Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Comedy writers Arthur Mathews (37) and Graham Linehan (29), the co-creators of the cult C4 sitcom `Father Ted', started their working lives on the Irish music magazine `Hot Press': Mathews joined as art editor after studying graphic design, while Linehan (far right) was taken on as a writer straight from school. Since the early Nineties the two Irishmen have written material for Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones, Alexei Sayle, Steve Coogan, `The Day Today', `Brass Eye' and `The Fast Show'; they are currently writing the third series of `Father Ted' and have just finished filming the pilot of their new sitcom. They are both single and live in London

ARTHUR MATHEWS: My initial impression of Graham was - terribly nice chap, very sweet, good-natured. He would occasionally come in and leave copy at Hot Press, and then he'd be down the pub after work. Graham's about nine years younger than me, and most of the other people on Hot Press were my age, but it didn't seem to matter. He was very mild-mannered, had just come out of school - and maybe he was just slightly in awe of us.

The genesis of the comedy thing was that I played drums in this band called The Joshua Trio. We used to sing U2 songs in a jazz, C&W or heavy- metal style, and then we would enact scenes from the life of U2 on stage, like the birth of Bono. Paul Woodfull, the singer - everybody used to call him Paul Wonderful - used to dress up in Messianic robes, and one Christmas gig he came on to the pub stage on a donkey, with a choir. So then Paul and Graham and myself started writing sketches. I did Father Ted as a stand-up, a very short-lived thing, at gigs before The Joshua Trio played. I'd just come on as a priest and talk about my great friend, Father Dougal Maguire.

Graham moved to London in 1990 to work for Select magazine. I left Hot Press in early '91 and thought: "I'll stay with Graham in London for six months or so." We lived together for three, four years. Quite a long time. It was a bit like Men Behaving Badly. We didn't have any rotas or anything, but I'd say I was more of a homemaker.

On an average working day, we come into our office at the crack of dawn, which is 11am, and think up rough ideas for shows: he might start one off, I might start one off ... it's like a relay race. He's really good at solving script problems and spotting jokes. Once we get going, he's great, but maybe at the beginning of things when he has to think of something from nowhere, he's more worried than I am.

We're both very equal, and very non-confrontational. If we do have arguments - and we do, because we spend so much time together - we get too self- conscious to keep going. Our most recent row was non-work-related. I said I wasn't going to listen to the Radiohead album for six months until all the brouhaha had died down, and he got desperately upset. I think he thought I was being arrogant.

I have a lot of Catholic Irishness in me, and Graham really doesn't. It's partly an age thing, and partly the fact that I grew up in the country and he grew up in the city. I remember the whole Catholic grip on Irish society more strongly than Graham does. There's a programme on Irish TV at the moment which is all clips from Irish newsreaders in the Fifties - "and now, the annual blessing of the scooters" - and you've got all these Mods being blessed by the priest. So that's exactly where Father Ted comes from. I've no sensitivities about it at all; when I say I'm Catholic, it's not like I'm practising, it's just that I feel that's my background, whereas I think it's fair to say Graham wouldn't feel that strongly about it.

He's got a great book collection - he's very well-read. I love history, he likes novels. He's great with music: some of my favourite albums I wouldn't have heard if it wasn't for him. He dragged me along to see Trees Lounge; I loved that. If he likes something, he says: "You have to see this." Huge enthusiasm. I'm more cynical than he is, less of an enthusiast. Much as I love music and Irish history and football - yeah, they're passions, but Graham's passions are his whole life.

Emotionally, I wouldn't say he's my best friend, but of course, we've known each other a long time. He's certainly up amongst the top five people that I know in the world, including my family. There's a side of me I keep separate, but yeah, we're pretty close.

He has become a lot more confident since our success. And he's a lot happier. He's changed a lot, but not in a bad way. But I've known him since he was 18, and you probably change a lot anyway. I remember once - this is how nice he can be - I went away for the weekend and when I came back he said: "I hope you don't mind, but while you were away I took some of your marmalade."

