Ballymagash to Craggy Island: Five great Frank Kelly creations
Comedian played a range of memorable and lovable characters on television and radio
1. Hall’s Pictorial Weekly:
The long-running satirical TV programme (RTÉ, 1971- 1982) created by Frank Hall, featured a newsroom set in the fictitious village of Ballymagash.
It famously was associated with the defeat of the national coalition government in the 1977 general election.
Frank Kelly told the story: “I was once accosted by a politician, who shall remain unnamed, on a bridge crossing the Shannon in Limerick and he attacked me over Hall’s Pictorial Weekly, and said that it was disgracefully irreverent and very unkind to politicians, etc., etc. and as he walked away he said, ‘but if there’s any chance of a mention, don’t forget me’.”
He did a great purse-lipped “Mary Riardin”, buttering mounds of sliced pan with the Christmas butter in spoofs of The Riordans; or supping tea from saucers as Kelly and Eamon Morrissey’s Ballymagash characters comment on current affairs.
2. Glen Abbey Radio Show:
Some of Frank Kelly’s memorable radio sketches on The Glen Abbey Radio Show were phone calls from gombeen culchie Gobnait O’Lúnasa, starting with the sound of him slotting coins in an old phone box. His first words were often: “Hello! Guess who? Is that you Nuala? Lissen... ” And they involved elaborate stories and hoaxes.
“Who the hell do you think it is? You’ll have to guess now. I’ll give you a clue. Does the gay bachelor at the turnip festival mean anything to you? (Pause.) Right...”
A compilation of his sketches was released on a CD in 2000, with tracks including the Ayatollah Ceili Band (a pun on The Tulla Céilí Band), Magnum Farce, Incoming Call, and Festive Spirit.
Frank Kelly: Hall's Pictorial Weekly
Other sketches involved Kelly playing an English BBC reporter interviewing locals about customs such as watching bacon being sliced, or “ha-hooing” (rebel yelling) competitions in the village of “Ballykilferret” in “the Republic of Eer-ah”.
3. Christmas Countdown:
Hard to pick just one highlight from the hit comedy single from 1982.
“Day 7: Nuala. We are not amused by your little joke. Seven swans-a-swimming is a most romantic idea but not in the bath of a private house. We cannot use the bathroom now because they’ve gone completely savage and rush the door every time we try to enter. If things go on this way, the mother and I will smell as bad as the living-room carpet. Please lay off. It is not fair. Gobnait.”
4. The Tayto ads:
Kelly became the frontman for a crisp marketing campaign which included readings from Mr Tayo, The Man Inside the Jacket — “the incredible story of one man’s journey from tilling fields of Ireland to become the nation’s top potato”.
5. Father Ted:
The over-the-top portrayal of drink-sodden lech drew some criticism for stereotyping but Kelly commented: “I know, we know, the writers know, there’s nothing funny about alcoholism — there’s nothing funny about anything that’s one dimensional. It is the context in which you put things that creates the ironies or the possibility of embarrassment or farce... It’s the juxtaposition of one thing that’s unlikely against another which creates irony, which creates humour.”
He said: “Father Ted is not a lampoon of the church at all. It’s a dysfunctional little family, and it’s a very convenient umbrella to bring these people together under. Ted is a guy who is really trying to do it properly. He’s very flawed because he’s greedy and has a background of some embezzlement; he’s weak. Dougal is a dum-dum, which you will get in any job. But my character is an exaggeration of a problem that exists within the church: superannuated, alcoholic, ancient priests who have to be looked after by younger men.”
In one episode Ted (Dermot Morgan) and Dougal (Ardal O’Hanlon) describe Father Jack in alternate sentences: “Mid-50s to mid-80s. Tremendous smell of vegetables off him for some reason. Angry man, very angry. Hates children. Likes a drink.”
Some memorable Father Ted moments include: In one episode, when three Bishops come for a visit, Father Ted teaches him how to say “yes” and “that would be an ecumenical matter” to prevent him from insulting them with crude answers.
Or when Father Jack got stuck in a tree, with a parachute, having fallen from a plane... with the drinks trolley also stuck in a tree, just beyond his reach.