Irish Comedian and Actor (1952-1998)
"I'm not a fascist, I'm a priest. Fascists dress in black and tell people what to do, whereas priests ... erm ..."—Father Ted Crilly
Dermot Morgan has been regarded as one of the funniest men to come out of Ireland in the last century. His cutting satire and take-no-prisoners ridicule of the sacred cows has delighted some and infuriated others. Strangely, however, his greatest successes were not in his homeland, but on Channel 4, the British television network, where he was widely acclaimed for his portrayal as the less-than-upright priest, Father Ted Crilly on the beloved (and hilarious) television comedy series Father Ted.
Morgan was born in Dublin in 1952. Like so many fine actors, his career path first led him into the world of academe, teaching at Saint Michael's College in Dublin. He enjoyed acting in many stage productions throughout his life. Mr. Morgan was known for his ability to make people laugh with his understated humor, satire and impersonations.
In the early 1980s, the Irish public television station RTÉ presented a comedy show starring Mike Murphy. The Live Mike contained a wild array of funny segments, and Murphy tagged Morgan to be one of the regulars on his show. It was a beautiful fit, people loved the handsome young Dubliner with the biting wit. Most notable among Morgan’s characters were a crazed bigot and Father Trendy, a priest who constantly tried (and failed miserably) to be cool. Morgan was a huge hit, and the world of academics lost a teacher, but the world of comedy gained a very promising new mind.
The state TV station, never known to be particularly progressive in its attitudes, frequently objected to Morgan’s characterizations and he had several run-ins with the censors. His airtime was often cut, and his growing legion of fans were not happy about that fact. In 1982, Murphy shut The Live Mike down, but Mr. Morgan was undaunted, stepping into the world of stand-up comedy. He became known as "Ireland's First Alternative Comedian."
Meanwhile, RTÉ tried to find a niche for the controversial comedian. They produced several pilots in which he starred, but none of them ever saw the light of day. By the late 1980s, he was in high demand and a very busy man: he reprised and updated some of his funny characters for Pat Kenny’s chat show Kenny Live and released a comedy single Thank You Very Much Mr. Eastwood.
At this point, he began work on a new radio show with Gerard Stembridge and Pauline McLynn. The sarcastic Scrap Saturday took on politics and current events, and was just about as edgy and satirical as anything that had ever been attempted in Ireland. Just about every major politician and entertainment figure got skewered by the show. Morgan’s reputation as a first-rate satirist grew, and the show was an absolute smash-hit. Despite that fact, or because of it perhaps, the award-winning show was cancelled after only two years. There were suspicions that RTÉ had been pressured into canceling the show by some of the victims of Morgan, Stembridge and McLynn's biting wit.
In 1995, writers Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan began to work on a comedy series for television, based on a character that Mathews had created in his stand-up act. Their one and only choice to play the lead was Dermot Morgan—no one else could possibly portray Father Ted Crilly (usually well-intentioned, Father Ted dreamed of living the high life in Las Vegas, rather than being in an obscure parish on the eccentric Craggy Island). Hat Trick Productions created the series for Channel 4*.
Father Ted featured a terrifically talented cast: alongside Morgan was the famous Irish comedian Frank Kelly, who played the lascivious lush Father Jack Hackett (who usually said nothing more than "Feck! Arse! Drink! Girls!") and the young comic actor Ardal O’Hanlon, who played the dangerously dim Father Dougal McGuire. Pauline McLynn, whom Morgan knew from his Scrap Saturday days, was made up to look about 20 years older than her actual age in order to play the frumpy (and dangerously insane) housekeeper Mrs. Doyle. This weird little house of four lived on the remote Craggy Island, where each of them had been exiled by their tyrannical bishop for various mistakes, as you might well imagine.
Father Ted enjoyed three very funny series—the show was a huge hit with critics and viewers alike (including, surprisingly enough, a fair number of clergy). BAFTA gave awards to the show, McLynn and Morgan for their parts. As the third series was wrapping up, Morgan announced that there would be no more, as he was moving on to another project, a television program about two retired football players sharing a flat together. One day after the final episode of Father Ted was taped, Morgan, 46 years old, died of a massive heart attack while hosting a dinner party at his home.
Morgan’s funeral was attended by a number of notables, even a few that he had poked fun at in the past. In 2002, his three sons wrote the book Our Father about the man that had been both Father Trendy and Father Ted. Dermot Morgan's memory lives on as a bright star whose brilliant work gave a new voice to Irish comedy and launched the careers of so many new talents.
* There are apparently rumours that the show Father Ted was originally offered to RTÉ, who turned it down. This is not true.
Wikipedia and imdb, of course
The surprisingly good bio of him on the Father Ted DVD sets
A really nice tribute page at: http://www.users.zetnet.co.uk/dmtribute/index.htm