Year of Release: 1985
An appropriate one, this, since this week marks the twenty year anniversary of the first episode of "Father Ted" being broadcast (if I'd been quicker on the ball, I'd have had this blog entry written days ago). In the leading role, Morgan's depiction of a priest filled with thwarted ambitions stuck on an island of rural idiots was fantastic. While O'Hanlon's dumb and innocent Father Dougal McGuire gets most of the obvious laughs initially, on repeated viewings it's Ted's horrendous and lonely predicament that gives the series its backbone. Without his entrapment and world-weariness, "Father Ted" would simply be a cast of idiots behaving oddly and chaotically.
As has been widely documented elsewhere, Morgan's career in Ireland far pre-dated "Father Ted". Active on radio and television comedy from 1979 onwards, he developed a reputation for sharp satire, taking on numerous authority figures or slightly dangerous targets (including the IRA). One of his earliest creations, Father Trendy, mocked priests who attempted to get down with their younger parishioners, but he was a slightly more hollow and vain creation than the priest Arthur Matthews created for the series.
Evidence of Morgan's popularity in Ireland in the eighties can be found in the fact that he was granted several novelty single releases during that period, always the hallmark of a bankable comedian. "Thank You Very Much Mr Eastwood" is perhaps the most famous of the set, and was penned to mock the predictable antics of one Barry McGuigan, the highly successful Irish featherweight boxer. Known for his habit of thanking his manager after every victory, "Thank You Very Much Mr Eastwood" rips into his clumsy speech patterns with obvious glee. If McGuigan feels like a questionable target these days, it's perhaps because, like most sports heroes, he has faded into the background in his retirement. At his peak he was an ubiquitous figure, even being a guest on the likes of "Noel's House Party". Such unquestioning reverence must have been like a red rag to a bull for Morgan, although the end efforts do ultimately leave one wondering whether a single about dodgy priests or terrorists would have aged better.
Whatever its relative merits, a UK issue of the record was granted at the time (not so daft when you consider that Frank Kelly - who went on to play Father Jack - had a hit with "Christmas Countdown" a couple of years before) although it wasn't a hit here. Still, the promo video, featuring Michael Redmond aka Father Stone, is worth a watch for all fans.
As for Morgan, as I'm sure you already know he passed away in 1998 at the age of 45. It's impossible to speculate where he would have taken his career next, but there's no question that he could have continued to have success without "Father Ted", and it's a huge tragedy that we were all denied the ability to witness this. But his performance in that series alone is an astonishing legacy, and something I - and many, many other people - will never tire of watching.