Acclaimed director and Fine Art alumnus Michael Cumming is best known for his groundbreaking television comedy work. His screen credits range from the controversial and inspirational Brass Eye series, to cult classics Snuff Box & Mark Thomas Product, to quality prime time series with Alistair McGowan and Omid Djalili. Since 2013 Michael has directed all 19 episodes of the multi-award winning sitcom for Channel 4, Toast Of London.
Michael studied Fine Art at the University between 1984 -1986 and took the time to talk to us about his time here and his career after graduating:
''Way back in the mid 80s, the city of Wolverhampton did feel like a bit of a cultural desert. As far as I remember, there wasn't even a cinema! What strikes me now is how brilliantly well the Polytechnic, as it was then, compensated for that by putting on events of all types. Gigs, films, theatre, foreign trips - everything you might want from a city – all organised by the college itself. A little oasis of stimulation.
"Coming from the wilds of the Lake District it felt strange to be studying Fine Art on the top floor of a Brutalist 60s tower block where, if you craned your neck on a Saturday afternoon, you might just catch a Wanderers' goal. In the post Derek Dougan slump at the Molineux, the inspirational teaching easily made up for any lack of beautiful views or beautiful football.
"After initially thinking I wanted to be a painter I eventually, and quite accidentally, stumbled upon a cupboard of video equipment one day and was encouraged by tutor and filmmaker Guy Sherwin to explore what I could do with it. Guy - who still teaches in the Fine Art school - was incredibly important to me. He put up with all the terrible films I made as I tried to find my voice as a video artist, and it was he who encouraged me to apply to the Royal College of Art as I neared the end of my time at Wolverhampton. It worked. The RCA liked my work and I got one of only six places on the MA Film course.''
"After leaving the RCA I got a job directing at the BBC almost immediately. After another seven years of freelance directing (documentaries, kids and youth TV) I met Chris Morris and suddenly, and unexpectedly, things changed. I directed his controversial ‘Brass Eye’ series. Almost banned on several occasions, the series celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2017 and I think it stands the test of time fairly well. I have been directing comedy ever since, with the likes of Mark Thomas, Omid Djalili, Matt Lucas & David Walliams, Mark Steel, Stewart Lee and Jo Brand.
"My most recent work is the sitcom ‘Toast Of London’ starring Matt Berry. Toast has won a BAFTA, the Rose D’Or and a Comedy Award, and it’s good to still be making interesting TV after all these years.
"Running alongside the TV work, I still make my own short films and video art that exists within a fine art context, and the spirit and attitude I learned at art school is still very much with me today. Being lucky enough to be taught by people like Guy Sherwin, Paresh Chakraborty and Knighton Hosking and having eminent visiting lecturers like Ian Breakwell, Rose Finn-Kelcey, Anish Kapoor and Roger McGough was truly inspiring.
"Wolverhampton is where I discovered a passion that has stayed with me all my life. I have much to thank it for.''
To coincide with Brass Eye celebrating its 20th anniversary, the University invites you to a special evening curated by Michael at Light House on 29 March.
Michael will be presenting an episode of 'Brass Eye' and an episode of 'Toast of London' along with unseen outtakes and deleted scenes from Brass Eye that have never been shown in public before. This will then be followed by an open Q&A with the audience.
Tickets are free, and you can get hold of them here.