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Father Ted

Father Ted was a popular 1990s television situation comedy set around the lives of three Irish Catholic priests on the remote (and fictional) Craggy Island off the west coast of Ireland. It ran for three series, totalling 25 episodes, between 21 April 1995 and 1 May 1998 on the UK's Channel 4. Father Ted was written by two Irish writers, Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan, who also co-created Big Train. All of the interior scenes were shot at The London Studios, while all of the location footage was shot in Ireland.

Graham Linehan on his DVD commentary on the first episode says that Father Ted was a character Arthur Mathews came up with and who was played by third member of the group Paul Woodfull when they did standup gigs in Ireland, playing as a band, The Joshua Trio. Morgan was picked for the role because he had previously played a priest in standup. As "Father Trendy", Linehan appeared in the first episode of Father Ted wearing a red jacket and a white "bobble" hat.

The series was responsible for propelling a number of highly successful actors and comedians into the limelight, including Ardal O'Hanlon, Pauline McLynn, Graham Norton, Tommy Tiernan, Patrick McDonnell, Don Wycherley, Joe Rooney, Jason Byrne, Pat Shortt, Ed Byrne and Brendan Grace. Dermot Morgan, who played the title role, died in 1998, aged 45, from a heart attack he suffered during a celebratory party the day after filming the final episode.

Synopsis

The show follows the exploits of three Roman Catholic priests who preside over a parish on Craggy Island, located off the west coast of Ireland. Father Ted Crilly, Father Dougal McGuire and the retired Father Jack Hackett live together in Craggy Island's parochial house, along with their housekeeper Mrs Doyle, who "keeps Craggy Island Parochial House floating on a sea of tea" according to official synopses.

The three priests answer to the fierce, uncompromising Bishop Len Brennan, who makes frequent visits to the island, often to cast his disapproving eye over the trio and their backwater parish. He is apparently responsible for their exile to the less-than-desirable island parish - the reasons for the move are hinted at across the several seasons. They appear to stem from a mixture of incompetence and embarrassing conduct: Father McGuire due to his incompetence (with particular regard to "the Blackrock Incident", in which a large number of lives were irreparably damaged although they were "only nuns"); Father Hackett because of his alcoholism and implied womanising, which caused severe embarrassment to the Catholic Church; and Father Crilly for alleged financial impropriety. Ted still insists he was innocent, regularly claiming that "the money was just resting in my account", and that it was "a perfectly legitimate monetary transfer".

The show also introduced many catchphrases that are well known in Ireland and Britain, most notably Mrs Doyle's "Go on, go on" and Father Jack's cursing, mostly monosyllabic expletives including and almost entirely limited to "Drink!", "Feck!", "Arse!", "Girls!" and "Gobshite!".

Major characters

Ted

Father Ted Crilly (Dermot Morgan) is the most normal of the priests on the island, although he still finds himself in very confusing situations. He is a bon vivant, exiled to Craggy Island for something referred to only as "that Lourdes thing." - an apparent misappropriation of church funds which had been intended to fund a poor child's pilgrimage to Lourdes, which Ted allegedly spent as part of a Las Vegas gambling spree. Ted's defense has always been that the money was "just resting in my account." Ted was previously a priest in Wexford, which is also the home town of the series director, Declan Lowney. His greatest desire is to escape Craggy Island and to find a wealthy parish and a life free of embarrassment, although he is also shown to be as easily seduced by fame as by money.

Ted is the devious schemer of the series and most of the plots are driven by some plan or other that Ted, a fantastic liar, has hatched to either extricate himself from a bad situation or escape Craggy Island for fame and fortune. Often the pursuit of these schemes necessitate Ted hiding from or separating himself from the company of Mrs Doyle, Father Dougal or some other character on flimsy pretexts such as "I think actually I'll just stay here and have a quiet pray". Father Dougal has been shown to be suspicious of Father Ted when he says this though. In one episode when Father Ted tells him that he is going to have a quiet pray, Dougal looks at him and says in a good-humoured way: "What are you after Ted?". Father Ted looks surprised and replies that he is not up to anything, and that it is "not unusual for members of the clergy to sit and pray from time to time." Indeed the more devious Ted is being, the more likely he is to say something about prayer or wanting to pray. He frequently justifies his intended sins and schemes to Father Dougal. For example saying that by committing a small sin they are preventing a big sin. Ted is probably the most complex of all the characters and despite his cynicism he often seems to be genuinely disturbed when Father Dougal makes innocent, frequent and sometimes fairly philosophically damning statements or observations about the faith. Despite this, and despite not always seeming to take Catholicism seriously, in the episode "Hell", in reply to Dougal saying about Jesus " ahh he was great wasn't he", Ted adds, "ahh, he was brilliant", smiling and nodding at the same time.

