You’ve seen the twenty-five episodes, of course. A series of six, another of ten, a Christmas special, and the final batch of eight. Perhaps you’ve even watched the Comic Relief sketch, with its precious twelve minutes of additional Father Ted. What you might not know is that there’s a little bit more. The years since the show’s conclusion have seen many attempts, both mooted and realised, to keep the flame of its glory burning in some way: prose fiction, vaunted remakes, and fan productions – some more interesting than others, and some even involving members of the original cast reprising their roles. Before we examine these, though, I’d like to take a look at the show’s official, contemporary live-action satellites. These are the very last dregs of the original Father Ted and its production: a smattering of brief advertisements, sketches, and (if we’re being generous) mini-episodes that were filmed to promote or capitalise on the show… and some of them are actually pretty fascinating.
The show’s first series was advertised very conventionally. As no-one at the time knew that Father Ted would go on to become a towering success, no special effort was made. The first ad is simply a thirty-second montage of jokes from “‘Good Luck, Father Ted’” and “The Passion of Saint Tibulus”. “There’s Father Jack!” says the announcer. “That’s Father Dougal. Together with their tireless leader, they’re never afraid to take a stand.” A peculiar way to introduce these three characters, since this statement isn’t true either in relation to the relevant episode or the show itself. But that’s beside the point, which is to allow the ad to splice in some footage of the “Down with this sort of thing / Careful now” scene – even now, before the show has aired, it’s already been anointed as the chosen catchphrase, ubiquitous and inescapable; the only line that will be audible in the bittersweet goodbye montage in “Going to America”. The announcer concludes: “It’s like nowhere you’ve ever experienced… thank heaven! Drop in on the world of Father Ted, starting Friday the 21st of April on Four.” (“Drop in on the world of Father Ted, new after Brookside, Friday at nine on Four”, went the version they aired that final week, before the world changed forever.) Note that while the name “Craggy Island” isn’t mentioned, the idea of Father Ted as a world has already taken root, along with the inviting aura of magic and artifice that implies. A perfectly serviceable advertisement.
Once the show had begun to pick up a following, however, the marketing grew more ambitious. We began to get specially-filmed ads – little scenes written and performed just to coax that primordial 1990s audience into tuning in for the new episodes, the ads themselves never intended to be aired again. This is some of the least-seen and least-discussed Father Ted material. Luckily, quite a few have surfaced online, recorded by enterprising fans and archivists. (We can’t say for sure, however, that all have been preserved. Perhaps some were discarded, or broadcast once and slipped through the cracks, lingering now in some Channel 4 producer’s dusty attic. Perhaps.)
The first of these bonus Father Ted scenes didn’t air when the show was on, but late in the production of the second series. On 9th March, 1996, the Irish talk show Kenny Live dedicated an episode to Jack Charlton, a popular, recently-retired football manager. As it turned out, any early Father Ted fans watching that night were in for a treat. After the show’s first ad break, presenter Pat Kenny tells the audience that Dermot Morgan and Ardal O’Hanlon, both major fans, have recorded a special message for Charlton on the set in London. This two-minute sketch finds the priests sitting at the table in the Parochial House living room, with Ted attempting to coach a nervous Dougal into joining him in giving the manager their best wishes. An in-set video feed of Charlton’s live reaction fades in and out in the bottom-left corner. “Right, I’ll explain to you one more time, Dougal, OK?” says Ted. “This is Jack’s big night, all right? Have you got that?” Dougal predictably thinks that Ted is referring to Father Jack, then somehow gets Charlton confused with the fisherman and nineteenth-century corporate figure John West. “We’re talking about football, Dougal,” says Ted, an attempt to get back on track which leads to the sketch’s most subtly funny exchange. “Oh, the long-ball game,” concludes Dougal serenely. “Well, it’s— it’s— it’s the round-ball game, Dougal,” says Ted, gesticulating wildly.
Readying to give the message, Dougal becomes panicked and over-excited, and Ted starts drawing parallels between football and religion, seemingly in an attempt to calm him. He equates Charlton bringing Ireland to the World Cup quarter-finals in 1990 with Moses bringing the Israelites to the Promised Land, saying the manager would be the equivalent of a pope or bishop. “He would, he has lots of girlfriends,” replies Dougal, earning a big laugh from the audience (and Charlton himself). Finally, the two priests turn to face the fourth wall, and with Dougal struggling, Ted takes over: “Best wishes, Jack, on your big night tonight! You, sober tonight? You haven’t a prayer!”
The most striking thing about the Charlton sketch is its improvisational, free-wheeling quality. I doubt that it was written by Graham Linehan or Arthur Mathews: rather, it feels like Morgan – perhaps with some assistance from O’Hanlon – came up with a broad outline of the scene and the pair of them simply made up most of their dialogue on the day. After so many episodes with razor-sharp scripts, it’s positively surreal to see Ted and Dougal like this, stammering and repeating themselves and dropping conversational threads – it’s almost like they’re normal people. Morgan and O’Hanlon riffing are definitely not superior to what we got in the show, but still, I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of it. The concept of the priests recording a video message is underdeveloped, and doesn’t really feel like something that would happen in the show, but the characters and their dynamic are so well-defined that the actors can carry it off nonetheless. It’s exactly what your first idea would be if you were asked to write a sketch where Ted and Dougal congratulate a manager named Jack: a bit on the name and a bit on football as religion, with Ted’s attempt to corral Dougal into delivering the message as the main conflict.
Adding another dimension to the sketch is the fact that it wasn’t the first time Morgan had played a priest in a comedy bit on the Irish talk-show circuit: on the contrary, his appearance here echoes Father Trendy, the cool, hip, leather-jacketed cleric Morgan played on Mike Murphy’s variety show The Live Mike around the end of the 1970s. While this sketch offers no explanation for why Ted and Dougal think Charlton will be interested in their congratulations, it makes a little more sense if we think of Ted as an older version of Father Trendy; a priest who had some limited media success in his youth, prior to his exile to Craggy Island, and is now making his latest bid to get back on television, any way he can. (It’s just slightly unfortunate that Kenny doesn’t help sell the sketch’s conceit – he introduces them as Morgan and O’Hanlon, even though they never break character.)
