UK News Electronic Telegraph
Monday 2 March 1998
Issue 1011

Cult comedian who angered the Church
By Michael Smith

Father Ted star Dermot Morgan dies

FATHER Ted was developed from a character used to great effect during Dermot Morgan's days as a stand-up comedian.

Father Brian Trendy, a Roman Catholic priest, was willing to try any new fad to woo a young congregation. The character enraged Ireland's Roman Catholic establishment and turned its creator into a cult figure.

The part of Ted Crilly, a backsliding Irish priest with a fascination for ladies' underwear and an alleged hand in the collection box, was not written for Morgan. But the producers soon realised he would play it to perfection.

"I come from a lapsed Catholic background," 45-year-old Morgan said last week at the launch of the latest series of Father Ted. "I suppose obviously I would pick up some of the nuances of Catholic priests."

Father Ted, set on the fictional Craggy Island - in reality an old farmhouse in County Clare - was based around an Irish country parish run by three priests: Morgan's neurotic Father Ted Crilly, his naive, junior colleague Father Dougal, and the perpetually drunk Father Jack. They were overseen by the housekeeper, Mrs Doyle, played by Pauline McLynn.

Born in Dublin, the son of a civil servant, it was Morgan's upbringing, and in particular his strict education under Roman Catholic monks that led him to direct his humour at the Church. Originally, he had ambitions to become a priest. But when, after a brief teaching career, he turned to comedy, Morgan's satirical attacks on Ireland's Roman Catholic Church irritated and then infuriated the bishops.

"I did really try to be a good Catholic," Morgan said recently. "But I came to the conclusion that it was impossible and I'd much prefer to live my life by my own rules."

Morgan's performances as Father Trendy led to the character being denounced as blasphemous and he found himself banned from the state-run RTE's radio and television stations, a move that threatened his comedy career.

At the same time, his marriage began to fall apart. "It was a period of total hell," Morgan said. "I felt I was being kicked from every angle and the Church was having a good laugh at me into the bargain."

But Father Ted brought him success, and Morgan recently told friends that he planned to marry his long-term girlfriend Fiona, with whom he had a three-year-old son.

Morgan said: "I've always had a reputation for sailing close to the wind but with something like Father Ted, although it's cutting edge, I really don't think it's offensive. It doesn't at first glance look like a winner. But people like the characters. If you want the audience to stick with you, you have to have attractive characters.

"Dougal and Ted are an idiot who knows nothing and an idiot who thinks he knows something but actually knows nothing. Ted is an everyman guy, bumbling through life with a half-wit - half may even be overstating the fraction."

But despite his affection for the character, Morgan had already hinted that this series would be his last. "I wanted to get out of the dog collar because I've been doing priests for some time now," he said.

Father Brian Darcy, a friend, said: "He had struggled a lot in his life and Father Ted had given him the ground to move into something else. I know he wanted this to be the last one. He thought he had done enough on it. He wanted to do some more serious and different things.

"It is just tragic that in the week the new series was going to run he should be taken away. It is a great loss to us all."

© Copyright Telegraph Group Limited 1998.

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