GRAHAM LINEHAN: I've a dim recollection of walking into the Hot Press office and seeing Arthur sitting behind his drawing board. He and this other guy, Paul Wonderful, kept up this running comedy routine that I was always very impatient to be included in. I just found him hysterically funny. I remember one day, going out for lunch with two other people, Arthur fell downstairs on purpose to get a laugh. It was really slow, and he had the perfect expression on his face. Priceless. It always struck me as strange that he would occasionally throw his shyness to one side and do something extraordinary like that.

I started thinking: "It's very important that I hang out with this person as much as I can, and get this person to like me." He had set, strong opinions and I found that impressive because I go the way the wind's blowing sometimes. So I've tried to be more opinionated about things other than just: "Who's better, Tarantino or Scorsese?"

I felt slightly intimidated in the early days, because I admire him hugely and I always thought he was the funniest person I'd ever met. I have a theory that The Joshua Trio held a small mirror up to U2 at a time when they were incredibly pompous, and possibly led to U2 recovering their sense of humour, because I think their drummer came to one of the shows. People liked it because U2 were such a big deal, and Dublin is a city that begrudges, and we were all terrible begrudgers at the time.

Sometimes Arthur would come out and do Father Ted as a stand-up character. He was really funny and could easily have played the role in the TV show. Amazing - to go in front of a rock crowd, which is a hard audience for comedy, and keep them quiet with lines like: "How many of you in the audience have relatives and friends who are dead?" and get them to put their hands up. It was just this lovely quiet moment in the midst of all this rock music.

When we're working, Arthur's great at getting the ball rolling: he can come up with a completely insane idea that makes us laugh our arse off for yonks; I'm good at moving an idea on, or getting us out of a plot difficulty.

I'd hate to describe myself as not Irish in any way, but Arthur is very proud, and, not in an unpleasant way at all, very patriotic. He loves Ireland: he used to get quite depressed when he was away for too long. He was brave to come over to England - he left his job and everything. He signed on over here, and he drew some cartoons for the NME which were brilliant. They were called "Dr Crawshaft's World of Pop", drawn in a 19th-century style with longwinded captions. He used to go into the NME and stand around, hoping someone would speak to him, then he'd just put his cartoon on the desk and walk out again, so that was depressing and boring for him.

When we lived together, Arthur did all the chores, and I did my usual trick - which I'm sure I'll do if I ever get married - which is be useless at everything, so you never get asked. I don't actually try to do this, but everyone, from my father down, as soon as I start doing something, they say: "Nononono, get away from that, I'll do it." Arthur was always very neat and adult.

He's a big fan of jigsaws, and he paints to relax. We've both got a huge interest in music and comedy. I liked the Radiohead album - and Arthur's got this thing (and I know this is from Dublin) which is if a band is really popular, he won't like them. In fact he'll do his best not to hear anything by them that will change his opinion. So we have little sniping fights about stupid things like that.

The success of Ted has given me a bit more confidence within the partnership; we seem on a more equal footing now, and I'm not so worried what he thinks. We get on better, I can read his moods better (this is making it sound like some kind of weird S&M relationship ... ). Recently Arthur thought I was even being a bit too aggressive with ideas and not open enough to things. We had a good row - and we never row. All this time I'd been thinking "poor me", and suddenly I realised I've been quite obnoxious in my own way.

Me and him have a theory, that his is the last generation that was upset by the gory elements of Catholicism. It hasn't touched me at all, and I think that's true of my generation, the nasty side of Catholicism just didn't get its talons into us. He had a real religious terror. Hell fire and the afterlife: Arthur's thing is, how do you know that's not true? I used to know which TV programmes to switch off, which ones would really upset him. Anything about demonic possession.

I once asked him whether he'd rather be happy or write great comedy, and he said he'd rather be happy, and I said I'd rather write great comedy. But that comes from somebody who's generally happy talking to somebody who's generally unhappy (though he's actually incredibly cheery these days). So, as long as it doesn't affect the writing too much - I'd like him to be happy.