It’s difficult to date most of the show’s ads precisely, so I’ll just discuss Channel 4’s brief Father Ted idents before moving on to the more conventional advertisements. A batch of three idents featuring the characters were filmed. While these short scenes also promoted the show, their primary purpose was to shore up the channel’s brand identity, popping up during ad breaks to remind viewers what station they’re tuned to and emphasise its association with their favourite programming.
The first ident is a static shot of Dougal sitting alone on the living-room couch, staring uncertainly into the void as low ambient sound rumbles in the background. It’s… oddly tense. Dougal rises to his feet and steps away, but the camera remains static, the scene dissolving out of focus as the channel’s current sigil – a “4” made of four circles, one containing their classic “4” logo – assembles itself in a flicker of white light and a sound of electricity. Whoever directed this seems to have been going for a subtle David Lynch vibe, and it works well, providing an eerie little Dougal mood piece, even if it doesn’t feel much like anything in Father Ted. Perhaps the idea was to wryly contrast the show with the rest of the channel’s output, which includes a great deal of substantially darker programming, both in drama and comedy? I also like the vaguely Kabbalistic effect of the pattern of glowing circles manifesting over the couch’s image of Jesus.
The next ident is similar in format, but a lot stranger. Ted is sitting on a couch, but he’s not in the Parochial House – he’s in a suburban living room. The couch, the lamp, the floor, and the wall are pallid grey and white, with white teapot and cups on a sterile glass table. Someone in the foreground is hoovering the floor, but it isn’t Mrs Doyle – in fact, it seems to be a man. Ted himself isn’t dressed as a priest, but in a t-shirt and vest – it isn’t even clear, actually, that this is Ted. As the camera sweeps in, he leans forward, arms crossed, and raises his voice over the noise as if speaking to someone confused about their location: “This is Four.” Seeming to have second thoughts about speaking up, he relaxes back into his seat, muttering, “If you hadn’t realised.” The screen dissolves, and the logo crackles into place.
So, what’s this one about? Morgan certainly isn’t playing any other Channel 4 character – were they trying to associate themselves with their popular actors on some level superseding association with their roles? Why the two framed photographs of aeroplanes on the wall? Is this some version of Ted from an alternative timeline where he never became a priest, or a possible future where he has finally escaped from the Church? Some kind of flashback? Is the conceit that this is just Dermot Morgan sitting at home, watching television until it’s time to film the next series? Or is Morgan meant to represent us, the average Channel 4 viewer? The stark, strange lighting, drab visuals, and uncomfortable noise continue the Lynchian atmosphere of the other ident: perhaps this is a Father Ted version of Lynch’s Mulholland Drive or Inland Empire, where the protagonists find themselves replaced by doppelgängers halfway through their stories, one life giving way to another? Is Channel 4 ident limbo the Black Lodge?
The final ident is the least disturbing of the three – which is surprising, considering that it focuses on Father Jack. “Drink! Girls! … Drink! Girls!” shouts Jack, sitting in his armchair. (No “Feck!” or “Arse!”, so presumably this was meant to air pre-watershed. A slightly concerning side-effect is that it sounds like Jack’s telling us to “drink girls”.) The shot is a close-up, and the background is dark and indistinct, as if it wasn’t even filmed on the set. Suddenly, Ted leans in from the left and speaks into the camera like he thinks he’s Steve Strange in the “Ashes to Ashes” video. “Yes, it’s Four,” affirms Ted, nodding and smiling before the screen dissolves to the logo.
It’s difficult to know what to say about these idents. All three feature the same faintly unnerving tone, the same unnatural bright lighting, the same tense absence of music. Presumably the idea behind showing each of the three priests seated, facing the camera, was a play on television-watching. One wonders why Mrs Doyle didn’t get one. Regardless, without any jokes or even clear concepts, these fall much closer to the usual standard of Channel 4’s abstract non-sequitur idents than they do to anything in Father Ted itself. It’s actually kind of impressive: compare these to the strange and stilted idents Jonathan Glazer made for them in 2016, and marvel at how similar they are in tone. And at how the subcategories of “Channel 4 idents” genuinely include both “the Father Ted ones” and “the Under the Skin ones”.
Three ads were created to promote the second series. Evidently conceptualised and filmed together (around the time of “Tentacles of Doom”, as a close examination of the set will reveal), all these ads share a particular format and style. They each assume that the audience is somewhat familiar with the show, but still make some effort to communicate its basic vibe in hopes of winning over new converts. Shot in the living-room set, all three have the actors standing and facing the camera, announcing the new series without breaking character. They also feature jazz-inflected, curiously un-Ted-like muzak. The first features a funky bass-driven accompaniment, and begins with Ted saying, “You know, in many ways, a television programme is like religion. Many people have their aerials up, but not everyone is receiving a clear signal.” If you find this oddly familiar, there’s a good reason, because it’s not the first time Morgan has cheerfully recited a condescending direct-to-camera monologue with an immensely strained religious metaphor while dressed as a priest: this was the exact modus operandi of Father Trendy. This earlier role was the reason Linehan was initially hesitant to cast Morgan as Ted, so it’s a little surprising to see Father Trendy being invoked so directly. As it turns out, his old tricks don’t cut it on Craggy Island: Ted’s message is interrupted, first by Jack staggering into frame and shouting things like “Drink!” and the oddly quotable “I have rickets!”, then by Dougal wandering over to ask who Ted is talking to. Exasperated, Ted gives up on his metaphor, stating, “Basically, there’s a new series of Father Ted…” As Jack shouts the names of various drinks, Dougal peers closer to the camera, causing it to drift backwards and reveal the artifice of the set, with its open ceiling and studio lights. Ted walks off, leaving the rest of the message for the announcer, who concludes, “Go away, Dougal.”
