Give My Head Peace was a satirical television comedy series on BBC Northern Ireland that pokes fun at political parties, paramilitary groups and the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland. The programme is written and performed by a Northern Ireland comedy troupe known as the Hole in the Wall Gang.
The concept originated on the BBC Radio Ulster
programme Across The Line
, in the late 1980s, as a five-minute slot. The radio version used many of the characters and plot ideas used in the later TV series.
Pilot: Two Ceasefires and a Wedding
Its first television appearance was in a made for TV film called Two Ceasefires and a Wedding
, shown on BBC Northern Ireland
in 1995, poking fun at the clichéd
"love across the barricades" plot that features in many dramas
about Northern Ireland. In this case the lovers were Emer, the daughter of a "prominent" Sinn Féin
activist, and Billy, an RUC
constable. Their wedding is opposed by their respective families, and ends in farce
, although Billy and Emer were happily married.
A full series was then commissioned by BBC Northern Ireland. Some changes were made to the format prior to the series going ahead - with the character of Cal (Emer's brother) changing substantially, and the introduction of other recurring characters such as Big Mervyn and Red Hand Luke. A few years into the series, Nuala McKeever (Emer) left the series to pursue other interests, and a new love interest for Billy was introduced in the form of Emer's previously unseen sister, Dympna.
The 50th episode, entitled "Secondary Colours" aired on 27 December 2002.
The series continued to run on BBC One NI until 2005, taking a hiatus as the Hole in the Wall Gang began work on a new series called Dry Your Eyes. Give My Head Peace usually screened in a prime-time Friday night slot, opting out from network BBC One. In mid-2004, a selection of episodes were shown across the UK on BBC Two in a late-night slot during weekends.
The final Give My Head Peace episode was transmitted on BBC One Northern Ireland on December 28 2007. This is supposed to be the last ever episode but during the final few seconds, some writing appears quoting "That All Folks?" suggesting that the show may return in the future.
In recent years, they have performed live shows at a selection of venues across Northern Ireland. The 2004 show was chiefly made up of scripts from the 2004-2005 series. In 2007 a new live show entitled Dry Your Eyes it's Give My Head Peace
was held in Derry's Millennium Forum and the Grand Opera House to celebrate ten years of the show. This production showed material from GMHP
and Dry Your Eyes
and was very well received. The next live show in 2008 follows on from the final television episode, called Give My Head Peace: Back From The Grave
, and also features the Dry Your Eyes
In 1999 a video & book was brought out. However due to technical and legal reasons a DVD has not yet been released but there is a rumour that there will be a DVD release of the complete series before the end of 2008.
The principal characters are:
- Da (Tim McGarry) - He is the head of the Catholic family and represents a stereotypical nationalist who believes very much in Irish culture, despite the fact he admits he cannot speak a word of Irish. He is a Sinn Féin spokesman (later an assemblyman) and prides himself on his 'friendship' with Gerry Adams, trying to copy his outward appearance by wearing a beard and glasses. Da is shot and killed by Ma and Dympna in the last episode after it is revealed he prevented Liam Neeson from proposing to Dympna and was suspected by Ma of having an affair with a woman named Siobhan, who also tries to kill Da, but misses.
- Cal (Damon Quinn) - Although he is a grown up man, he still lives at home and often behaves like a child. He supports his father in the struggle against the British imperialism and does whatever Da tells him, no matter how daft. In the pilot "Two Ceasefires and a Wedding" he is portrayed as a sinister IRA activist. In the series however, his character is dumbed down and he is the "thick one" of the family. At the end of the series he falls in love with Siobhan, a Protestant woman who had previously posed as a Republican to get closer to Da, who she was madly attracted to.
- Uncle Andy (Martin Reid) - An old-fashioned traditional loyalist whose twin loves are British Ulster and Elvis Presley. He is very argumentative, and determined to take offence at even the mildest suggestion that anyone in authority is trying to oppress him. He often devises elaborate political or moneymaking schemes with the aid of Big Mervyn, but owing to their shared lack of intelligence or foresight, these inevitably fail. Andy is shot and killed by Billy in the last episode after it is revealed that Andy and Mervyn had been taking out huge loans in Billy's name, eventually leaving him penniless.
- Billy (Michael McDowell) - Andy's nephew and an RUC (later PSNI) officer. He fell in love with and married Emer (and later Dympna). Throughout the series' life, there have been occasional hints that Andy may be more than just his uncle. In the 2003-2004 series, however, the writers knowing that they couldn't keep up that pretence for too much longer, the story was finally "wrapped up". In the final episode he murders both Uncle Andy and Mervyn, but receives a pardon from Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley. He then commits himself to clearing Dympna's name, despite being shacked up with two other women.
- Emer (Nuala McKeever) - She is like her mother not interested in politics, but unlike her mother more intelligent. Emer is more interested in fashion and in men. She is married to Billy but later leaves after the second series and runs off with a Spaniard.
- Ma (Olivia Nash) - Da's cynical, sharp-tongued wife. She is neither very intelligent nor very interested in politics and tries to be a warm-hearted Irish mother. However, as she has very little but contempt for her family and everyone else, she is convincing nobody. With her non-sectarian attitudes, she accepts her Protestant son in law Billy, and also has a mild crush on Uncle Andy.
- Dympna (Alexandra Ford) - replaced Emer as Billy's girlfriend when she ran off with a Spaniard. She is Ma and Da's other daughter, and is just as shallow as Emer, but is a great deal more pretentious. Often lectures Billy and Andy on intellectual matters, despite her limited knowledge. Dympna eventually married Billy in a chaotic ceremony in Rome at the end of the 2002 series. It is possible that she is in fact the daughter of Ma and Italian Cardinal Vincenzo. In the last episode she is jailed for 20 years for murdering Da.
- Big Mervyn (BJ Hogg) - A burly, leather-wearing loyalist, and Uncle Andy's best mate. Not the brightest. Mervyn is shot and killed by Billy in the last episode.
Other occasional characters are:
- Red Hand Luke (Dan Gordon) - born-again Christian and violent loyalist psychopath. Also a "Shugo" Duncan fan. He acts like a big child, and when he doesn't get his way, savagely beats everyone up, usually Andy and Mervyn, who often live in fear of the next time he (literally) bursts through Andy's front door. At the end of the series he converts to Islam in order to get arrested (as he longs to return to prison), after which he is placed in a specially constructed prison in the middle of Belfast Lough. Andy and Mervyn attempt to break Luke out, but he falls into the lough, protesting that he cannot swim. His fate is left ambiguous.
- Sammy (Gordon Fulton) - The landlord of the "Loyalist Kneebreakers", Andy and Mervyn's favourite haunt, a rowdy loyalist drinking den. Makes matchstick models of Stormont in his spare time.
- Pastor Begbie (Paddy Jenkins) - A recently introduced character. Like Red Hand Luke, a born-again Christian and feared loyalist, now a 'Presbyterian minister'. He and Luke met whilst they were in jail. He often gets Andy and Mervyn to perform painful and/or humiliating tasks for him, and threatens them with a visit from his 'henchmen' if they refuse. By the end of the series he is running an estate agency called Pastors New.
- The phrase "give my head peace" is a common Northern Irish idiom meaning "leave me alone" or "stop bothering me".
- The theme song of the series is "She Says" performed by The Saw Doctors. It was released as a single in Ireland in the late 1990s.