Ted also keeps a framed picture of Ireland's 1990 and 1994 World Cup manager, Jack Charlton, on the mantelpiece just beside a picture of The Sacred Heart.

Dougal

Father Dougal McGuire (Ardal O'Hanlon) is a very simple-minded soul, in exile for a mysterious incident - the "Blackrock incident" - involving a group of nuns and a Sealink Ferry, presumably caused by his stupidity. His inability to grasp the simplest of everyday concepts provides much of the humour in the show. Dougal also regularly expresses doubts about the validity of Catholic Orthodoxy (indeed, he appears to have no religious belief whatsoever, even questioning the existence of God in front of a visiting Bishop, who eventually gives up the faith and becomes a hippie) and has trouble distinguishing dreams from reality. He also has an addiction to rollerblading, which proves his downfall when he tries to give it up for Lent ("Cigarettes and Alcohol and Rollerblading"). The sun is always shining in his world and he often doesn't understand what Ted means.

Jack

Father Jack Hackett (Frank Kelly) is an alcoholic, lecherous, violent and foul-mouthed elderly priest, who is basically incapable of functioning normally as a human being, let alone as a priest.

He is on Craggy Island for all of the above, although one episode mentions the cause of Father Jack's exile as being a wedding he performed in Athlone. No details are given but a shot of his face shows a lecherous expression, suggesting he may have acted in a manner sexually inappropriate for a priest, or perhaps been carried away by his own alcoholism.

His vocabulary is mostly restricted to four shouted words: "Drink!", "Feck!", "Arse!", Girls!". Sometims, he adds cryptic comments on a situation. ("Big Bras!" "I am a happy camper!") Father Jack also has a fear of nuns, often crying 'Nuns' and then jumping out of the window when they are near him.

Although he can usually be found drinking alcoholic beverages, Father Jack is also known to drink other household liquids including, but not limited to floor polish (which gave him death-like symptoms such as decomposition), brake fluid, motor oil, castor oil and Toilet Duck (which causes him to embark on a hallucinogenic trip of sorts). In one episode he also drank a whole bottle of sleeping medicine (Dreamy-Sleepy-Nightie-Snoozy-Snooze) and subsequently fell asleep for two weeks. In his younger days he was a fire and brimstone preacher and is said to have been the first priest to denounce The Beatles ("He could see what they were up to"). According to one of Graham Linehan's former peers at Catholic University School (C.U.S.), Fr Hackett was apparently based on one of the priests resident at his former secondary school. In the commentary to series two, Graham Linehan also suggests that Jack was the writers' acerbic response to the stereotype that the Irish are genial drinkers. During the episode, "Cigarettes and Alcohol and Rollerblading", Jack gave up alcohol and Ted remarked that he had been drunk for so long that sobriety must be like a strange, hallucinogenic drug to him. In this rare lucid period Jack cried out in anguish "What?! Priests? Don't tell me I'm still on that feckin' island!"

Mrs Doyle

Mrs Doyle (Pauline McLynn) is the priests' manic housekeeper. Apart from being "Mrs" rather than "Miss" Doyle, the only reference to her marriage is her remark in the episode "Night of the Nearly Dead", "This reminds me of the time my husband...I've said too much." Her marriage also seems to have informed her attitude towards sex: in the episode "Cigarettes and Alcohol and Rollerblading", she describes marital intercourse as "a dirty, filthy thing" and exhorts Ted to "imagine your husband standing over you with his lad in his hand, wanting you to degrade yourself".

Hospitality, especially serving tea ("Ahh, go on! - Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on...") is Mrs Doyle's mission in life; other items served include a mountain of sandwiches, an array of cakes which after much persuading (mistakingly claiming they contain cocaine) she eventually withdraws from offer in spite of much protest, the lettuce and water she brings for Dougal's pet rabbit Sampras in "The Plague" and the cakejumper she bakes for her idol Eoin McLove in "Night of the Nearly Dead". She spends a significant amount of time trying to clean the large window in the living room, a task which usually sees her plummet to the ground upon trying to get back down from the sill. She also has the occasional tendency to fall from the roof of the parochial house.

Her first name is never mentioned in the series. The third series episode, "The Mainland", maintains the secret in a scene where her name was spoken twice but on both occasions is blocked out by a loud noise, preventing the audience from hearing what was said.

However, Mrs Doyle's first name is given in the script for the episode "Competition Time"; Linehan and Matthews describe it in their footnote as "a very good example of the kind of information one carelessly flings about in the early days of writing a sitcom, without realising that it has the potential to be a lovely dark secret for years and years.

Recurring characters

Other priests and islanders have recurring roles in the series. Their details are given below. A number of priests, parishioners and other characters appear on the show on a one-off basis.