The other two ads from this batch are close variations on the same idea. One begins with Ted standing in the same spot, also using the same music, but skips the Father Trendy routine, instead opting for “Hello, Father Ted Crilly here inviting you to join me for—” This time, he’s interrupted by Mrs Doyle, who naturally wants to give him tea. He accepts to keep her quiet, and she begins to pour him a cup, making a rather odd cooing noise; why the writers thought this was a better way to have Mrs Doyle obstruct him from talking than simply having him refuse her repeated offers of tea is a bit unclear. While this ad doesn’t contain the explicit metafiction of the previous one, with the camera never straying off-set and neither character actually mentioning that they’re in a sitcom, it does lean heavier into its televisual format: Ted explains that he only has thirty seconds to finish his message, and when time runs out, we cut to a wall of static and the sound of papers being rustled. Again, the announcer comes to the rescue: “Well, despite the odd interruption, Father Ted airs Fridays, 9:30 on Four… hopefully.”
The last ad in this sequence changes things up a bit: at just 22 seconds, it’s the shortest of the three, features some nice vibraphone music that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in LittleBigPlanet, and gives Mrs Doyle herself the starring role. The dialogue is exactly what you’d expect: “Oh, great. The ad break! I just thought I’d say, you will watch Father Ted, won’t you?” As this point, though, we cut to footage from the first ad mentioned above: the shot of Dougal, ignoring Ted and Jack, cheerfully investigating the camera, saying, “Hello, who’s there?” We cut back to Mrs Doyle, who continues: “You will, you will, you will,” ending on an aggressive tenth “YOU WILL!” Weirdly, we then cut to a new shot of a frowning Ted beside Dougal, who says, “Pfft! Won’t be watching that!” before both priests walk off.
The footage of Ted and Dougal feels like it’s also spliced in from another ad, but no such ad appears to exist. It’s like Mrs Doyle and the priests are somehow Skyping through their respective cameras, interacting with versions of each other in different realities while they occupy the same place on their own sides of the lens, with Mrs Doyle attempting to persuade the priests to watch Father Ted for some reason. Weirdest of all, the noise heard when the Father Ted logo appears sounds eerily like the screech Mrs Doyle emits when she falls off the roof in “Are You Right There Father Ted?”, an episode which would not air for another two years. Arriving as if in response to Dougal’s glib comment, it’s almost like some kind of interdimensional retaliation from Mrs Doyle, a screamed precapitulation of one of her most iconic television moments. Even the way the logo arrives backs this up – it’s animated “falling” onto the screen from above, right in front of the window through which Ted later sees Mrs Doyle fall. I like to think that all this is completely intentional, the result of a rogue editor playing a very long game.
Three advertisements, as is clear from their set dressing, were shot in the Christmas special’s recording block later in 1996. As well as sharing a tinselly living-room backdrop, these ads are characterised by unusually bright, warm, gold-red lighting, and slightly more dynamic camerawork that suggests they were not filmed in front of a live studio audience. They make for strange viewing: the show itself never actually looked like this, yet somehow it feels right – glossy and filmic, like a dream of Father Ted directed by Guillermo del Toro.
The first of these Christmas advertisements, and the only one that’s actually for the special, is interesting in that it’s not set on Craggy Island – it’s set in the London studio where the show is being filmed. The cast, scripts in hand, portray themselves learning their lines. First we see Frank Kelly, sitting in his chair and chanting “Drink, girls, drink, girls” in that pre-watershed emendation of his usual declarations; then Pauline McLynn pacing as she recites “Go on, go on, go on”; then O’Hanlon on the couch going “You’re right there, Ted. Oh-ho!” Finally we see Morgan, who addresses the camera: “Hello there, we’re just rehearsing the brilliant dialogue that has made Father Ted the award-winning ratings-grabber it is today, and ah, we’ve just about got it now, so don’t forget to tune in for an hour-long special.” Kelly interjects, “Please, I’m trying to focus here,” Morgan mutters an apology, and the ad ends.
For an advertisement, the central conceit here is oddly self-deprecating. The show is being advertised on the strength of its dialogue, but the actors are merely blurting out mindless catchphrases in endless little loops (not entirely unlike the degenerate characters in Don Hertzfeldt’s Simpsons sketch). Morgan is the only actor we don’t see rehearsing, but presumably he was saying “The money was just resting in my account before I moved it on” over and over again. It’s the same anti-joke as Father Ben: a parade of priests and undirected, witless silliness.
While the ad’s punchline for casual viewers is simply “Jack being posh”, it’s more interesting from a fan’s perspective: Linehan and Mathews ultimately decided against writing an episode where Jack’s sophisticated twin brother comes to visit, but Kelly’s momentary performance as himself offers a tantalising glimpse at how it might have played out – speaking in haughty BBC English and gesturing in aggrieved supplication, he’s every bit the ivory-tower thespian, his dynamic with this fictionalised Morgan an intellectual mirror to Jack’s violent relationship with Ted.
The next Christmas ad is one of the show’s most ambitious, but also the most counter-intuitive, as it isn’t an ad for Father Ted at all. Beginning in medias res, we find Dougal in the Wild West, confronting a group of gunslingers – an effect achieved by editing close-ups of O’Hanlon in cowboy get-up with footage from A Fistful of Dollars. Dougal is cool and unafraid: “I don’t think it’s nice, you laughing. You see, my mule doesn’t like you laughing. So, if you apologise, like I know you’re going to, I might convince him that really didn’t mean it.” When the men reach for their holsters, Dougal draws his revolver and shoots them all dead. Turning from the carnage, he spits casually on the ground, only to be interrupted by Ted. “Dougal. Dougal! What are you doing? Get that off the floor, or no Coco-Pops for a month.” They’re in the living room, and Dougal is playing dress-up with a cowboy hat, his red tank-top unravelled to resemble the Man With No Name’s iconic poncho, like a premonition of the “woman’s bra” in “The Mainland”. A snatch of Ennio Morricone’s theme for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly plays, and we hear an Eastwood impersonator announce through gritted teeth: “Clint Night on Four – not just for the devoted.” The connection between television-watching and Mass resurfaces again, but it’s so strained in this context that it works as a joke in itself.
