Life after Ted

Sat, May 2, 1998, 01:00

So that's it. The last Father Ted ever has been shown and now the series joins the list of classic comedy series - Fawlty Towers, Dad's Army, Cheers. The last lines of last night's last episode of Father Ted were Dougal's, to Ted, who was not going to his new parish in Beverly Hills after all: "So you'll stay with me and Father Jack and Mrs Doyle for ever and ever and ever . . ." Dermot Morgan - still unbelievably - may be gone, but he will be there for ever and ever on Craggy Island.

The programme attracts regular audiences of three and a half to four million, which makes it one of Channel Four's biggest successes. The first and second series have had many re-runs, have been bought by television stations (including RTE) in several countries and have won a raft of comedy awards. And for the last six Friday nights, for the third and last series, we have all been dashing to reach a TV set or video recorder. Last night the cast and crew of Father Ted got together in London, in producer Lissa Evan's house, to raise a glass in memory of Dermot Morgan, and also to celebrate winning a bronze medal this week at the TV awards in Montreux. "It's a very strange festival," co-writer Graham Linehan said this week. "All these different countries are judging it and you don't know whether they're getting the subtleties in some of the dialogue - not that there's much subtlety in Ted. So we chose one of the most visual episodes, which is the very first one, because there are swastikas in it and that's a symbol that Europeans can immediately understand. The funny thing is the main judge is German, so to win with that against us was pretty good!"

It might have been the last series of Father Ted that Graham Lenihan and Arthur Mathews would have written anyway. "We were going to make the decision whether or not to do another series, but I'm sure it would have probably called us back eventually," says Lenihan. "We wouldn't have been able to resist it. To be honest, I would have been prouder of ourselves deciding not to do it if Dermot hadn't died. It's just very pure. Some of my favourite bands broke up before they made arses of themselves - they chose not to go on and on and on, like, eh . . . Page and Plant!"

But for Arthur Mathews, "I think it's a natural end, I would have found writing another really hard work. There's something right about it ending, apart from Dermot and all. I think that it probably should have been the last one anyway."

Pauline McLynn echoes that sentiment: "I wish it wasn't so emphatic an ending. But at least we know it will never get the chance to go off the boil. I believe the third series is just the finest, consistently fantastic and funny, which comes initially from Graham and Arthur's scripts. Anything we gave to it is just a plus."

Mind you, it's not quite the end - there's a Ted book in the pipeline for next autumn, which Pauline describes as "a sort of parish annual, with priest detectives, and Ireland's Own-style stories".

While there has been a touch of pathos in watching a series that seems even more centred around the character of Ted than the previous two, Pauline McLynn insists that Morgan wouldn't have wanted sentimentality. "He'd be thrilled that people do feel strongly and are sad, he'd be very heartened by that. But he was always quite on the cutting edge of humour that a lot of people found uncomfortable and I think he himself would say you have to enjoy the series, you have to laugh at it. So I don't think people should be too sad. It'll be around for a long time yet, that particular testament to him."

TRULY, life will never be the same again for anyone associated with Father Ted. McLynn is busy hosting a show for Greater London Radio on Saturday afternoons - Brian Eno, who played a priest in last night's episode, is a guest today, and they'll be looking at Eurovision tracks and "wondering what has Shay Healy done to this country at all. I think it's a plot of Shay's to beggar the country somehow."

She has just finished a role in the first episode of a new Ballykissangel, where she plays the timid Mrs Mooney, who becomes an entrepreneur, and then is in a BBC Belfast radio production of a play by Irish Times columnist John Waters, Adverse Possessions. McLynn, who lives in London, Dublin and Kilkenny (where her husband, Cat Laughs comedy festival director Richard Cook, is based), later has a part in Pat Murphy's film about Nora Barnacle - "It's a fantastic script, I'm only sorry I'm not Nora. It's racy and passionate and sexy, and there's great dialogue. I have a very nice part as a woman who hates Nora and I get to be very mean to her and give her a terrible hard time."

In a few weeks she and Frank Kelly will be reunited for a comedy drama called Spangles And Tights for BBC Radio 4, written by Christopher Fitz-Simon. Kelly talks about moving on: "I've always been able to adapt to these things. Every job I've ever been on has come to an end, they all do, and you've to get out from under the last stereotype and get another job." And what a stereotype - "if you can get out from that you can get out from under anything!"

Ted for him has had a huge impact and notoriety. "It opened the market in England and has given us an identity over there." There are possible radio and film projects in the pipeline for him, and he has also recently been to South Africa, to plan a walk he is leading for the Multiple Sclerosis Society in October. For Kelly, a fanatical walker and hiker, it sounds like a perfect project - through the Drakensberg Mountains to Durban, then flying to Port Elizabeth, followed by a forest trek, and the garden route to Capetown where they will climb Table Mountain. "It'll be a great experience. I need to get in training for it."

In some ways he still can't believe Dermot Morgan is dead. "His life force is still around, not in a superstitious or mystical way, but he left a kind of a vacuum. He was like a black hole in quantum physics, that pulled everything after him. He was a huge driving force."

Frank Kelly has a novel - serious, not comic - "half-written", which reminds him of the story about the two guys in an Irish literary pub: " `I'm writing a novel,' says one. "Neither am I,' says the other. At least I don't fall into that category! But I'm not too frantic to be working all the time, because I've been away for a total of five months."

Ardal O'Hanlon, who has "the face of an angel", McLynn says, has also written a novel, which is published by Sceptre next month. Talk Of The Town, set in a small Irish town, is about an insecure 19-year-old, and it has already been reprinted, prior to publication. He's promoting the book at the moment, having just returned from doing some live shows in France.

Following his role in The Butcher Boy, O'Hanlon, who lives in both London and Dublin, is looking at a film screenplay, a TV drama script and a couple of series ideas. He will do a live tour in Britain in the autumn, but will probably not tour Ireland until next year.

Meanwhile Mathews and Lenihan are busy working in their London office on scripts (both Talkback productions for BBC 2) that sound a million miles from Ted: at the moment they're writing a show which they describe as "our attempt to do sketches that are unlike the Fast Show or anything else that's on TV at the moment. Then there's a series about hippies editing an underground magazine in London in the late '60s. It's going to be different from Ted - we'll be looking for English actors rather than Irish actors. All through Ted we kept meeting English actors putting on Irish accents. Now if we have Irish actors they'll be putting on English accents!"

They start working with actors for the sketch show next week, and recording in June. "It's likely to be a fairly cold, emotionless affair with none of the warmth and success of Ted," says Lenihan tongue-in-cheek. "I wouldn't say we're not looking for the success but I'd be amazed if we get it. Ted is very warm, it's almost like a soap opera in that people know the characters. But in this you won't get a chance to know the characters, they're changing all the time. And we're also going to try to resist any efforts that the audience make to love them." He changes his mind. "Actually, some of the ideas are quite sweet, I'm only being half serious. It's just obvious that Ted's going to hang over us like a massive shadow for the rest of time so we're going to have to see if we can do things that will stand up to the legacy. . . That's one thing I can assure people, that we will try to better Ted.

"In one way I feel very, very sad because it was so important to our lives for so long. And obviously when Dermot died it was such a huge shock. But also the characters - we feel very strongly about the characters, they're like kind of friends almost. It's a strange thing that it's coming to an end and we won't be able to occasionally drop in on them."