“To borrow an image from David Lynch, you’re looking for the big fish. The tiddlers flashing about just below the surface – the trite observations, the easy targets, the established joke-constructions – you need to ignore them and wait for the big one. An image or scene that makes you double over with laughter and could only have come from deep within your subconscious.” -So said Graham Linehan to The Independent, in their article which brought some of the best comedy brains in Britain together to offer advice on writing. While some might find Linehan less recognisable than the rest of the line-up, (which includes Josh Widdicombe, Ross Noble and Andy Hamilton,) he has been providing many of the greatest comedy moments gracing our screens since the early 90’s.
Linehan has had a hand in writing and creating The IT Crowd, The Armstrong and Miller Show, Father Ted, Black Books, The Fast Show and Harry Enfield and Chums. A comic line-up of unquestionable merit, that connects with a wide and varied audience. The man himself arguably goes under-appreciated, but he’s made stars of the likes of Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Ardal O’Hanlon and Dylan Moran. Notably O’Dowd went on to write his own sitcom Moone Boy which was excellent and no doubt influenced by his work with Graham Linehan.
The projects in which Linehan was most heavily involved (and arguably of which he should be most proud,) are Father Ted and The IT Crowd. Both provided well written and well-acted comedy that was impressively consistent, conjuring up memorable, belly laugh moments every episode for several series’.
Anyone un-acquainted with Father Ted or The IT Crowd has a real televisual treat in-store.
Father Ted (1995-1998) ran for three series’ and was sadly cut short by the untimely death of star Dermot Morgan. The sitcom centred around three Irish Catholic priests living on a tiny island off the West coast of Ireland. Father Jack, a drunk with very little dialogue, Father Dougal, played by Ardal O’Hanlon, who’s remarkably low IQ makes for plenty of simple but well written humour, and the titular, comparatively normal, Father Ted (Graham Norton also notably featured in several episodes). All three have essentially been exiled to the oddball, island parish because of misdemeanours taking place before the series began. (One running joke is Father Ted’s recurring “THAT MONEY WAS JUST RESTING IN MY ACCOUNT!” which is not fully explained for a long time.) Altogether Father Ted is a fantastic series and one of the best written, most memorable and most zany sitcoms around. It’s recommendable to the last and stands as testament to Linehan’s writing genius, (though of course we shouldn’t forget his writing partner on Father Ted, Arthur Matthews, who went on to write the highly amusing, though less consistent, Toast of London). Father Ted is full of memorable moments and although it’s not representative of the series’ as a whole, any fan is sure to have Ted and Dougal’s Eurovision entry committed firmly and irremovably, to memory, so for the un-initiated, here it is…
The IT Crowd (2006-2013), Linehan’s more recent brain child (this time without a writing partner,) is equally as well written and contains similarly strange characters but retains its own style and unique feel. Linehan’s writing of The IT Crowd masterfully crafts episodes into increasingly ludicrous scenarios while the audience find themselves cringing at the misfortune and embarrassment of Moss, Roy and Jen (Ayoade, O’Dowd and Katherine Parkinson respectively). These three central characters are more equal than the Father Ted trio and this could have stretched Linehan more in writing consistently funny dialogue between three more rounded people who present more changeable characters- if The IT Crowd was more difficult to write though, it doesn’t show. Seamless from start to finish: the closing moments of the show’s final episode in 2013 were as poignant as they were hilarious.
To have almost independently masterminded two such fantastic sitcoms leaves Linehan an exemplar in his field. The width of his experience and contributions to everything from The Fast Show to Alan Partridge boasts a wealth of comic experience and expertise with which he has consistently entertained. As a result his back catalogue is well worth exploring and anyone un-acquainted with Father Ted or The IT Crowd has a real televisual treat in-store.
By George Storr