For a complete list, see Father Ted minor characters.

Clergy

Bishop Brennan

Bishop Leonard "Len" Brennan (Jim Norton) is Ted's boss, originally from Limerick (as Ted reveals when trying to stall him from entering his rabbit-infested bedroom). Len has little patience with Ted and his friends, to whom he refers as "the cast of Police Academy" and gets very angry when Dougal refers to him as simply "Len". In the episode The Plague it transpires that the bishop also has a terrible fear of rabbits, having been involved in an "horrific incident" inside an elevator, where "[the animals] "nibbled on my cape and everything" ". He has a secret mistress and son living in California, not unlike the real-life Eamon Casey, former Bishop of Galway.

On his DVD commentaries Graham Linehan suggests that also in the Brennan mix is the public persona of Father Michael Cleary, Casey's friend, one of the most popular faces of the church and a regular guest on the RTÉ Late Late Show whenever there was a debate about religious matters. Cleary's stringently expressed views on sexual morality were famously exposed to be at odds with his own private life when a book about his 26-year secret affair with his housekeeper Phyllis Hamilton entitled Secret Love: My Life with Father Michael Cleary was published in 1995 (the year the series started). The book was co-written by Hamilton with Paul Williams. Ted is seen to be reading this book at the start of an episode in series 2 and it is referenced in many other ways throughout the series run.

Dick Byrne, Cyril MacDuff & Jim Johnson

Father Dick Byrne (Maurice O'Donoghue), Ted's opposite number and arch-nemesis on the nearby Rugged Island. Dick is forever up to no good. As Ted pithily states, "As priests go... he's a really bad priest." His two colleagues on Rugged Island, Father Jim Johnson (Chris Curran) and Father Cyril MacDuff (Don Wycherley), are similar characters to Jack and Dougal, respectively. Dick Byrne and Father Ted are eternally involved in continual games of oneupmanship and become engaged in many and various bitter competitions (frequently betting four pounds on the outcome), in which both are more than willing to cheat. For example in the episode about Lent, ("Cigarettes and Alcohol and Rollerblading"), Father Ted's motivation to give things up is cited as: "I'm not going to be beaten by Dick Byrne in a giving things up competition, and that's what this is... a giving things up competition."

Noel Furlong

Father Noel Furlong (Graham Norton) and his reluctant St Luke's Youth Group. Father Noel is overwhelmingly enthusiastic, regaling everyone in his company with song and dance. Even when buried under a large pile of heavy rocks, he continues to talk incessantly and cheerfully. His version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" was a high point of the series. His youth group eventually ran off to Paraguay to escape him. He appeared without the youth group once when, as the guardian of Father Faye (the Monkey Priest of Killybashangel) on the last episode of series two ("Flight Into Terror"), he was involved in an incident which almost resulted in the deaths of a plane full of priests returning from a pilgrimage. According to Graham Linehan's DVD commentary to the series two episode "Hell", Father Noel is a deeply closeted homosexual whose repression of his own sexuality has "driven him slightly mad", though Arthur Mathews stated in the series' scriptbook that he imagined Noel as being asexual. According to Linehan's DVD commentary, he is supposedly based on a real priest.

Larry Duff

Father Larry Duff (Tony Guilfoyle), a priest with a zest for life who Ted claims is "tremendous fun" around others. Ted often calls Larry for advice on his mobile phone. However, whenever Larry attempts to answer his phone, he suffers some horrible accident and apparently dies, only to return in the next episode. Over the course of the series he only answers his phone twice, once while being (inexplicably) held at gunpoint by the Irish army; although Duff survives this phone call, it results in another priest being machine-gunned to death, and the second time in answer to Ted wanting to load off some rabbits to him, in which he claims he doesn't want rabbits anymore because he has now got rotweillers. When he puts the phone down on Ted, the dogs attack him.

Islanders

John and Mary O'Leary

Local shop-owners Mary and John O'Leary (Rynagh O'Grady and Patrick Drury) who, while striving to appear sweetness and light to the clergy, are constantly at each other's throats and make numerous attempts to murder each other. As part of the continuing narrative, Ted and Dougal are constantly entering the store or encountering them on the island in the middle of a vicious argument. Ted always appears vaguely suspicious that all is not sweetness and light in their relationship, but to all intents and purposes Dougal appears entirely oblivious.

Tom

Tom (Pat Shortt) is an apparently insane resident of Craggy Island who appears whenever the need arises to highlight the surreal and manic nature of the island. He is always seen wearing an ancient, grubby t-shirt reading "I shot JR." Over the course of the series, he was implicated in a number of grisly and/or violent crimes, to which he either readily confessed ("I killed a man") or attempted to explain away ("Tis my money, I just didn't want to fill out the forms"). He reacts to most instructions or minor stimuli with outbursts of brutal violence, ranging from shotgunning a crow from three feet away to attempting to mutilate a family of rabbits with a katana after being asked to care for them.

