Morgan in 1993
|Born||Dermot John Morgan
31 March 1952
|Died||28 February 1998
Hounslow, London, England
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Resting place||Deansgrange Cemetery, South County Dublin|
|Alma mater||University College Dublin|
|Occupation||Actor, comedian, satirist|
|Known for||Father Ted Crilly in
|Children||3 (Don, Rob, Ben)|
|Awards||BAFTA - Best Comedy Performance
1999 Father Ted
Dermot John Morgan (31 March 1952 - 28 February 1998) was an Irish comedian, actor and previously a schoolteacher, who achieved international recognition for his role as Father Ted Crilly in the Channel 4 sitcom Father Ted.
Morgan was born on 31 March 1952. His parents were Donnchadh Morgan, an artist and sculptor with a passion for drama, and Hilda "Holly" Stokes, a "celebrated beauty" from Dún Laoghaire. Donnchadh died young of an aneurysm, leaving Hilda with four children: Dermot, Paul, Denise, and Ruth, who died in childhood.
Dermot married Susanne Garmatz, a native of Hamburg, and they had two sons: Don (born 1978) and Rob (born 1980). He later began a relationship with Fiona Clarke, with whom he had another son, Ben (born 1993).
Born in Dublin and educated at Oatlands College, Stillorgan, and University College, Dublin (UCD), Morgan came to prominence as part of the team behind the highly successful RTÉ television show The Live Mike, presented by Mike Murphy. Morgan made his debut in the media on the Morning Ireland radio show produced by Gene Martin, whose sister Ella was the mother of one of Morgan's friends. It was through this contact that Morgan made the break into radio and eventually television. Between 1979 and 1982 Morgan, who had been a teacher at St. Michael's College, Ailesbury Road, played a range of comic characters who appeared between segments of the show, including Father Trendy, an unctuous trying-to-be-cool Catholic priest (inspired by Father Brian D'Arcy) given to drawing ludicrous parallels with non-religious life in two-minute 'chats' to camera. His other characters included a GAA bigot who waved his hurley stick around aggressively while verbally attacking his pet hates. He lampooned the Thomas Osborne Davis' song "A Nation Once Again" by singing about a dog who saves his Irish Republican Army (IRA) master by eating a grenade during a search by notorious British paramilitary unit the Black and Tans. When the dog farts and the grenade detonates, the British commented: "It must have been something he ate." The song climaxed with the words: "I hope that I shall live to see Fido an Alsatian once again."
Morgan's success led him to leave teaching and become a full-time comedian.
Morgan's relationship with RTÉ became strained as the station tried without success to make use of what it saw as his considerable but undisciplined talent; a number of pilot shows were never aired. Morgan returned to the screen in the late 1980s playing his past roles and new ones - initially on Kenny Live, a Saturday chat show presented by Pat Kenny launched to fill a gap in the schedules when The Late Late Show moved to a Friday slot. Kenny Live axed its comedy slot in response to negative public responses to the show's format.
Morgan released a comedy single, Thank You Very Very Much, Mr Eastwood, in December 1985. It was a take on the fawning praise that internationally successful Irish boxer Barry McGuigan gave his manager, Barney Eastwood, at the end of successive bouts. The single 'featured' lines by McGuigan, Ronald Reagan, Bob Geldof and Pope John Paul II, and was the Christmas number one in the Irish singles chart in 1985.
Morgan's biggest Irish broadcasting success occurred in the late 1980s on the Saturday morning radio comedy show Scrap Saturday, in which Morgan, co-scriptwriter Gerard Stembridge, Owen Roe and Pauline McLynn mocked Ireland's political, business and media establishment. The show's treatment of the relationship between the ever-controversial Taoiseach Charles Haughey and his press secretary PJ Mara proved particularly popular, with Haughey's dismissive attitude towards Mara and the latter's adoring and grovelling attitude towards his "Boss ... the greatest Leader, Man of Destiny, Statesman, Titan, a Colossus" winning critical praise.
