Cult TV

Cult TV Essentials: Father Ted

When you watch ‘Father Ted it’s hard to believe the first series is twenty years old. In fact if it wasn’t for the odd dated mobile phone and a one off dream sequence with some of the cast of ‘Ballykissangel’ you’d be hard pressed to date it at all.

‘Father Ted’ first aired in April 1995 and ran for three series and one Christmas special. By the time the final series was aired in 1998 it had become ‘Channel Fours’ most popular show.

Written and created by sketch writers Graham Lineham and Arthur Matthews and based on a character created in 1991 for Matthews stand up. ‘Ted’ and the rest of the inhabitants of ‘Craggy Island’ were developed over the next three years. The show was then pitched to ‘Hat Trick Productions’ and ‘Channel Four’.

Set on the fictional ‘Craggy Island’ the show follows the exploits of the three priests living in the islands Parochial House. Each has been banished to the island, by head of the Irish Catholics, Bishop Brennan for a past crime or embarrassment to the church. Title character ‘Ted’ (Dermot Morgan) for financial impropriety, ‘Father Jack Hackett’ (Frank Kelly) for his womanising and ‘Farther Dougal McGuire’ (Ardal O’Hanlon) for something only referred to as the ‘Blackrock Incident’. The lead cast is completed by their tea obsessed house keeper ‘Mrs Doyle’ (Pauline McLynn). ‘Father Ted’ also became a showcase for many of Irelands up and coming actors and comedians, many of whom were given small supporting roles throughout the three series run (including Lineham and Matthews themselves).

The shows surrealist sitcom style is immersive, the characters memorable and the comic timing is razor sharp. Each episode is as strong as the last and it’s hard to pick out individual ones to recommend. At a push I’d say ‘The Passion of Saint Tibulas’, ‘Old Grey Whistle Theft’, ‘Speed 3’ and, ‘A Song for Europe’ (Google ‘My Lovely Horse’). Jokes come thick and fast and rarely miss their target. It’s almost as if the shows sedate theme tune (written and performed by the ‘Divine Comedy’) lulls you into a false sense of security before the barrage begins.

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Sadly Dermot Morgan died, of a heart attack, twenty four hours after the final episode was filmed. Comedian Tommy Tiernan, who acted with Morgan is the final episode, has often publically blamed himself for the death. He kept fluffing his lines in their final scene together. This meant Morgan had to repeatedly perform a dance, to the song ‘Shaft’, despite pains to his heart.

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It’s a fitting tribute to Morgan that the shows legacy is as strong as ever. Repeats on ‘More 4’ and ‘RTE 2’, plus near permanent residency on ‘4OD’, continue to attract new fans (many of whom were not born when the show first aired), since 2007 there has been a annual ‘Farther Ted’ convention, in 2011 ‘Channel Four’ dedicated a whole night to the show and you’d be hard pressed to find any protest in the world that doesn’t have ‘Careful Now, and ‘Down With This Sort Of Thing’ placards. There has even been talk of a US remake and a musical.

Both Graham Lineham and Arthur Matthews have since gone on to become well respected comedy writers and directors. Despite their success it could be argued that ‘Farther Ted’ is still their best loved creation. Even by its creators themselves.

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