Episodes

Production details

Conception

Contrary to frequent rumours, Mathews and Linehan did not originally pitch the series to the Irish network RTÉ, but rather offered it directly to Hat Trick Productions and Channel 4 in the UK. Nevertheless, it is a rich irony that what went on to be one of the most popular TV shows in Ireland, performed largely by an Irish cast, and containing so many accurate (albeit comically exaggerated) depictions of national Irish eccentricities, was produced by a British broadcaster. Somewhat controversially, RTÉ initially did not buy the rights to broadcast the show in Ireland, perhaps for fear of offending more conservative viewers. However, Channel 4 was and remains available on cable and MMDS in very many Irish homes and the show became a hit in Ireland without any help from RTÉ, who eventually responded to the obvious demand and broadcast the show themselves (and continue to do so).

Filming

Three series and one Christmas special were completed. In addition Morgan and O'Hanlon in character hosted an hour of Comic Relief, during which Kelly and McLynn made brief appearances as Father Jack and Mrs Doyle in one of the routines. One day after the completion of filming for series three, Dermot Morgan died of a heart attack, aged 45. As a result, series three was first broadcast a week later than originally planned, out of respect for Morgan. Both the writers and co-stars agree that the third series was always intended to be the last, regardless of Morgan's sudden death.

It is probable that the name of the seminary known as St. Columb's, which Ted and a number of other priests in the show attended, was influenced by the name of St. Columb's College in Derry, Northern Ireland, of which Seamus Cassidy, a Channel 4 producer, was a past-pupil. In reality, Ireland's only remaining seminary is St Patrick's College, Maynooth.

Theme

The theme tune for the series was written and performed by Neil Hannon's band The Divine Comedy, and was later reworked into "Songs of Love", a track from the album Casanova. (The song "Woman of the World" from the same album was also offered as a potential theme tune, but rejected.) The band also contributed the ridiculous "My Lovely Horse" (a B-side on Gin Soaked Boy) used in the episode "Song For Europe", with singer Neil Hannon providing Ted's vocal. Hannon also composed "My Lovely Mayo Mammy" for the episode "Night of the Nearly Dead" with the character Eoin McLove, as well as various other musical items heard in the show.

Location

Location shooting for Father Ted was done mostly in County Clare, including locations at Ennis, Kilfenora, Ennistymon, and Kilnaboy. The Parochial House is McCormack's at Glenquin, on the Boston road from Kilnaboy. The cinema featured in "The Passion Of St Tibulus" was The Cinema by the Sea, Greystones, County Wicklow and "The Field", the location for Funland in "Good Luck, Father Ted", is in Portrane, North County Dublin. The opening sequence (including shots of the Plassey ship wreck) were filmed over Inis Oírr - the smallest of the Aran Islands. The interior scenes were filmed at LWT's The London Studios.

History

Hoax remake

On 1 April 1998, rumours surfaced on the Internet about a new American remake of the show entitled Ted, consisting of the original characters in a younger form, Mrs Doyle's husband, Ted's ex-wife and their 5-year-old son, all living in a New York apartment. Other changes included a rather dull gag of Ted having to hide his ex-wife and son when Bishop Brennan arrives, and dramatic changes to Dougal, making him a streetwise rapping priest. The show was due to be broadcast in 1999 but was revealed to be an April Fool's hoax.

Controversy

In January 2007 a dispute arose between Inis Oírr (pop. 250) and Inis Mór (pop. 1,200) over which island can claim to be Craggy Island, and thereby host a three-day Friends of Ted Festival. It was decided that in appropriate Father Ted fashion the dispute would be settled by a five-a-side football match held on 25 February 2007. This was won by Inis Mór in a 2-0 match allowing them to use the title of Craggy Island until February 2008, whilst Inis Oírr was given the title of Rugged Island.

Aftermath

The show is currently being repeated on More4 and RTÉ Two. All three series are available through the OnDemand service of Virgin Media in the UK as well as 4OD.

Pauline McLynn reprised her role as Mrs Doyle in 2001 for a small set of adverts for the UK Inland Revenue, reminding people to get their taxes in on time by uttering her catchphrase ('Go on, go, on') over and over again. Not surprisingly, it was voted the most irritating advertising campaign of 2001, beating competition from the now-infamous Ferrero Rocher advert. Coincidentally, Mrs Doyle was also involved in a spoof of this confectionery-related ad in the episode "Tentacles of Doom".

References

Footnote

External links

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