Morgan pilloried Haughey's propensity for claiming a family connection to almost every part of Ireland he visited by making reference to a famous advertisement for Harp beer, which played on the image of someone returning home and seeking friends, especially "Sally O'Brien, and the way she might look at you". In Morgan's version, Haughey visited somewhere in the world and, after a few seconds, the music from the advertisement began playing. At this point, the Taoiseach exclaimed "did I tell you, PJ, about my cousins in ... " before mentioning supposed relatives such as "my cousin François Haughey" (France), "Helmut Haughey" (Germany), "Yassar Haughey" (Palestine) or "Yitzak Haughey" (Israel) to the despairing Mara, who groaned "Ah now Jaysus, Boss, come on now. Ah Jaysus [sigh]!"
The Haughey/Mara "double act" became the star turn in a series that mocked both sides of the political divide, from Haughey and his advisors to opposition Fine Gael TD Michael Noonan as Limerick disk jockey "Morning Noon'an Night". When RTÉ axed the show in the early 1990s a national outcry ensued. Morgan lashed the decision, calling it "a shameless act of broadcasting cowardice and political subservience". An RTÉ spokesman said: "The show is not being axed. It's just not being continued!"
In 1991, Morgan received a Jacob's Award for his contribution to Scrap Saturday from the Irish national newspaper radio critics.
Already a celebrity in Ireland, Morgan's big break came in Channel 4's Irish sitcom Father Ted, which ran for three series from 1995 to 1998. Writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews auditioned many actors for the title role, but Morgan's enthusiasm won him the part.
Father Ted focused on the misadventures of three Irish Roman Catholic priests who live in a parish on the fictional Craggy Island, located off the west coast of Ireland. Father Ted Crilly (Morgan), Father Dougal McGuire (Ardal O'Hanlon) and Father Jack Hackett (Frank Kelly) live chaotically together in Craggy Island's parochial house, along with their housekeeper Mrs Doyle (Pauline McLynn).
The show received widespread popularity around the world and universal critical acclaim, often being labelled as one of the greatest sitcoms ever made. The show made Morgan a household name and won him legions of fans, developing somewhat of a cult following.
In 1998 Father Ted show won a BAFTA award for the best comedy, Morgan won a BAFTA for best actor, and McLynn was named best actress. The series featured many other supporting characters, including the camp, hyperactive Father Noel Furlong, played by comedian and future talk show host Graham Norton.
Morgan said in an interview with Gay Byrne on The Late Late Show in 1996 that he was writing a screenplay entitled Miracle of the Magyars, based on a real-life incident in the 1950s when the Archbishop of Dublin forbade Catholics from attending a football match between Ireland and Yugoslavia on religious and spiritual grounds. Yugoslavia won the match 4-1. Morgan planned to use Hungary as the opposing side to Ireland - hence the title. At the time of his death in 1998, he had completed the screenplay but the film was never made.
Morgan's first project after Father Ted was to be Re-united, a sitcom about two retired footballers sharing a flat in London. According to former manager John Fischer, Morgan was scripting the programme and planned to take the part of "an Eamon Dunphy-type who had gone on to work in journalism, but had ended up living with an old football pal". Mel Smith was in talks for the role of the friend.
A day after recording the last episode of Father Ted, Morgan had a heart attack while hosting a dinner party at his home in south-west London. He was rushed to the hospital but died soon afterwards. His sister Denise said, "He wasn't feeling great at the end of the meal and I went to the bedroom with him. He had a heart attack and I didn't recognise it. From my limited training in first aid, I wasn't sure exactly what was happening. The symptoms didn't match what the books said. I said to him 'I think you are OK', and we went back to the table. He apologised for having left the room and the next thing he just collapsed. We tried to resuscitate him but it didn't work. He had a massive heart attack."
Morgan's Requiem Mass in St. Therese's Church in Mount Merrion, south Dublin, was attended by the President of Ireland Mary McAleese, her predecessor, Mary Robinson, and by political and church leaders - many of whom had been the targets of his humour in Scrap Saturday. His body was cremated at Glasnevin Cemetery, and its ashes were buried in the family plot in Deansgrange Cemetery.
In an interview in 2009, comedian Tommy Tiernan, who acted with Morgan in the final episode of Father Ted, recalled filming the scene in which Ted dances to the Theme from Shaft. Tiernan continually flubbed his lines and, as a result, Morgan was required to perform the dance repeatedly, despite pains in his heart. Tiernan believed this contributed to his fatal heart attack, which happened just 24 hours after they filmed the scene.