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A career on the cutting edge of Irish humour.

Father Ted star Dermot Morgan told of how he was looking forward to getting out of the dog collar and possibly returning to the comedy circuit, in an interview given just days before his death yesterday.

The 45-year-old stand-up comedian turned actor had long been making his living out of mocking the Catholic church.

Before his portrayal of the eminently likeable yet fundamentally flawed priest Father Ted, Morgan was performing as a stand-up character called Father Trendy in Ireland.

He swiftly developed a cult following but as his act became increasingly controversial he found himself deemed unacceptable by the broadcasting authorities and banned from every radio and television station in Ireland.

The young Dermot Morgan had childhood plans to become a priest but he also admitted over a pint of Guinness recently: "I'm a lapsed Catholic. I just don't think it's right for priests to hop around the altar telling you what to do.

"I think in general big organisations are bad news and then there's the whole celibacy thing. Denying your sexuality is an anomaly and it's just not healthy.

"Fascists are people who dress in black and tell you what to do and priests, well, er ..."

He added: "I've always had a reputation for sailing close to the wind but with something like Father Ted although it's cutting edge I really don't think it's offensive. I guess it's down to personal taste."

The key cast members and the two writers, Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews are also lapsed Catholics.

The sitcom, which has turned the unpriestly curse of "feck" into a common catchphrase, has certainly struck a chord with the viewing public and cites the notoriously hard to please Liam Gallagher amongst its die-hard fans.

"I was really surprised when Liam approached me in a hotel in Dublin to say how much he loved the series but then I realised it's a cool show.

"The credit for that has got to go to the writers," he adds modestly, "they're very perceptive and tuned in and the scripts are really strong."

When Father Ted was launched, one critic dismissed it as rubbish declaring "an orang-utan could produce something better."

But it is shown and loved in ten countries. Steven Spielberg, Madonna and Jim Carrey all regularly watch the show and U2's Bono requested to appear in the series.

Ironically, it is in Iceland that it has provoked the most concern.

The first episode of the new series finds Father Ted accused of racism when he inadvertently offends the Chinese community on Craggy Island which is actually an old farmhouse in the depths of County Clare. Like most of the shows, the comedy essentially comes from one running gag with elements of slapstick, knockabout, three stooges and satire thrown in for good measure.

"The idea that you'd do a Chinese impression and then turn around and there are Chinese people at the window is typical of the bizarreness that goes with the world of Craggy Island. "The writers have created an insane universe where insane things happen which is great for the show but on a personal level your sense of reality starts to slip very badly.

"Sometimes I go home and my little boy says, what did you do today Dad and I tell him I was doing Chinese impressions to the Chinese people or judging the King of the sheep competition - it's demented."

Just before the start of the third series scheduled for March 6 the writers and stars took the decision to make it the last.

The news came as a blow to the many fans and Channel 4 but Morgan maintained he was quietly relieved.

"I wanted to get out of the dog collar because I've been doing priests for some time now. And I didn't want to be a Clive Dunn and do Grandad for the rest of my life.

"Ted's been a great door opener for me and I'll miss him and certainly working with such a great cast but I have to branch out."

He spoke vaguely about projects in the pipeline and a possible return to the comedy circuit.

"There's a great buzz about stand-up, I've always loved it and that's hard to turn your back on.

"But if a straight role came along I'd never say never."

Born in Dublin, Morgan, son of a civil servant and housewife, was brought up believing that he would become a priest.

He said it wasn't until he reached his 20s and started to resent the Catholic church's strict rules - so started his love-affair with comedy.

He said: "I come from a lapsed catholic background. I suppose obviously I would pick up some of the nuances of Catholic priests after being brought up in Ireland ."

After giving up the church Dermot began to make a name for himself in the comedy clubs of Ireland and started was just starting to hit the radio and television scene - when he was black-listed.

In the 1980s he married his long-term sweetheart Suzanne and had two sons, Don, now 17, and Bobby, 16.

But as his home life and marriage started to fall apart so did his career.

The Father Trendy character he used in his stand-up shows was seen to be blasphemous and unacceptable - he was banned from every radio and television station in Ireland.

The actor admitted in interviews early this year that this was a terrible part of his life.

"It was a period of total hell. I felt I was being kicked from every angle and the church was having a good laugh at me into the bargain."

For the last 11 years of his life Dermot lived with Fiona, the mother of his three-year-old son Ben at their home in Richmond.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 2, 1998
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