There’s also something very Father Ted about the use of archive footage to create Dougal’s mind palace, which is not entirely unlike the show’s occasional use of random nature footage to show what Dougal sees outside the window. This unparalleled glimpse into his subjectivity takes the idea further, though, essentially suggesting that Dougal’s imagination offers holodeck-like immersion. We have to wonder: how often is Dougal actually experiencing the events we see him live through on-screen, and how often is he like this – away with the fairies?
There’s even a tiny character arc: Dougal looks alarmed when one of the cowboys in his imagination spits on the ground, then spits on the floor of the living room himself as if to assert dominance following his victory in the shoot-out, only for Ted to put him in his place afterwards. It’s the eternal cycle of Father Ted in microcosm: an ad where the characters have advanced in any way by the end would feel almost wrong. While the majority of these ads and sketches break the fourth wall, this one fits seamlessly into the show’s continuity, and would have worked just fine as a cold open or post-ad-break reprise in “A Christmassy Ted”. The dialogue is spot-on, and as a bonus, it’s also a much more coherent spaghetti-western parody than Ted’s confrontation with Benson in “Old Grey Whistle Theft”.
If there’s one flaw in the ad, it’s a minor one: there was an ideal opportunity here to call back to “A Song for Europe”, and have Dougal say “My lovely horse doesn’t like you laughing” rather than reciting the Man With No Name’s dialogue almost verbatim. More importantly, there’s just something incredibly charming about the idea that an actual extra Father Ted scene – something which now seems so precious and rare – was created for an event as purely ephemeral as Channel 4 deciding to air some westerns one particular night in 1996. Was the unspoken conceit that, when audiences across the UK gathered around their televisions for Clint Night, that Dougal – somewhere in the multiverse – would be watching, too?
There’s one more Christmas ad, but it’s the slightest of the three – it seems more like an ident, and was probably used as one. We begin mid-conversation, as Ted sits down beside Dougal on the living-room couch. “Yeah, I thought it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses as well. That’s why I didn’t answer the door,” says Ted, folding his arms. “Who was it?” asks Dougal. “Spice Girls.” The priests settle into a rueful silence. It’s difficult to say exactly what the writers were going for with this one: Ted screwing up a given opportunity is par for the course, but without an actual joke to go along with it, the exchange is just plain weird; it’s like the Stephen Hawking bit in “Are You Right There Father Ted?”, only without any payoff. The fact that both characters here are celibate virgins eliminates the most natural reason for two nineties sitcom men to want the Spice Girls to visit their home, so are we assume that Ted just wishes he said hello, so that some glamour might have rubbed off on him?
Unlike the Clint Night ad, which makes perfect sense on its own terms, this one is impossible to imagine in any wider context: if Ted didn’t answer the door, how did he find out that the Spice Girls were outside? And if he found out, why didn’t he let them in? Did Mrs Doyle see, refrain from telling Ted, then decide to tell him later for some reason? With so little context, they might even be talking about some kind of abstract hypothetical rather than something that’s actually just happened. It simply doesn’t work, and without music, audience laughter, or commentary, it’s oddly tense to boot. Months after “Rock a Hula Ted”, why did they think a joke about female pop stars knocking on the door of the Parochial House still had mileage? Strange!
Interestingly, though, there is another reference to the Spice Girls in Father Ted. And, like this one, it’s not in an actual episode – it’s in the following year’s Comic Relief sketch. At the end of that sketch, Ted signs off saying that the show is about to go to Shepherd’s Bush, where the Spice Girls are performing; overhearing this, Jack shouts “Spice Girls?!” and zooms off in his wheelchair. While a little basic, this at least makes sense as a joke, and might go some way towards redeeming the earlier reference – perhaps the band’s attempt to visit the Parochial House was in some way connected to Ted’s recent win of the Golden Cleric, which also earned him the role of hosting the Red Nose Day telethon. (Also, it’s just kind of nice to think they got to meet the Spice Girls in the end.)
Finally, there’s a pair of ads that can were commissioned to promote the third series – a clear duo, sharing the same graphics, announcements, and on-screen dates. The first of these begins with Jack twitching in his chair, croaking “Oh-hh-hh”. We then see an exasperated Ted standing before him, holding up a placard that reads “WATCH THE NEW SERIES OF FATHER TED!”, and shaking it as if that will somehow hammer the message through. “Wuh-wh-wh,” attempts Jack, before bursting into a shout of “Arse biscuits!” The announcer tells us when we can watch the premiere as Ted shakes his head in disappointment. What’s interesting about this ad is that, rather than attempting to sell Father Ted to new audiences, it’s simply content to let the existing audience know that the show is coming back. Ted giving Jack elocution lessons is obviously a recreation of a storyline from “Tentacles of Doom”, but using a placard rather than an easel genericises the joke: people holding signs at each other with big silly messages on them are a classic element that appears in all three series, and by this point would already have been warmly familiar. (The way the ad is set up and filmed seems drawn from Mrs Doyle’s scene with Father Fintan Stack in “New Jack City”.) “Arse biscuits!”, of course, is a non-specific exclamation of disrespect that Jack makes towards the eponymous character in “Kicking Bishop Brennan Up the Arse”. Despite being spoken once in the show, the phrase has become quite popular, and was even used by Ben Keaton as the name of his Father Purcell pub quiz. While this sort of thing necessarily blunts the original moment’s surprising weirdness, the juxtaposition’s indisputable dadaist genius remains. What’s truly strange, though, is that this ad aired before that episode. To us, it looks like a “Tentacles of Doom”/”Kicking Bishop Brennan Up the Arse” fusion – a combination of two hyper-specific Father Ted jokes – but to audiences at the time, it must have seemed like the latter episode was referencing the ad; that rather than failing to pronounce the word “watch” and landing on “drink”, Jack was landing on a completely arbitrary new curse no-one had ever heard before, only for it to be reprised in the show itself, six episodes later. As for why Ted was holding up such a confusingly meta placard, well, Jack has been known to confuse his fellow Craggy Islanders for television characters, so presumably we just got a glimpse of some unseen adventure in which Ted attempts to heal Jack’s broken mind by playing along with his delusions.
