My life as a priest

Father Ted may have been Dermot Morgan's passport to fame and fortune on both sides of the Irish Sea, but as James Rampton finds out, it has not softened his uncompromising views on the Church

At the end of our meal, Dermot Morgan asks the waitress for a coffee. "Right away, Father," replies the starry-eyed woman. Morgan smiles at her with the patient indulgence of the priest he isn't.

The actor who takes the title role in Father Ted is by now well used to this confusion between fact and fiction. He good-heartedly takes it as an indication of the way in which the series has permeated the national consciousness in both Britain and Ireland. People are constantly coming up to him in supermarkets and saying things like, "Bless me, Father".

Morgan, 45, is unfailingly lively company, always on full gag alert. His eyes dance mischievously beneath a thick helmet of grey hair. When the waitress in the posh Dublin hotel offers him the bread-basket, he says, "I'll have a little roll," before paying off with a twinkle: "not something thespians often ask for."

All the same, even Morgan can grow tired of being on permanent comedy duty. "I always like that Harry Enfield story," Morgan recounts. "He was on holiday in Cornwall, and someone came up to say, `I don't believe you meant to do that'. Harry answered, `I don't believe you meant to be the thousandth person to say that to me,' and just watched the man's face fall.

"My standard response to people asking me, `Will you hear my confession, Father?' is `I only handle the heavy stuff. So if it's just stealing from your mother's purse, forget it. But if you've been a senior member of the Conservative Party, I'll hear it'."

He has little time for celebs who whinge about being celebs. "Before Ted, my fame ended at Howth," he recalls. "There's something disingenuous about comedians saying, `Oh fame's so heavy'. Obviously sometimes it's intrusive, but it's ungrateful to bellyache about the effects of fame if you've actively sought it. If you don't like it, then piss off and sell insurance."

There seems no danger of Morgan toddling off in the near future to try to flog us full life policies. Father Ted, a new video of which is released on Monday, has propelled Morgan to fame. He is in no doubt about why the series has been such a success: it's funny. "Things that give us a good laugh are not that plentiful," he reckons. "OK, political life gives us enormous laughs. As a professional comedian, one feels miffed that the amateurs are upstaging us. I had a satirical radio show on RTE, and it was getting harder and harder to outstrip reality."

Morgan is the first to admit that the set-up of Father Ted - three unhinged priests (Ted, Dougal and Jack) trapped in a remote parochial house off the West Coast of Ireland - does not immediately seem promising. "It doesn't at first glance look like a winner," he concedes. "But people like the characters. If you want the audience to stick with you, you have to have attractive characters."

In the wake of the recent EastEnders-in-Eire debacle, Irish stereotyping has become a political hot potato. But Morgan denies that Father Ted plays up to hackneyed "Oirish" images. "The show's patently too smart for that," he contends. "It's not about `Paddywackery' cliches. It's essentially a cartoon. It's demented. It has its own world and as much integrity as The Simpsons."

Surely, though, it runs the risk of offending the Catholic Church? Not according to Morgan. "One trendy priest had a cut at us in an article," he reveals. "But the reasons why he didn't like it can't have been cogent, or they would have stayed with me. The Church has greater problems than Father Ted. It's a spent force. I've heard they have zero admissions at some seminaries. I'm old enough to recall the clout they had in the 1960s, when people used to talk about "the belt of a crozier" whenever they cracked down on secular society. Now I genuinely sympathise with priests for what is a largely untenable position. Anyone suggesting that it is the infallible will of the Church that priests should remain celibate is talking nonsense. That is going to do far more damage than Father Ted."

For all the show's success, however, the series being shot in the New Year is likely to be the last. "The writers have always felt, to quote a previous Home Secretary, that Father Ted should be a short, sharp shock," Morgan says, somewhat ruefully. He reveals his true feelings when he adds: "That's a decision for themselves, as a politician would put it. `Your wife hates you, and your kids have set fire to your house.' `That's a matter for them.'"

For his part, Morgan is developing a raft of projects to float across the Irish Sea. These include a movie about the Archbishop of Dublin in the 1950s, a novel, and a sitcom he is writing with Nick Revell. He is hurrying them all along so he can beat the backlash he anticipates against the trendiness of all things Irish.

"I want to get in before the portcullis drops," he laughs. "But many others would go before me. As long as Eamonn Holmes is working, I'm all right. If they're rounding us up and sending us home, I expect to see him on the first plane."

The new video of `Father Ted' is released on Monday. The new series will be seen on C4 next year

general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

    £40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

    Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before