24 years ago, a new sitcom aired on Channel 4. A mixture of the surreal and the banal, it took us to Craggy Island, where three priests lived desperate and stifled lives – like Basil Fawlty’s hotel, only with added Catholic guilt. And endless cups of tea (no thank you, Mrs. Doyle).
The show was a low-level hit, garnering a small but loyal audience. Critics, too, were impressed. Channel 4 controller Michael Grade was less convinced and only recommissioned it for a second season on the condition that they “make it funny this time”. Philistine channel controllers notwithstanding, the three seasons and 25 episodes of Father Ted are now held to be among the best British-Irish sitcoms of all time: Hancock, Steptoe, Fawlty, Blackadder, Father Ted Crilly…
With the whole lot available on All 4 as a box set to discover or rewatch, we count down the 10 best fecking episodes:
10. A Christmassy Ted (Christmas Special)
Though this was reportedly the least favourite episode of writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, this hour-long special came at a time when – in between Seasons 2 and 3 – Father Ted had graduated from cult hit to mainstream success. The scene in which a dozen priests are forced to navigate the tempting dangers of a lingerie department – filmed as though it’s a harrowing war movie (look out for a pre-Trainspotting and Gray’s Anatomy Kevin McKidd)– is a typically brilliant sequence.
9. Competition Time (Season 1, Episode 4)
The All Priests Stars in Their Eyes Lookalike Competition comes to Craggy island and we’re treated to a house full of Elvises, Father Jack escaping into the wild and one of Mrs. Doyle’s longest “go on go on go on go on go on…” sessions, as she persuades TV presenter Henry Sellers to have a little sherry. “The day a little sherry hurts anyone is the day Ireland doesn’t win the Eurovision Song Contest.” Unfortunately, Sellers is a massive alcoholic and within minute he’s ranting bitterly. “I made the BBC!”
8. Speed 3 (Season 3, Episode 3)
One of the show’s high concept episodes, this takes the premise of Speed and transposes it to milk floats. When Ted and Dougal expose philandering milkman – the brilliantly named Pat Mustard – he takes revenge on his replacement, Dougal, by placing a bomb on the float. The sight of Dougal’s wide, gormless eyes as he struggles to keep the milk float above 4 mph is just priceless.
7. The Passion of Saint Tibulus (Season 1, Episode 3)
An early sign that Father Ted was going to be oft quoted, this Season 1 classic sees Ted and co. protesting the blasphemous film of the title. Ever since, there hasn’t been a protest march in this country that didn’t contain a few signs saying “Careful now” and “Down with this sort of thing”. Of course, there’s satire here, too, as Ted’s protest only succeeds in making The Passion of St Tibulus even more popular to Craggy Island’s cinema than Jurassic Park. People are coming to see it from all over Ireland, Bishop Brennan complains, and – surreally – “even from Gdansk”.
6. Flight Into Terror (Season 2, Episode 10)
“Ted – we’re on a plane!” is one of the all-time greatest Dougal moments, as the imbecilic priest realises – mid-flight – that they’re, well, on a plane. The plot is inspired silliness, as, returning from a pilgrimage to a golf course where an image of the Virgin has appeared, the priests’ plane runs out of fuel. With only two parachutes between all the passengers, Ted orders them to write 200-word essays arguing why they should be saved. Unfortunately Father Jack takes both ‘chutes – one for himself, and the other for his booze.
5. The Plague (Season 2, Episode 6)
Sheer ridiculous genius, as the priests’ house becomes infested with rabbits just as Bishop Brennan – mortally afraid of the beasts – comes to visit. It’s an episode of many fine moments but the stand-out has to be Father Jack’s outburst upon waking to find himself surrounded by cute bunnies. “Hairy Japanese bastards!”
4. Are You Right There Father Ted? (Season 3, Episode 1)
An audacious set-up pays off superbly as an innocuous mark on a window results in Ted, accused throughout of being racist, accidentally does a Hitler impersonation to the Chinese family he’d previously insulted. “I hear you’re a racist now” is this episode’s most famous line, recently recycled as a meme to mock Liam Neeson.
3. A Song For Europe (Season 2, Episode 5)
Ted and Dougal’s attempt to write a Eurovision entry results in the now-legendary ‘My Lovely Horse’, penned by Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon (also responsible for the theme tune). The song itself is comedy genius, but the highlight is Ted – in a room filled with cigarette smoke – screaming in frustration at Dougal’s musical ineptitude.
2. Kicking Bishop Brennan Up The Arse (Season 3, Episode 6)
An episode title that does what it says on the tin – the whole plot revolves around a bet Ted has that he won’t kick the fearsome bishop up the arse. (Spoiler: He does.)
1. Hell (Season 2, Episode 1)
Opening Season 2, Hell was a sign that Linehan and Mathews knew exactly how to write their show. Transplanting Ted and Dougal to the purgatory of an isolated caravan is inspired, giving rise to the most famous of all Father Ted lines: “This cow is small,” he says, holding up a toy cow, “and those cows” – pointing out to the field – “are far away.” On top of that, you have Graham Norton appearing as gibbering Father Noel Furlong – “Will you sing one, Ted?… You’ve a lovely voice! Very like Celine Dion! We can dance, then! Tony, stick on the Riverdance album!” – and Mrs Doyle getting mixed up between cocaine and raisins.
Father Ted: Season 1 to 3 are available to watch and download as a box set on All 4.
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