It’s fair to say that the show’s advertising campaign steadily improved as the show went on, as the its greatest and most baffling ad was saved for the very last. In this ad, we find Ted standing before the Parochial House fireplace, wearing a spotless white jacket, holding a red clipboard in his hands, and smiling directly at the camera. “Hello, I’m Professor Ted Crilly, and I’ve just conducted a mind-swap between Father Jack and Mrs Doyle.” Cut to the other side of the room: Mrs Doyle sits in Jack’s chair, dominating the armrests despite her small frame, staring dead-eyed into space. Jack stands over her, wearing a frilly apron. Both of them have goofy red plastic sci-fi helmets on their heads, connected by a coil of yellow wire. Jack leans down to proffer a teapot and cup, whining in an affected, reedy voice: “Ah you’ll have a little cup of tea, ah you will, ah go on!” Without looking up, Mrs Doyle slams her arms down on the chair, barking “Arse!” Jack turns back towards Ted, as if seeking further instructions, but Ted just laughs, unperturbed. “I’ve also done myself and Dougal, but nothing seems to have happened. Right, Dougal?” We see Dougal in the other corner, sitting in an armchair and halfway through a hardback book. He glances up, mutters a brusque “Shut up, Ted!”, and returns to the volume. “Oh, right!” says Ted, leaning back, an expression of utter puzzlement covering his face, his wide eyes darting aimlessly about the room. A title card appears on-screen, and an announcer adds the same message that ended the previous ad: “Evening worship: Father Ted is back, Friday 6th of March, on Four.” (Isn’t it interesting how so many of these ads and sketches – practically any Father Ted work under a minute or two long – ends up defaulting to some kind of vague joke paralleling religion with something non-religious?)
The real-world logic is straightforward enough: the writers were running out of things for the characters to do, hit upon the idea of having the actors mimic each other, and decided to base a sketch around it since the concept could neither support an episode nor fit reasonably into another one. That said, we do get glimpses of this idea in the show itself: the image of Dougal, sitting self-absorbed in the living room and giving an unconvincing performance as another priest, is familiar from his experiment with Jack’s chair in “Grant Unto Him Eternal Rest”, while Ted’s sudden mimicry of Dougal is almost identical to his guilt-trip outburst at the climax of “The Mainland”. Before Father Ted, Morgan was famed for his impersonations – a staple of his stand-up, his music, and his satirical work, both radio and televised – to the point that it’s a little strange the show never really took advantage of this skill. But none of this matters: the ad is great fun, even quite quotable in its own little way. And if you’re going to break continuity as profoundly as “Ted is a mad scientist with godlike abilities”, you might as well just go meta and give Morgan an opportunity to do some of the direct-to-audience showboating banter he always loved.
It’s also endearing how confident the ad is in its own efficacy – it’s so certain that viewers will know Father Ted and want to watch it that it doesn’t bother even attempting to convey what the show is. Someone who hadn’t seen the first two series would come away with the impression that this was Red Dwarf with priests. If Morgan had lived, and the writers, out of ideas, had been compelled to continue the show, is that what we would have ended up with – zany, colourful lunacy, taking the show’s evolution from the initial rural clerical sitcom to the third series’s wacky explosive milkfloats one step further into full-blown fantasy? It’s like watching a despatch from a perfect and impossible future.
This ad doesn’t really make sense, but unlike some of the others, it’s wild and fun enough that this never matters. And I’m not just talking about the obviously nonsensical aspects, either: why do Jack and Mrs Doyle require a live connection to swap their minds, while Ted and Dougal don’t? Why does Ted act totally like himself right up until Dougal tells him to shut up – is their mind-swap only partial, with each possessing dual split or fused personalities, or is the final twist that Ted was actually Dougal throughout the entire sketch? (And if so, why does “Dougal” say “Shut up, Ted” when he himself is Ted?) Why are the characters merely imitating one another’s shallowest traits if they’ve actually traded consciousnesses? Experimenting on Jack and Mrs Doyle is a credible move for the character, but under what circumstances would Ted ever decide, “I know, I’ll swap my mind with Dougal’s”? There’s enough complexity in this ad alone to provide the life’s work of some poor academic soul.
Now, it’s evident that this ad would be the single weirdest Father Ted work to attempt to reconcile with the canon. In other words, it’s that time again: how can we reconcile it with the canon? The first possibility that springs to mind is that this is a What-If, an Elseworlds story, set in a parallel Craggy Island where things are a little bit different. This is contradicted by Morgan’s performance, however, as his line delivery actively emphasises how strange these events are: “I’m Professor Ted Crilly.” None of this tells us who or what Ted is diegetically addressing: possibilities include a straightforward unseen viewpoint character; a camera crew filming some sort of documentary (perhaps even the Faith of Our Fathers lads, returning for a follow-up); the audience themselves, with Ted’s new scientific mastery bringing (or being brought by) metafictional awareness; or thin air, with Ted talking to no-one, having lost his mind entirely. All solid explanations.
