Father Trendy and The Live Mike (1979-1982)
Born in Dublin and educated at Oatlands College, Stillorgan, and University College, Dublin (UCD), Morgan first 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 1984 Morgan, previously a full-time teacher at St. Michael's College, Ailesbury Road, played a range of comic characters who would appear between segments, including Father Trendy, an unctuous trying-to-be-cool Catholic priest given to drawing ludicrous parallels with non-religious life in two-minute 'chats' to camera. His other characters included a GAA bigot who would wave his hurley stick around aggressively while verbally attacking his pet hates. He lampooned the Wolfe Tones' 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 quit 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 its attempts to do so, in the form 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 new Saturday chat show presented by Pat Kenny that was launched to fill a gap in the schedules when The Late Late Show moved to a new Friday slot. However, Kenny Live axed its comedy slot in response to negative public responses to the show's format.
Morgan branched out in December 1985 when he released a comedy single, Thank You Very Very Much, Mr Eastwood, a take on the fawning praise that internationally successful Irish boxer Barry McGuigan would give 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.
Scrap Saturday (1989-1991)
Morgan's biggest Irish broadcasting success occurred in the late 1980s in 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 had 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 would be visiting somewhere in the world and, after a few seconds, the music from the advertisement would begin playing. At this point, the then Taoiseach would exclaim "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 increasingly despairing Mara, who would groan "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 famously 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.
Father Ted (1995-1998)
Although already a celebrity in Ireland, Morgan's big break came over in Britain in Channel 4 sitcom Father Ted, which ran for three series from 1995. Writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews auditioned many actors for the title role, but Morgan's enthusiasm eventually won him the part.
Father Ted centred on three disparate characters. Father Ted Crilly, played by Morgan, was living a frustrated life trapped on the island. Irish TV comedy actor Frank Kelly played Father Jack Hackett, a foul-mouthed and apparently brain-damaged alcoholic, while child-minded Father Dougal McGuire was played by new Irish comedian Ardal O'Hanlon. In addition to the three priests was their housekeeper, Mrs. Doyle, played by Pauline McLynn, with whom Morgan had worked on Scrap Saturday.
Father Ted enjoyed widespread popularity and critical acclaim. In 1998 the show won a BAFTA award for Best Comedy, Morgan won a BAFTA for Best Actor, and McLynn was named Best Actress. In addition to the main characters, the series featured many other successful supporting characters, including the camp, hyperactive Father Noel Furlong, played by Irish comedian and future talk show host Graham Norton.
Have I Got News For You (1995)
Dermot Morgan starred in a few episodes in 1995
The First Snow Of Winter (1998)
Dermot Morgan voiced Voley and then Tim Curry voiced Voley after Morgan's death
Morgan said in a 1996 interview with Gay Byrne on The Late Late Show 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, however, planned to use Hungary as the opposing side to Ireland — hence the title. At the time of his death he had completed the screenplay, but the film was never made.
Morgan's first project after Father Ted was set 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 star as "an Eamon Dunphy-type who had gone on to work in journalism, but who had ended up living with an old football pal". Mel Smith was in talks for the role of the friend.
After the recording of the third series of Father Ted had been completed, Morgan intended to work on Re-united. However, 24 hours after recording the last episode of Father Ted, he had a heart attack while hosting a dinner party at his home in south-west London. He was rushed to hospital but died soon afterwards. His sister stated in an interview "He wasn't feeling great at the end of the meal and I went to the bedroom with him. He had 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," said Denise. "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 had a massive heart attack."
Morgan's Requiem Mass in St. Therese's Church in his native Mount Merrion, south Dublin, was attended by 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. He was cremated at Glasnevin Cemetery, and his ashes were buried in the family plot in Deansgrange Cemetery.
In a 2009 interview, comedian Tommy Tiernan, who acted with Morgan in the final episode of Father Ted, recalled filming the scene where Ted dances to the Theme from Shaft. He continuously flubbed his lines and as a result, Morgan was required to perform the dance repeatedly, despite pains in his heart. He believed that this contributed to his fatal heart attack, which happened just 24 hours after they filmed that scene.