Dermot Morgan (3 February 1952 - 28 February 1998) was an Irish school-teacher turned comedian and actor who achieved international renoun as Father Ted Crilly in the Channel 4 sit-com Father Ted.

Father Trendy and The Live Mike

Dermot Morgan as Father Ted
His final and most acclaimed character.

The Dublin-born Morgan first came to prominence as part of the team of the highly successful RTÉ television show The Live Mike, presented by Mike Murphy. Between 1979 and 1984 Morgan, previously a full-time teacher at St. Michael's, Ailesbury Road, played a range of comic characters, who would appear between segments, including Father Trendy, an unxious trying to be cool Roman Catholic priest given to drawing ludicrous parallels with non-religious life in two minute 'chats' to camera, to the hilarity of the audience. He also played among other characters an intolerant GAA bigot, who would wave his hurley stick around aggressively while verbally attacking his pet hates. Morgan's success, which made him an instant hit the viewers, led him to quit teaching and become a full-time comedian.

Kenny Live

His relationship however with RTÉ was difficult, as the station tried without success to find some way of making use of what it saw as Morgan's incredible but undisciplined talent; a number of attempts in the form of 'pilot' shows never aired. (They alleged they were not funny enough to air; he claimed they were afraid the humour might offend some people.) Morgan saw RTÉ as a conservative organisation unable to cope with avant garde humour. Morgan returned to the screen in the late 1980s playing his past roles and new ones initially on Kenny Live, a new Saturday chat show presented by Pat Kenny which launched to fill the gap in the schedules left by the moving of the famed Late Late Show to a new Friday slot. However the comedy slot on the show was axed as the format of the show was changed to cope with negative public responses to the show's structure.

Mr. Eastwood

Morgan moved into a new area when he released a single in 1986 called Thank you very very much, Mr. Eastwood, a comedy take on the fawning praise of his manager given after bouts by internationally successful Irish boxer Barry McGuigan, which 'featured' lines by McGuigan, Ronald Reagan, Bob Geldof, and Pope John Paul II, all performed by Morgan, in which they too thanked "Mr. Eastwood" over and over again.

Scrap Saturday breaks the mould

Morgan's biggest Irish broadcasting success occured in the late 1980s in the Saturday morning radio comedy show, Scrap Saturday, in which Morgan, co-scriptwriter Gerard Stembridge, and Pauline McLynn mocked Ireland's political, business and media establishment. In particular the relationship between then Taoiseach (prime minister), the ever controversial Charles J. Haughey and his press secretary, P.J. Mara became legendary, with Haughey dismissive attitude towards the latter, whom in the sketches he would summon with a guttural "Maaaara" and Mara's adoring and grovelling attitude towards the "Boss . . . the greatest Leader, Man of Destiny, Statesman, Titan, a Collossus", becoming broadcasting legend and winning critical praise. Haughey's propensity for claiming a family connection to almost every part of Ireland he visited was pilloried through the mocking use of a famous drinks advertisement for an Irish beer called Harp, which had played on the image of someone returning home and seeing seeking friends, especially "Sally O'Brien, and the way she might look at you."

In the Morgan skit version, Haughey's visits to somewhere in the world, from Dublin to Dubai and elsewhere, would invariably be acompanied after a few seconds by the traditional music of the real advertisement, at which Haughey would begin "did I tell you, PJ, about my cousins in . . . " And he would begin discussing "my cousin Francois Haughey" (France), "Helmut Haughey" (Germany), "Yassar Haughey" (Palestine), "Yitzak Haughey" (Israel) or wherever, to the increasingly despairing Mara, who would groan "Ah now Jaysus, Boss. Come on now, Ah Jaysus (sigh)!" The Haughey/Mara "double act" became the star turn in a series that mocked all sides, from Haughey and his advisors to opposition Fine Gael TD Michael Noonan as a Limerick disk jockey called "Morning Noon'an Night" and a host of other characters. When RTÉ axed the show in the early 1990s there was a national outcry. Morgan lashed the decision, calling it "a shameless act of broadcasting cowardice and political subservience".

Father Ted

Morgan's strained relationship with RTÉ reached breaking point when a proposed comedy series he had been working on, and which was to be set around the relationship between three odd Roman Catholic priests sent as a form of exile to a mythical island off the Irish coast, failed to receive RTÉ backing. The reasons were complicated; the view in RTÉ was Morgan, though a brilliant talent, was unfocused and difficult, RTÉ's own poor record in producing comedy (RTÉ itself was shocked that it managed to produce something as genuinely funny as Scrap Saturday, albeit on radio), the fact that RTÉ's own recent attempt at priestly comedy, Leave it to Mrs. O'Brien (about an Irish priest's housekeeper, who was played by acclaimed stage actress Anna Manahan), had bombed disastrously and embarrassingly. In addition, the early 1990s had seen RTÉ facing the financial drain on its meagre resources thanks to having to host three expensive Eurovision Song Contests in a row. In the circumstances, a station with most of its light-entertainment budget swallowed up three years in a row by Eurovision Song Contests, and with a poor record on comedy viewed the prospect of another priestly comedy show, starring a comedian who had never acted before, and who was viewed as difficult to manage, as unappealing.