Placing the ad chronologically is tricky. This sort of immense weirdness is so narrative-breaking that it can generally only be placed at the end of a series (so that no-one has to attempt a continuation) or the beginning (so that it can be what creates a story in the first place). We can see Father Stone’s painting on the wall behind Ted, so this can’t be a prequel: no, this needs to happen after the events of “Going to America”, both because its unprecedentedly wacky events fit the projected trajectory of what the fourth series might have been like, and because there’s basically just no going back to normality from here. So, what happened to Ted? How did he become an inventor capable of manipulating and transferring human consciousness? What was his doctorate in, and at what institute did he receive it? Is he actually a renegade Time Lord who used a Chameleon Arch to transform himself into a human as part of some grand adventure, and is now celebrating his reawakened true identity by gleefully, disorientedly experimenting with some Gallifreyan technology? In lieu of an official Professor Ted spin-off sci-fi sitcom, I’m afraid I’ll just have to assume that Father Ted Crilly is actually an unseen past or future incarnation of the Doctor, and that the sprawling infinity of stories comprising Doctor Who is actually just an elaborate shaggy-dog-story Father Ted sequel (or prequel). His theft of the Lourdes fund echoes his theft of the TARDIS, a spontaneous defining act that represents the rebellious escapism at the heart of the character, while any memories Ted has of his human family or life before he found himself at St Colum’s seminary are artificial, implanted by the Chameleon Arch to help him blend in with his adopted civilisation. Father Dick Byrne is the Master, likely retaining his Time Lord memories but choosing to go incognito to torment his rival. (And speaking of Doctor Who, isn’t there something freakishly fortuitous in the fact that they just happened to shoot footage in which another actor “becomes” the new Ted? He has the ability, as he proved by playing the Ted-like straight man in Wide Open Spaces, Mathews’s 2009 film. Imagine if the fourth series had opened with the mind-swap ad, relaunching the show with O’Hanlon as the Second Ted…)
You’re still reading? OK. There’s another subtext here. Professor Ted is obviously meant to be wearing a lab coat, but the framing makes it hard to tell if it actually is one – presumably the team just grabbed the first white garment they found in the prop department. Combined with the fact that they left Ted’s collar on, the overall impression isn’t laboratorial so much as heavenly: like the denizens of the afterlife in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Ted seems decked out in a shining, perfected version of what his regular clothing happened to be; an inverted negative of the flawed, black-haired, leather-clad Father Trendy. And, of course, the date advertised here for the series premiere is the original one – before the series was pushed back to 13th March out of respect, quite possible making this ad the last Father Ted material to air during the actor’s lifetime. On one hand, it’s a bitter reminder of a happier time – a world where Morgan could cheerfully advertise the new episodes as if he would live to see them. On the other, it gives us the image of Morgan, beaming at us one last time, dressed like a pop-culture depiction of a good soul in heaven, engaging one last time with his audience in the effortless manner that always characterised so much of his work. Unlike the episodes, and even most of the other sketches and ads, there’s no threat or tension here. Sci-fi strangeness, yet, but it’s played entirely for gentle laughs, and never seems like even a mild problem. Ted is, perhaps for the first time, purely happy.
There’s a comedic conceit which Graham Linehan is deeply committed to, and which lies at the core of all his sitcom successes: the character who is exasperated by his partner’s stupidity, but cannot recognise that same stupidity in himself. We see this same dynamic between Maurice Moss and Roy Trenneman; between Manny Bianco and Bernard Black; and between Father Dougal and Father Ted. Where one man is always blessed by a perfect emptiness, a density that borders on a kind of blissful singularity, the other is always fraught and human, riddled with insecurity and egoism, desperately needing to be smarter and better but never escaping the gravity of the holy fool. Here the principle is expressed as clearly as ever it was, and there’s something oddly touching about it: for all their perceived differences, when Father Ted Crilly conducts a mind-swap with Father Dougal McGuire, nothing seems to have happened.
So, those are the last of the contemporary Father Ted ads – a charmingly offbeat sequence of minuscule adventures whose main value now is in the opportunity to see a few minutes more of our favourite priests. That’s not quite the end, however: this story has an appendix. Morgan’s death sadly renders Ted a role he can never revisit or reappraise; a character frozen in amber, preserved in his last moment as a 1998 sitcom character, never to become anything more or less. But this doesn’t quite apply to the other characters. Of course, the impossibility of depicting Ted has serious effects on the prospects of Dougal, Jack, and Mrs Doyle. Without him, they’re like a solar system whose sun has been snuffed out: still theoretically intact, just hurtling into a freezing void. It meant that they would never make a true, substantial reappearance… but they lingered nonetheless, and traces of them can still be found by those who know where to look.
In July 2001, the Inland Revenue commissioned a series of advertisements urging the people of Britain to get their self-assessed tax returns in on time. The gimmick? The one doing the urging is Mrs Doyle, her catchphrase co-opted and transformed into an insistence on paperwork. She was selected as a replacement for the previous mascot, Hector the Tax Inspector, a popular animated character voiced by Alec Guinness. Hector was retired following Guinness’s death, with the marketing team deciding he was “too white, middle-class, and middle-aged”. The fact that this also describes Mrs Doyle fairly well doesn’t seem to have been raised as an issue, so presumably the thinking was simply that Father Ted was cool. Perhaps they were impressed by the begging skill she displayed in the Comic Relief sketch and decided to run with it? This Mrs Doyle campaign was always intended as an interim measure between longer-term plans, with even the initial announcement saying that she’d only be used for the remainder of the year – it’s as if the marketing team knew if was a dodgy idea from the start.
Six ads featuring Mrs Doyle were produced, and all feature her standing alone, in shallow focus, in what looks like the lobby of a modern office building. The first three Mrs Doyle ads aired in mid-2001, in the lead-up to the 30th September self-assessment deadline. One, seemingly inspired by a scene in “Old Grey Whistle Theft”, begins with Mrs Doyle standing in silhouette, murmuring “Go on, go on, go on” in her sleep. When the light hits her, she starts awake, holds up a tax form like she’s been electrocuted, and continues “Go on, go on, go on!” The next ad is slightly less disturbing, and finds her awake and cheerful: “Go on, go on, go on, get it in on time, and they’ll work out the tax for you! They will! It’s mad! Go on, go on, go on, go on…” The third is by far the worst, and features Mrs Doyle sternly delivering what’s quite literally the single most out-of-character line imaginable: “And where do you think you’re going? This is no time to be filling the kettle – you’ll want to be filling this in! Ah, you will…”
The last three Mrs Doyle ads aired in the lead-up to another self-assessment deadline at the end of January 2002. The first of these, and the only one of the six with dynamic camerawork, continues with Mrs Doyle in stern mode: “Naughty, naughty. Some of you haven’t filled in your tax return yet. So you’ll fill it in. You will…” In this one, the camera slowly drifts away as she talks, then zooms back in for the final furious “YOU WILL”. The next begins in a similar, slightly more exasperated, register: “Oh, come on, now. Get it in by the 31st of January. You don’t want to risk a fine. You don’t. You don’t…” At this point, something seems to click in her mind, and she brightens: “You don’t, you don’t, you don’t!” The last ad, like the first, begins with Mrs Doyle emerging from darkness, but this time she’s already awake and alert, with a new light in her eyes as she clutches the tax return: “Ta-da! It’s not too late! Go on, go on…”
Even on a conceptual level, catchphrase comedy has obvious limitations. With its two-syllable simplicity and relentless insistence, Mrs Doyle’s catchphrase is not one with a great deal of elasticity. These ads don’t stretch it: they shred it into incomprehensibility, buffeting the viewer with “go”s and “on”s till we’re left sobbing in the dirt and no word seems like it could ever mean anything again. From the abuse of a catchphrase that was actually used quite sparingly in the show to the blasphemous violation of character, this is an actively horrible ad campaign, quite rightly voted the most irritating of 2001 in an Adwatch poll of 1,000 people (narrowly beating out Ferrero Rocher, fittingly enough). But perhaps that’s part of the point: the poor souls subjected to this campaign now bear its irremovable psychic scars, and will never forget to fill out their tax returns till the day they die. They really are painful to watch, and one can only hope that McLynn was paid handsomely for them.
