“Nobody pays attention to the writer” says writer and director Graham Linehan. A humble statement from a man who has been named as the fifth most influential person on twitter ahead of Downing Street and Barack Obama. He has more than 40,000 followers on the site, and you can bet most of those are regular readers of his blog too. Linehan is respected by many as one of the most talented comedy writers of this generation and his career so far certainly stands to support this.
His first work was for the Irish music publication Hot Press Magazine, and it was while working here that he met Arthur Matthews. The two began writing together, submitting the results to television – with early work appearing on the likes of The Day Today and The Fast Show, where they crafted one of their best known and most loved creations in Ted & Ralph. It’s been said that the Ted and Ralph characters reflect themselves, and they proved so popular they even gained their own spin-off special!
Yet probably the best known and definitely most loved of all Linehan/Matthews works was still to come. Like many of my generation, I grew up on Father Ted. Based on the fictional Craggy Island, it follows the lives of three hapless priests Fr Ted Crilly (Dermot Morgan), Fr Dougal McGuire (Ardal O’Hanlon) and Fr Jack Hackett (Frank Kelly) along with their eccentric tea lady Mrs Doyle (Pauline McLynn). The series first aired in 1995 and ran for three series, until 1998 when, just as the writers planned to end the show, Dermot Morgan tragically passed away, putting a firm stamp of finality on the show.
Set in Ireland and based around the strong Catholic faith, I always found it hilarious and easily indentifiable with my own roots. The magic of Father Ted, perhaps, was that despite the fact that it was so specific in it’s location and characters, it pulled inspiration from such a wide range of topics, sending them up beautifully. Personally, I think Speed 3 - the episode in which Dougal has to ride a bomb-equipped milkfloat over 4mph or it’ll explode (!) - far surpassed it’s movie namesake. The show managed to appeal to all ages, and watching it was a family experience for many: an element which is sorely lacking in most comedies these days.
It was during the filming of Father Ted that Graham began to cut his directorial teeth. He was always on set to give instructions, trying to perfect every performance and every shot, and by the 3rd season he had begun to direct himself. When the show ended, Graham went on to co-write and direct many highly popular comedy shows including the first series of the cult sketch show Big Train and the first season of the massively popular Black Books, as well as the pilot episode of Little Britain.
In front of the camera, Linehan became a familiar face to all fans of the Booshiverse via cameo roles as a hospital porter in two episodes of Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place, and as a restaurant critic with nothing to eat in Berry & Ayoade’s AD/BC: A Rock Opera. Graham often cameos in his own work, and you can play a fun game of Spot The Linehan in each series of The IT Crowd, and various episodes of Father Ted and Black Books. Thanks to this cameos, I can only say the word tincature with a severe stutter in his unmistakable accent!
Graham’s first solo project is The IT Crowd. The much loved show began airing in 2006 and was a welcome return to the studio audience format at a time when the documentary style of The Office was dominating comedy. For the few who don’t know, it is set in the offices of Reynholm Industries following the socially awkward nerds Roy Tenneman (Chris O’Dowd) and Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade) and their relationshop manager Jen Barber (Katherine Parkinson). The trio are joined by everyones favourite goth Richmond Avenal (Noel Fielding) and boss Denholm Reynholm (Chris Morris), who sadly passed away due to a fall from a high rise building after some irregularities with the pension fund during the 2nd season. He was succeeded by his son (and infamous ladies man) Douglas Reynholm (Matt Berry) who is now a regular cast member.
It’s rare these days to find a studio comedy of such a high quality. It’s clear the series main goal is to make you laugh and I’ve always found it succeeds wonderfully. Whereas most comedy shows today drive their plot first and fit in the jokes after, The IT Crowd is the only one where it feels the jokes are the most important thing. Every moment of the show is beautifully crafted to work towards a laugh and it always pays off too. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy the series so much and why it stands out amongst other sitcoms. That the 5th series has already been commissioned by Channel 4 is a testament to Linehan’s reputation as one of the most respected and prolific comedy writers of all time.
As an aspiring comedy writer I find Graham’s work a real source of inspiration. Like most people I grew up watching Father Ted. His work made me realise what a truely wonderful thing well written comedy is. I was honoured enough to be one of the extras during the taping of the 4th series and watching him work was a genuine masterclass, to stand with fellow fans saying quotes we use almost every day and look up to see the man who wrote those words was surreal and wonderful. Genuinely funny, humble and a true gentleman, he’s man who deserves all the success he’s had. Success which can only grow with the much anticipated return of The IT Crowd. Roll on tonight!