Father Ted is a show I remember fondly so it was gratifying to go back and find it every bit as good as I remembered. For those who have never had the pleasure (for shame!), Father Ted documents the misadventures of three Catholic priests sharing a small parochial house with their housekeeper on a remote outcrop of rock off the west coast of Ireland. Father Ted Crilly (Dermot Morgan), the show’s antihero, is an amiable blunderer. Father Jack Hackett (Frank Kelly) is a foul-mouthed elderly drunk. And naïve young Father Dougal McGuire (Ardal O’Hanlon) is a white collar away from being christened the village idiot. Their various misdeeds and inefficiencies have led to virtual banishment on bleak Craggy Island but the unlikely trio make the best of a bad situation and enthusiastically continue to give the priesthood a bad name.
Father Ted ran for three series from 1995 to 1998 (Dermot Morgan sadly died shortly after the third season wrapped) and all three seasons were peppered with laugh-out-loud-ridiculous situations. Everyone has their favourite Father Ted moments: Ted painstakingly explaining to Dougal the difference between small and faraway, Father Jack’s untimely (and temporary) demise and Pat Mustard the philandering milkman’s Speed-esque revenge upon the clerics are perennial hits. Housekeeper Mrs. Doyle’s insistent way with a cuppa and a sandwich – “…these ones are diagonal Father!” – was a cheering constant throughout and her catchphrases live on to this day. Pauline McLynn delivering those lines with a demented fervour that is irresistible.
The whip-crack wit and sheer quality of Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews’ writing means that Father Ted has endured. For a stand-alone episode, by way of introduction to the series, you cannot beat the simple genius of Entertaining Father Stone – the second episode of season one. Po-faced priest Father Stone (Michael Redmond) is the most boring man on earth and every single year he holidays on Craggy Island. Despairing at the prospect of another moment with the gloomy padre, after his birthday party is ruined by the man’s moroseness, Ted prays for divine intervention but inevitably his kind-heartedness makes him regret the action. As does the fact Father Stone is struck by lightning shortly after Ted’s chat with the lord!
The world of Father Ted is a wonderful place to wander. The holy men who populate and visit it – in person or by anecdote – are a winning combination of adulterers, dancers, atheists, fools and gamblers and the three leads have such chemistry that they can draw a laugh by simply exchanging glances. Ardal O’Hanlon and Frank Kelly are splendid in their outrageous roles as alcoholic madman Jack and brush-daft man-child Dougal. However it is Dermot Morgan’s Ted who steals every episode from his co-stars. He is a spirit entirely without guile, despite his plots and schemes. The hapless clergyman wanders from disaster to disaster with the countenance of a reluctant martyr – he sees their calamitous approach but is powerless to sidestep them.
Father Ted is that rare televisual species – a legitimately funny comedy. This series draws smiles because it has such heart, every character artfully drawn regardless of the size of their role. From Graham Norton’s overly keen youth leader to Mr. Benson of the missing whistle, rediscovering these forgotten gems was a treat. Writers Graham and Arthur have recorded new commentaries to accompany the release and it is endearing to hear how much affection they still have for the show. Now to paraphrase Mrs. Doyle, will you go and watch it for yourselves? Will you? Ah go on. Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on…
The newly packaged series 1, 2 and 3 are available to buy on DVD from 11th March 2013