On a slightly brighter note, the show’s make-up is recreated faithfully, and in lieu of the original costumes, we get four new outfits evoking her original look, which I’m sure will please any hardcore Mrs Doyle cosplayers out there. So, how do these ads work diegetically? While the line where Mrs Doyle asks us not to make some tea will always keep me awake at night, I like to imagine these ads are the result of an unseen misadventure with a subplot in which Mrs Doyle accidentally becomes famous – as a punchline, some of her advertising work could then appear in the background of the episode’s credits, just like the final scenes of “A Song for Europe” and “Night of the Nearly Dead”. In June 2002, Mrs Doyle was replaced by Tomorrow’s World presenter Adam Hart-Davis, who has the prestigious honour of being the second Inland Revenue self-assessment spokesperson selected after rising to fame in a television series with a theme composed by Neil Hannon. Do the Hector and Hart-Davis videos take place in the Father Ted universe, you ask? Well, I see no reason they shouldn’t.
But Mrs Doyle wasn’t the only Father Ted character to get some new material in 2001. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, PBS recruited Ardal O’Hanlon to star in a series of fundraising videos, in-character as Father Dougal. Six ads were produced, and like Mrs Doyle’s work with the Inland Revenue, they follow a rigid format: Dougal, sitting at a table with a cactus, asking us to donate money to our local stations. “Hello! Father Dougal McGuire here, from the multi-award-winning television comedy Father Ted,” he begins in the first one. “Some of you over here in Australia – America – may not have heard of Father Ted, but it really was very popular. America… that’s where Jurassic Park is, isn’t it? I better make this quick: please contribute to your local public broadcasting station. It’s viewers like you who have the power, through your contributions, to keep quality programmes – not to mention Father Ted – on the air. Your local public broadcasting station needs you!”
As you can tell, the dialogue is not particularly sharp. When O’Hanlon filmed these ads, it had been four years since he’d last played Dougal. Maybe it’s the dialogue, maybe it’s the actor being out of practise, but the character here really doesn’t feel like Dougal – the videos might as well have been presented by O’Hanlon without any fictional trappings. And that’s assuming that these videos were necessary in the first place – I’m certainly glad they exist, and they’re a fascinating little part of Father Ted history, but they’re so stilted and muddled that I can’t imagine that a simple, fun trailer packaging together some of show’s better jokes with the theme in the background wouldn’t have done more to convey its appeal and persuade potential viewers to tune in and donate for more quality content. I think the real problem here is that Dougal – as performed by O’Hanlon, if not necessarily on the page – is fundamentally a very reactive character, who requires a more grounded co-performer to anchor him. Without someone there to get exasperated at Dougal, how does he even work? McLynn’s ads are annoying, but she remains commanding and magnetic in them, and that’s something O’Hanlon doesn’t manage here. He tries rushing through the lines about the show’s acclaim, but without the easy warmth and charm that let Morgan get away with the same thing in the rehearsal ad – O’Hanlon just can’t do sincerity while remaining in-character, and poor Dougal starts to look like he’s on trial. He fares relatively well when it comes to the more upbeat lines, but for the most part, these ads just don’t work, and the decision to plead to Americans that the show “really was very popular” over here just comes across as a bit sad and desperate. It’s painfully clear that Ted himself is the natural fit for this type of post-show meta-spokesmanship, and Dougal a bad ambassador, an unnatural substitute. In one ad, someone off-screen pokes him with an umbrella because he’s facing the wrong way. In another, he strokes the cactus, then looks pained. One of them really loses the plot with the Jurassic Park joke and has Dougal actually hear a dinosaur off-screen, implying that the film is really a documentary in the Father Ted universe, or something.
Things take an even stranger turn in the ad where Dougal actually invokes the show’s other characters: “Ted, Jack, and Mrs Doyle, and me, have been really lonely without all you Australian viewers – no, no, American viewers – coming to visit. Come and see us next week … Mrs Doyle may even make you a lovely cup of tea.” Although the context is metafictional, it’s still oddly poignant to see Dougal referring to Ted as still alive in a sketch recorded after Morgan’s death. Another ad pushes the Toy Story factor a little harder: “Ted, Jack, Mrs Doyle, and I have been getting dusty, sitting on the shelf, so please vote for us, and your public broadcasting station will let us get some air.” What dusty shelf is that, Dougal? Certainly not a shelf anywhere in Ireland. Do Father Ted characters work like the deities in American Gods, diverging into different aspects as their followers carry them across the world?
It’s unclear how these ads were meant to be shown, but they share so much dialogue that they don’t often feel like separate advertisements so much as a single ad rewritten several times, iterating but not particularly improving. The joke where Dougal confused America with Australia, then becomes afraid because he associates America with Jurassic Park, is used three times, but at least the Jurassic Park reference feels like proper Father Ted material, given that the film is mentioned in both “The Passion of Saint Tibulus” and “New Jack City”. Dougal’s emotional state varies even as the dialogue remains largely the same, giving the impression of watching multiple takes of the same scene. That said, the emotional variance is mainly between mild and moderate levels of saurian anxiety. I know I said something similar earlier, but with the arbitrary cactus and the background that resembles wooden curtains, it’s hard to escape the sense that Dougal is trapped in the Black Lodge. We do get one solid joke, though: “And as we all know, as priests, every time a pledge isn’t sent in, an angel… gets locked out of his house.” Later DVD releases included the six videos as the bonus feature “Fundraising with Father Dougal”.
