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Father Ted - Looking back

After the first series of Father Ted aired in April of '95 ever Irish actor alive wanted to be in it. It was clearly a classic, although from my own experience, more of a documentary than a comedy. Priests in Ireland were either saintly, mad or evil. Time has only confirmed what we already knew.

When the 75-year-old Father Nolan told me the facts of life using Joseph and Mary as examples of a normal marriage, then you'll get a glimpse of how insane things were.

As I understand it, Joseph took no part in fathering mARYS child.

That was the result of Gabriel the neighbour - sorry, angel.

I came out of my 'sex talk' convinced that my girlfriend could get pregnant without any intervention from me at all. That's frightening and annoying. You could get all the blame and have none of the pleasure! And of course, wanking was ruled out too because 'God is watching.' Dirty bugger! Can't I be let alone a feckin minute?

What was a teen supposed to do? No wonder My First Girlfriend was a Tree . An earlier blog, well worth reading.

After kicking my agents arse an audition came through. The part sent to me was for the Dancing Priest. I learnt the thing and headed into Regent Street. The queue of actors lined the stairs all the way up to the audition room on top floor. 50 funny Irishmen in one place. The criac was big - the toilet was full. It was tense - funny but tense.

Inside were the two writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, the director Declan Downey and the casting agent. They looked like they were having the time of their lives. They watched, laughed, had a chat and asked me to come back as soon as I had time to look over another part. A boring priest. Father Austin Purcell.

As I understand it now, Father Austin was a problem for them. The issue with a boring character is - you can't play boring. Boring is passive and that won't work.

I knew plenty of bores who would get up early in the morning just to tell you about the crap mundanity of their lives. They do it with passion. Father Austin needed to be passionate about boilers, raffle tickets and car insurance. There were two other elements that seemed fun to try. No eye contact. I love that. Really boring people don't care if you're listening. If you leave the room they'll carry on regardless. That's a fun quality to play. Lastly, the cracked voice. Another way to inflict pain on the listener. Father Austin Purcell was created in 10 minutes in a toilet on the second floor of an office in Regent Street. There were almost no changes to him from then to recording.

I rehearsed with Dermot, Ardel and Frank in London. They were lovely but exhausted. It was near the end of their recording schedule and they were knackered. I remember Frank missing one of his feed lines. 'FECK' he shouted 'Sorry darlings' - made me laugh.

The recording was at the ITV studios on the South Bank. I passing Graham Norton in the corridor - he's tiny - and later Mystic Meg the astrologer carrying her wig on a dummy in front of her. Weird. If her hair is fake how could she be telling the truth about the future!


Recording is a long slow process - 2hrs or so for the 24 minute episode. I was ushered past the studio audience to storeroom set behind the main sitting room. The audience could only see us on the monitors and I couldn't see them at all from where we were but the laughs were big. Next, we did the sitting room scene and I think it was Graham who asked me to add the 'Ah, it's yourself' line. It got a massive response and I was pretty sure they'd trim it in the edit but they didn't. A mark of their generosity.

We returned to the cupboard set and they asked me to improvise so they could run the titles over my rambling. They gave me a starting point 'What's your favourite humming noise?' and left me to do the rest. It was fun.

Animals were killed in the making of this video

A few years back I decided to revive Father Austin and try him out on the stand up circuit. I wrote about 40 minutes of material, created Arse Biscuits - a pub quiz in the Father Ted style and produced a series of videos called Cook Like a Priest which you can have a look at. My thanks to the producers, who did not sue my ass. In my defense, I never made much more than petrol money. Thanks too to Polly and the kids for taking for granted that her husband and their father spent a lot of time dressed as a priest. It can't have been easy.

I've done plenty of TV over the years but those 3 scenes in one half of an episode of Father Ted outshine them all. Good is good. It lasts. We need the average stuff to fill out the schedule but when the perfect thing comes along - you got to work it baby. Don't let it go.

Better to be a small part of something perfect than a big part of something shite.

I was struck by the generosity of the cast and writers. Being fed additional jokes on the hop was fantastic. Not just because of the trust they put in me but because they are amazing writers. If rumours of a musical are true then I wish them the best - how cool to pull that off.

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Nicky Hather
Nicky Hather
Dec 08, 2019

You have fantastic talent as a writer Ben, you must give the world the full benefit. I have just read this aloud to Alastair and we laughed our socks off. You really have perfection, with comic timing when acting, and the economy and punchiness of your comic prose is fabulous. We are avid fans, please keep it comingx

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