The claim that RTÉ dared not produce the show because of the supposed power of Roman Catholic Church in Ireland is an urban myth; it had as mentioned produced Leave it to Mrs. O'Brien - hardly Father Ted's equivalent in quality (it has never repeated the series on television, such is its perceived poor quality) but the fact that it made it at all showed that religion was not a 'comedic no go area' as has been claimed. RTÉ had launched Dermot Morgan's Father Trendy and kept him on the air for four years and on the Late Late Show had constantly enraged the Catholic Church with discussions on lesbian nuns, contraception, homosexuality and abortion. The station was generally perceived as liberal and left of centre, with accusations made by conservative Catholics that it had long been anti-catholic. According to its critics, RTÉ's problem wasn't that it was afraid of the Catholic Church, but that it was afraid of offending anyone, its fear of offending politicians being the reason for the axing of Scrap Saturday. (No evidence has ever been produced that it had been complained to over Scrap Saturday; most politicians were as flabbergasted as the rest of the listening public when it was axed, many missing the way in which their opponents would be slagged off, in particularly its "wickedly funny" treatment of Haughey, in the words of one of Haughey's own ministers.)

The show, which came to be known a Father Ted, written by Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan, was however snapped up by the more avande garde British TV station Channel 4. It centred on three disparate characters, Father Ted Crilly, a financially dubious character living a frustrated life trapped on the island, by Morgan. Famed Irish TV comedy actor Frank Kelly played Father Jack Hackett, a foul-mouthed smelly alcoholic whose catchphrase "drink, feck, arse, girls" became one of the most famous phrases ever to come from a comedy show (when he could not get his favourite drink, Hackett would drink anything, including brake fluid and Toilet Duck - a toilet cleaner -) and the dim-witted Father Dougal McGuire, played by new Irish comedian Ardal O'Hanlon (in real life the son of one of Charles J. Haughey's ministers). In addition, and catching the public interest, was the priests' housekeeper, Mrs. Doyle, played by Pauline McLynn, whom Morgan had worked with on Scrap Saturday. Though the actress was only in her mid 30s, she was deliberately made to look like a fifty-five year old spinster who had devoted her life to being a houskeeper and whose role was to be tea-maker in chief, produce sandwiches by the ton, and do such 'unimportant' tasks as repair the roof, clean the chimney and be at the beck and call of her clerical bosses at all times of the day and night. Her method of encouraging a reluctant person to take a cup of tea whether they wanted to or not, "you will, you will, you will, you will, go on, you will, you will . . . ", or alternatively "Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on . . . " became another of the show's most famous catchphrases.

BAFTA award

The show's surrealist image of Catholicism earned it wide popularity and critical acclaim. In 1996 the show won a BAFTA award for Best Comedy, while Morgan won a BAFTA for Best Actor, and McLynn the Best Actress award. Apart from the main characters, many other successful side characters featured, mostt famously the camp hyperactive Father Noel Furlong, played by Irish comedian and British talk show host Graham Norton. After the recording of the third series had been completed, Morgan announced that there was to be no more series of Father Ted. He was instead working on a new comedy series, based around two retired soccer players living in a small flat together. However 24 hours after finishing the recording of the last episode of Father Ted, while hosting a dinner party at his home, Morgan collapsed and died of a massive heart-attack. He was 45.

Sudden death & legacy

Frank Kelly said of his acting colleague "Dermot's mind was mercurial. I think he was a kind of comedic meteor. He burned himself out." The irony of Morgan's death, at a time when after twenty years of struggle, he had finally achieved financial and artistic freedom, was not lost on his family and friends and commented on by his colleagues in the media. Ironically, for a station that has such a tempestuous relationship with him, repeats of Morgan's Father Ted on TV and Scrap Saturday on radio are now in constant demand, while in 2002 RTÉ finally broke its notorious record in comedy by producing a successful sit-com Batchelor's Walk.

Morgan is generally perceived to have been Ireland's finest satirist in the last decades of the twentieth century. He gave to RTÉ a particular blend of successful satire, through Father Trendy and Scrap Saturday. Tragically for Morgan, as RTÉ itself admitted, the station he worked with was illsuited to his comedic talent and failed to make full use of it. It was in a British-made TV show about Irish Catholic priests that Morgan finally achieved internal acclaim and the sort of steady income and support he had sought from RTÉ and believed he had not received. Father Ted showed the world that Ireland could do comedy, albeit on a British, not Irish TV station. The irony is that his sudden death denied Morgan the chance to show the full repetoire of his comedic and satirical skills, leaving him remembered internationally for just one, fondly remembered sit-com, Father Ted.

Morgan was survived by his partner and young son, and by two sons by his earlier marriage. His Requiem Mass in a church in Dublin was attended by among others, the President of Ireland Mary McAleese and her predecessor, Mary Robinson and by the leaders of Ireland's church and state, many of whom had been the victims (often to their own amusement, sometimes to their anger) of Morgan's humour in Scrap Saturday.

Dermot Morgan was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

In 2002 his three sons produced a book about Morgan, named in honour of his association through Father Ted and Father Trendy with Catholicism Our Father (ISBN 1874597960).

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