So, both Mrs Doyle and Father Dougal would grace our screens one last time each, with both McLynn and O’Hanlon returning to their iconic roles… albeit in batches of advertisements that each function at something of a remove from the show’s setting. But what of Father Jack? With Dermot Morgan gone, would Frank Kelly return as Ted’s third companion and pay his respects?
Well, yes… after a fashion. But it wasn’t in an ad, and it may not exactly have been official. Now, Graham Norton is probably the greatest success story of any Father Ted alum. After his guest role as Father Noel Furlong, he went on to become a prominent presenter of British television, and is probably the only actor whose Father Ted character is not necessarily what leaps to the mind of every Irish person upon hearing his name. In short, Norton occupies a slightly strange role for the show, simultaneously its pride and its prodigal son, much as Furlong is paradoxically both amusing and intolerable. On 24th May, 2012, Norton appeared as a guest on BBC’s The One Show, where he chatted with hosts Alex Jones and Matt Baker about his role commentating on the network’s upcoming broadcast of the 2012 Olympics. It was a perfectly ordinary conversation on a perfectly beige chat show. Then something amazing happened: Father Jack showed up.
Baker segues into the joke by mentioning Norton’s role as an agony uncle for the Daily Telegraph, saying that they have a message from someone who has a few little problems: “a friend from Father Ted”. The show cuts to a pre-filmed segment, and there he is, fourteen years on: Father Jack Hackett, in the flesh. Kelly does look a little different: he’s aged, of course, and his hairline has receded, but without the show’s crusty make-up and milky contact lens, he looks strangely, hearteningly youthful. He’s in a regular grey suit rather than his original costume, but still wears his classic grotesque dentures. Kelly was evidently filmed before a green screen, which has been replaced with an aerial photograph of the Dublin cityscape, the Four Courts building clearly visible in the background.
“Drink, drink, drink!” shouts Jack. “Oh, girls, girls, girls. And a nice fat duck!” Kelly is clearly delighted to be back in the role and on television, laughing malevolently between lines, following up two predictable catchphrases with a non-sequitur to rival the best of Linehan and Mathews before grinning to show off his rotting teeth. Norton, who genuinely doesn’t seem to have been told about the Jack call-in, is temporarily incapacitated with laughter. When Baker asks him for his prognosis, Norton can only come up with “Yeah, maybe less ‘drink, drink, drink'” before trailing off into an irrelevant discussion about whether or not Kelly was in Emmerdale or Coronation Street. Thankfully, Jones announces that the priest has another question, and we cut back to Jack, now a little sterner. “Do you not get bored poncing around on the British television over there?” he asks. “Come back home and we’ll give you a bucket of porridge. That’ll shut your mouth.” Jack flashes that rotten grin one more time, and then he’s gone.
Baker can’t understand Jack’s accent, much to the amusement of Norton, who has to translate the question to “English” before answering that no, he’s quite happy to be on British television. The conversation moves on, and that’s it. Comedically speaking, it’s hard not to consider Norton and the hosts’ unscripted reactions as a bit of a missed opportunity, but Kelly’s video remains a very welcome addition to the Father Ted universe: a late chance to revisit the last major character whom the foolish marketeers of our world never saw fit to liberate again upon our screens. I’m not even joking: Kelly was quite open to advertising work, becoming spokesman for Mr Tayto as part of a comedic campaign beginning in 2007, and Jack’s combination of vicious irascibility and arbitrary fixations would have made him the perfect vessel for any insane, expensive video campaign any coked-up executive could ever conceive.
In terms of Jack’s character, the Norton call-in is an interesting extension: it allows us to see an older Jack, one who appears to have mellowed somewhat with age – after all, it is a leap year. While perhaps not intentional, the overall effect echoes the beatific Ted in the Professor Ted Crilly sketch. It seems that the intention here was simply to draft in someone producers not too familiar with Father Ted were vaguely aware had starred alongside Norton at some point, as the second clip has Kelly essentially playing Jack as a generic grumpy old Irish priest, whom viewers are not necessarily required to recognise – the Dublin-city backdrop supports this angle, and it’s hard to imagine Jack, whose only interaction with Father Noel in the show was glancing briefly at him in “Flight Into Terror”, caring much about an Irish media personality going the Henry Sellers route and becoming successful in the UK. (And what’s happening here diegetically? Perhaps the character Jack is speaking to actor Norton through an interdimensional communication device, but I prefer to think that Graham Norton has always been Father Noel Furlong, under deep cover, Father-Benny-Cake-style, infiltrating the non-priest media for his own nefarious reasons – he’s always seemed like a Father Ted character escaped into real life anyway. Crackfic writers, do your thing.)
Given that we only know about Jack’s appearance on The One Show episode #1,056 (or whatever) because some random Father Ted fan happened to catch it, record it, and stick it on their YouTube channel, it’s alarmingly possible that Kelly (or other Father Ted cast members, for that matter) made similar in-character media appearances over the years, which may have been some combination of unplanned, unauthorised, and unannounced, and are now lost and forgotten. I myself have a very dim childhood memory of seeing Kelly appear in-character on a talk show, maybe in the late 1990s on RTÉ, but this might just be a dream or confabulation. What’s definitely real, though, are the digital photographs of Kelly as Jack surrounded by flowers which first appeared online in 2015. If anyone has any more information about that mysterious event (or my own hazy talk-show recollection), I’d love to hear it.
Barring any further revelations, I think that concludes the tale of the forgotten Father Ted videos, and how Mrs Doyle, Father Dougal, and Father Jack each found their own way back to our screens one last time. Entirely true, and almost entirely official. As for the unofficial videos… well, that’s a story for another day, and it’s not the sort that has an ending.