Heaven knows he was miserable then: Morrissey reflects on life as a civil servant
As the Smiths legend turns 60, Civil Service World looks back to Morrissey’s time on the government paybill
Morrissey performs in Berlin in 2014 Credit: PA
Steven Patrick Morrissey is not the first celebrity to have a stint in the civil service tucked away at the bottom of their CV, and he certainly won’t be the last. But as the legendarily dour singer of 1980s Mancunian music legends the Smiths turns 60, what better time could there be to reflect on his brief – but seemingly character-forming – spell in the state’s employ?
Work was a staple in Morrissey’s 1980s lyrics, from Still Ill’s “England is mine and it owes me a living”, to Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’s “I was looking for a job and then I found a job, and heaven knows I’m miserable now”.
Even three studio albums in to the band’s career, as adoring crowds and Top of the Pops appearances were all in a day’s work, Morrissey was singing with relish about telling bosses where to stick jobs that paid his way but corroded the soul.
Songwriting partner Johnny Marr has even pointed to the singer’s insistence on the band covering Cilla Black song Work Is a Four Letter Word as the “final straw” that caused him to quit and prompted the group's demise.
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History does not record whether the Mr Shankly to whom Morrissey fantasised about resigning in a song on 1986's The Queen Is Dead was a civil service manager, but the singer’s Autobiography chronicles a brief but impression-forming stint at the Inland Revenue in Manchester in the late 1970s.
Following a stretch working in a basement-level city centre record shop, Morrissey recalls a switch to “serve time in another basement as a filing clerk" for the taxman, in a bid to get enough cash to flee to North America.
“Several war-torn months are spent kowtowing to the rigours of gabbling clerical ciphers in a fate worse than life,” he recalls.
“As I understand it, there is nothing else I can do. This is one small rung below prostitution and is fully against sane judgement… my zest for life is 50 fathoms below sea level and it’s all I can do to add this day to yesterday.
“Each day I enter the building prepared for execution.”
Civil service dress codes may have changed somewhat over the past 40 years, but even today there is a time and a place for clothing related to New York punk legends The Ramones.
“WHAT is that? shouts the senior clerk pointing to my Gabba Gabba Hey t-shirt,” Morrissey recalls.
“I am thus summoned to the all-powerful fourth-floor inspector, and I wonder what world I am in as he sits before me – bald and paunched, an off-white shirt of sweat-encrusted armpits. Sadness can often …. be …. fatigue.”
One resignation later, Morrissey is quizzed at Stretford Jobcentre about why he left his “golden position in the underground warrens of the Inland Revenue” and encouraged to take a job cleaning up canal towpaths.
He is as unflattered by the offer as he is retrospectively unflattering about the “Dunlop bloater of such walrus proportions” who makes it.
Nevertheless, the public sector has another card up its sleeve for Morrissey.
“I am cross-examined at Stretford Sorting Office as there are postman vacancies, and this is the most I consider possible,” he recalls.
“Yet it isn’t, because I am turned down – deemed physically and psychologically incapable of delivering letters. There is now no escape but death.”
Fortunately – as aspired to in Frankly, Mr Shankly – musical history took a different course.
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