This weekend saw Father Ted come up trumps in Channel 4’s 30 Greatest Comedy Shows countdown. With an impressive three shows in the top four, it cemented Graham Linehan’s place as a king of comedy.
Helen Cowlyn looks back at a timeless classic, below…
Father Ted was shown from 1995 to 1998, and was written by Graham Lineham and Arthur Matthews, who both have TVO connections. When you read a description of Father Ted – a comedy about three Roman Catholic priests living in a small parochial house on a tiny outcrop of rock somewhere off the west coast of Ireland, with their housekeeper – it does not sound like a comedy at all. Luckily for us, the show was commissioned by Hat Trick Productions and we now have 25 episodes of Father Ted to enjoy. There are 6 in series 1, 10 in series 2, with an hour-long Christmas special, and 8 in the third series. Another TVO connection is that Christine Cant was the make-up designer for all three series.
The theme tune was written and performed by The Divine Comedy, who later reworked it into Songs of Love, which became a track from their album Cassanova. It’s not a typical comedy tune, being quite melancholy and slow. Neil Hannon, (who is mostly The Divine Comedy) wrote most of the original music, including My Lovely Horse, from the episode Song For Europe and My Lovely Mayo Mammy from the episode Night of the Nearly Dead. ‘Father Neil Hannon’ was also one of the names Mrs Doyle guesses in A Christmassy Ted, the 1996 Christmas special.
Each episode involved the trials of Father Ted Crilly (Dermot Morgan) as he tries to get on with life on Craggy Island, hindered by Father Dougal McGuire (Ardal O’Hanlon), a young priest who gives the impression that he’s not sure what’s going on most of the time, and Father Jack Hackett (Frank Kelly), a very old priest with some nasty habits. Ted himself is not blameless, there are references to Lourdes money that was ‘just resting’ in his account, and Bishop Brennan inferred in the episode The Passion of St Tibulus, that all three of them were sent to Craggy Island as punishment for earlier misdeeds. The Priests are looked after by Mrs Doyle (Pauline McLynn), a lady of a certain age whose obsession with cups of tea, sandwiches and cakes is an integral part of her character.
As well as the main characters there are also the Islanders to contend with, as well as other priests, nuns and Bishop Len Brennan (Jim Norton), one priest in particular is Ted’s rival, Father Dick Byrne (Maurice O’Donoghue), who lives on the neighbouring Rugged Island with Father Jim Johnson and Father Cyril MacDuff, who are very similar to Jack and Dougal.
One unfortunate priest was Father Larry Duff (Tony Guilfoyle). He first appeared in series two, as a friend of Ted, although they are never seen on-screen together. Ted phones him on his mobile phone, but he never picks up. We see from Larry’s viewpoint, that he can’t answer the phone as the distraction of Ted’s call has caused a terrible accident to befall the unlucky priest.
We’re not going to go through a list of episodes here but if you need one there is a guide to all the episodes on the Channel 4 website. If you’ve ever watched Father Ted you will have your favourite episodes. If you haven’t watched it, you are lucky as you have three whole series to look forward to.
The show is a mixture of surreal, satire and old-fashioned slapstick which makes it very hard to slot into a neat category. It caused some controversy when it first aired, but not as much as might have been expected, considering it involved priests and use of the word feck: see this Article in The Catholic Herald, if you have trouble reading it try here.
Most of the cast was Irish; a lot of well-known people were guests in the series, including the writers and a young Graham Norton as the very enthusiastic Father Noel Furlong in three episodes. There were faces that were familiar to Channel 4 viewers including Clare Grogan, Richard Wilson from One Foot in the Grave and Dervla Kerwan and Stephen Tompkinson as their characters Assumpta Fitzgerald and Father Peter Clifford from the huge BBC1 Sunday night drama Ballykissangel.
On February 28 1998 Dermot Morgan died of a heart attack aged 45, only 5 days before the air date of the third series. He had already said this series would be his last as Father Ted as “I don’t want to be the next Clive Dunn and end up playing the same character for years”.
Father Ted night was celebrated by Channel 4, on New Years Day 2011. Viewers voted for their favourite episode and two specially made documentaries were also shown. Small, Far Away – The World of Father Ted celebrated 15 years of Father Ted and featured the writers and cast members. Unintelligent Design was “a rare opportunity to poke around inside the heads of Father Ted creators Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews and find out who they admire and where they draw their inspiration from”.
The viewers’ favourite episode was Kicking Bishop Brennan up the Arse which is also my favourite! The enthusiasm for the show seems undiminished even after 15 years, and it is still being shown on More4, Virgin Media and around the World and is also available on DVD at TVO store.
And it has just been voted number one in the countdown of C4’s 30 Greatest Comedy Shows!