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A surreal, desperately funny comedy produced by Hat Trick productions for UK's Channel 4, Father Ted is a sit-com about three Catholic priests and a housekeeper set in a parochial house on a barren island off the coast of Ireland.
For those not familiar with the series, an introduction of the characters is probably in order.
Craggy Island, a main navigational beacon1 is served for its religious needs by three dedicated parish priests, Father Ted Crilly (played by Dermot Morgan), Father Dougal McGuire (Ardal O'Hanlon), and Father Jack Hackett (Frank Kelly).
Father Ted Crilly's career in the church has had many ups and downs. His most notable achievement is winning the priest of the year award for helping nine priests escape the largest lingerie department in Ireland. It's best not to mention the lowest point, save to point out the money was merely resting in the account before moving on.
Father Dougal McGuire, affectionately termed 'Forest Gump' by the trio’s supervisory priest Bishop Brennan, has his mind on such a high level he never quite understands what is happening on planet Earth. With a huge collection of tank tops, no common sense and an attention span slightly worse than that of the average goldfish, Father Dougal can always be relied upon to make things interesting.
Father Jack Hackett is a man of few words, but they speak volumes. He is partial to the occasional drink (about every time someone enters a room) and has a palate encompassing a wide variety of tastes, including whisky, vodka, Jack Daniels and so on.
Mrs Doyle (Pauline McLynn), the ever helpful housekeeper, watches over the diligent priests. Always ready with a smile and a cup of tea, whether you want them or not, she literally throws herself into any household task, from tea making to more tea making, not forgetting tea and sandwiches.
Among these central characters' 'friends' are Bishop Brennan ('oh dear!'), Father Larry Duff who gets killed every episode by one of the priests calling him on his mobile phone, distracting him to such an extent that it always ends up in a fatal accident, Father Dick Burn and Father Noel who is the head of the youth group.
Two Irish writers, Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews - both former Hot Press Rock Magazine journalists - went to London and soon established themselves as one of the hottest comedy writing teams for years. After writing for British comedians Alexei Sayle, as well as for Smith and Jones, they pitched an unlikely comedy idea to Hat Trick Productions and Channel 4 (UK), about three priests and a housekeeper, all practically certifiable, stuck on a cruddy island off the coast of Ireland. Even with this unlikely premiss, Channel 4 decided it was worth a try and commissioned the idea from Hat Trick. This commenced the long and difficult task of assembling a cast that could actually pull it off.
Although practically unheard of in England, Dermot Morgan was well known in Ireland for his satirical radio shows, appearances on the comedy circuit and even a number one single in the music charts. The role he was eventually cast in, Father Ted Crilly, was one of the hardest roles to cast, as the actor would have to hit a fine balance between straight man and fool. Morgan was able to pull this off excellently.
Ardal O'Hanlon is an Irish stand-up comedian who came to London in 1994 to seek his fortune. He knew the writers slightly, and after being asked to audition he got the part of Father Dougal. Although he had never previously intended to go into TV, he said this about the script:
I don't think I'm a great judge of sit-coms but there was something about the script that I knew was brilliant. It was so well written, really visual and, I don't know, it had ingredient X.
Pauline McLynn was cast as Mrs Doyle based on an audition tape which was recorded while she was suffering a bout of food poisoning, making her look a little more haggard than usual. When she turned up on set, fit and well, the writers almost threw a fit and she was immediately whisked off to make up to be seriously aged. This subsequently made being recognised in the street alarming, 'When it first happened I went into a panic - did I really look like a miserable old hag?'
Frank Kelly was a veteran Irish comic actor was chosen for the interesting role as the obstreperous, drinking Father Jack.
With the cast complete, the series went into production and the first episode hit the screens on 21 April, 1995. The rest is history.
Series One Episodes
'Good luck, Father Ted' (21 April 1995)2
'Entertaining Father Stone' (28 April 1995)
'The Passion Of St Tibulus' (5 May 1995)
'Competition Time' (12 May 1995)
'And Then God Created Woman' (19 May 1995)
'Grant Unto Him Eternal Rest' (26 May 1995)
With this series Father Ted became a firmly established hit, winning awards for the cast and the writers.
Series Two Episodes
'Hell' (8 March 1996)
''Think Fast, Father Ted'' (15 March 1996)
'Tentacles of Doom' (22 March 1996)
'The Old Grey Whistle Theft' (29 March 1996)
'A Song for Europe' (5 April 1996)
'The Plague' (12 April 1996)
'Rock-a-Hula Ted' (19 April 1996)
'Cigarettes, Alcohol and Rollerblading' (26 April 1996)
'New Jack City' (3 May 1996)
'Flight into Terror' (10 May 1996)
'Christmas Special: A Christmassy Ted' (24 December, 1996)
By now a well-established comedy with hit status still intact, the third series of Father Ted was widely seen as a last fling.
The cast wished to move on to other projects, and were worried about being typecast as the weird characters they played in the parochial house. Dermot Morgan was quoted as saying, 'I don't want to be the next Clive Dunn3 and end up playing the same character for years.' He himself had written a new TV drama series that was in the process of being made before the broadcast of the third series, due to start on 6 March 1998. Sadly, less than a week before broadcast, Morgan died after collapsing at a dinner party at his home in Richmond, London on Saturday 28 February, 1998. It was just a day after Father Ted completed filming. The third series was postponed for a week, with a captioned photo of the actor announcing the delay, appearing on the screen instead.
Several edits were made out of taste and decency, along with a special memory sequence at the end of the episode, called Going to America. The series left the screen with the simple words 'Night Dougal!', 'Night Ted.'
Series Three Episodes
'Are you right there, Father Ted?' (13 March 1998)
'Chirpy Burpy Cheap Sheep' (20 March 1998)
'Speed 3' (27 March 1998)
'The Mainland' (3 April 1998)
'Escape From Victory' (10 April 1998)
'Kicking Bishop Brennan Up the Arse' (17 April 1998)
'Night of the Nearly Dead' (24 April 1998)
'Going to America' (1 May 1998)