Seventies and Only Fools and Horses in the Eighties. Morrissey is a popular figure on panel shows, where his charm and off-the-cuff humour have shown that he can work quite happily without a script. His girlfriend is the actress Rachel Weisz, star of recent box-office hit The Mummy. Like that other much-loved comedy actor David Jason, Morrissey is a committed diver, and recently filmed a documentary in Micronesia with the BBC Natural History Unit. The programme, Shark City, will be shown on 21 July at 8pm on BBC1.
Passions Football, diving and the film and television production company he runs with Men Behaving Badly co-star Caroline Quentin.

What prompted you to take up diving?
It was about ten years ago. I was visiting a friend in Sri Lanka and he was a diver. He persuaded me to learn and I've never looked back. The first time I got in the water was awesome. When I was reasonably happy with my diving we started spear fishing - it was legal over there in those days - and paid for our diving by selling our catches.

Where did you train?
It was with a PADI instructor who worked out of my hotel in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. It was one-to-one tuition, so I cottoned on quickly and didn't have any hairy moments. In five days, I was a diver.

What are your qualifications?
I've never been too bothered about taking loads of courses. I've got my open water certificate and only got around to doing my advanced open water when I went to Palau with the BBC. I'm still waiting for the card. I don't particularly feel the need to do any more courses for the time being.

How many dives have you done?
Hundreds. I don't bother logging them, don't see the point. Logbooks are a pain in the arse when you're on holiday.

What is your best diving experience?
It's in the programme. We'd set down bait above a 600m drop-off to lure pelagic sharks. We didn't get many, but the water was thick with loads of little blacktips and grey reef sharks. They were coming in like arrows, just as if they'd been shot from a bow. I thought of all the senses sharks have, and how at that point they were all focused on me. They could probably hear my bowels twitching! They were tearing off dirty great big lumps of tuna just a few feet from my face. I also had some great manta dives off Yap. The visibility was about 12m, so you'd see these bloody great shadows looming up before you, and you'd think it was a monster. They were beautiful though, dancing over the reef in groups.

On best behaviour: from top, taking a break, Palau; Morrissey with Men Behaving Badly co-star Martin Clunes; above left, snorkelling with jellyfish and, right, diving a wreck, both on location in Micronesia; below, with Martin Clunes. Photographs: copyright BBC

What is your worst diving experience?
I've never had any really nasty experiences underwater, but I've had a few of those dives when nothing happens and you just regret getting into the water. When we were filming, I was saddled with a lot of cables and communications gear and it acted like a sail whenever I got caught in a current. During one night dive, I got disorientated, the kit was dragging me all over the place, and there just wasn't much going on. It was as murky as hell, it was shallow, it was facile.

Where have you dived?
Sri Lanka, Grenada, Jamaica, Yap, Palau, the Great Barrier Reef. I want to dive in the UK. I've got some mates who want to take me to dive in Wales, and I've heard great things about the west coast of Ireland.

Who is your regular buddy?
Anyone really. During the BBC filming, I was buddied up with these former Navy divers who really knew their stuff. I'm comfortable diving with pretty much anyone, as long as they're happy in the water.

Why do you dive?
It's a mixture of so many different things, from the physical to the emotional. I just find it completely different and completely exhilarating. When I go for long periods without getting in the water, I find myself really hankering for a dive. By the time I got to Palau, I'd gone a really long time without diving, about a year - I was beginning to wonder if I could still call myself a diver. When I first got in the water, I needed loads of weight to get me down.

Where do you want to dive next?
I want to go back to this perfect place called Flinders Reef, which is beyond the Great Barrier Reef out of Cairns in Australia. It's got this lovely wreck, the Yongala, which is surrounded by great coral. It's a very old wreck, but in surprisingly good nick with a lot of marine life. There's a big, fat, old grouper who lives inside. He's grown so fat that he's trapped now, too big to get out. He has to wait for his supper to come to him, but there's a lot of food coming through that wreck.

What equipment do you own?
I'm not bothered about brands. I've just had to chuck out a regulator that wasn't working properly, but it was quite old. So, at the moment, I own all my gear apart from a tank and the regulator. Equipment is made to such high standards these days that you can pretty much go into a shop and walk out with whatever fits you best.

Which five songs would you like to put on a liveaboard compilation tape?
The theme tunes to Dead Calm and Jaws, which should provide the right atmosphere; The Laughing Gnome by David Bowie to make everyone giggle; any Mozart concerto and Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade, because it rocks.

What is the most interesting underwater animal?
The whale shark. I swam with a lovely one in Sri Lanka; it must've been about seven metres long. We were out in a boat and another boatman started yelling at us. I leaped into the water and there it was. My eyes must have been like saucers! They're amazing fish and we know so little about them. I swam with it for about ten minutes before it headed off to deeper water and disappeared into the blue.

Have you a dive tip that has helped you?
Everyone's got their tips and I don't have that much to add. Just breathe easy and don't panic.

Which figure, living or dead, would you like to take diving, and why?
Charles Darwin. The more I learn about natural history, the more I appreciate just how much the world of science owes him. Apart from being a true genius, he had this instinctive feel for natural history, and a good sense of how things work that led to his theory of natural selection. He got some astounding insights from his trip on the Beagle, which brought him face to face with nature. I'd just like to help him further his work by taking him underwater. Can you imagine what sort of effect a dive in the Galápagos would have had on him, instead of studying marine animals from specimens?

What can I say? He's the man. Unless of course you're a creationist.

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