As the awkward yet strangely endearing Father Ted Crilly in the popular Channel 4 series Father Ted, Dermot Morgan’s perfect comic timing and nuanced performances made him a household name. Today, twenty years after the programme was first broadcast in April 1995, it has become essential viewing for comedy aficionados in Morgan’s native Ireland, Britain and many other parts of the world.
Born into a devout Catholic family in Dublin on 31st March 1952, Morgan went into teaching after graduating from University College, Dublin, in 1974. However, he soon abandoned his career in education to pursue his love of writing and performing his own comic routines, a passion that had first been ignited whilst he was at university.
In 1979, Morgan was offered a regular slot on The Live Mike, an Irish comedy and chat show presented by the radio and television veteran Mike Murphy. Morgan’s sketches proved to be a hit, and, in a move that presaged the character that would make him internationally famous, his most amusing creation for the show was Father Trendy, a young priest whose attempts to appear ‘trendy’ repeatedly fell flat. A book lampooning the Catholic Church, entitled Trendy Sermons, was published in 1982; Morgan’s burgeoning comedic career was negatively affected by the publication, and as a result, he found himself briefly boycotted by almost every television and radio station in Ireland.
Above: Dermot Morgan as Father Trendy from The Live Mike (1980)
Though overlooked today, during the 1950s, so great was Dickie Valentine’s popularity that a 1957 meeting of his fan club was so oversubscribed that the Royal Albert Hall was chosen as the venue. Such devotion could he inspire from his admirers, one 1956 report highlighted the case of Suzanne Crowley – a young girl who referred to herself as a ‘raving mad Dickie Valentine fan,’ and was so obsessed with her idol, that she carried a record player around with her so she could listen to his music at all times, and also wore one of his records as a hat.
Born Richard Maxwell in Marylebone on 4th November 1929, his first film role came at the tender age of 3, in the comedy Jack’s the Boy, starring Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge. Finding steady work as a child actor, he developed a routine in which he impersonated many popular singers of the day such as Mario Lanza and Frankie Laine – something he would continue to do for the rest of his career. Possessing an impressive voice of his own however, he was a regular on the London nightclub circuit, and on 14th February 1949, signed as a vocalist for Ted Heath’s band, Ted Heath and His Music; in honour of the date his big break arrived, he adopted the stage name Dickie Valentine. Continue reading →
‘It’s very rare I’ve been able to get into the twentieth century. When I turn from 1899 to 1900 I jump for joy. I did in Rebecca, I got into the 30s then. I have done some modern stuff but I’m so thrilled I over-act like crazy. I’ve got pockets! I’m so used to wearing tights all the time that when I put my hands in my pockets I nearly fall over. I’m so unused to playing a modern guy.’ Born Peter William Jeremy Huggins in the Warwickshire village of Berkswell on 3rd November 1933, Jeremy Brett as he would be known professionally (he changed his name upon his father’s request, choosing ‘Brett’ from a label in one of his suits) spent the majority of his career performing in period pieces, a path he naturally found himself following, owing to his quintessentially English good looks and upper-class demeanour.
The youngest of four brothers, Brett was the son of Lieutenant Colonel Henry William Huggins and his wife, Elizabeth Edith Cadbury (a member of the famous family of chocolate-makers). After an idyllic childhood, in which he developed a lifelong love of horse-riding and archery, Brett was sent to Eton, where he was a self-confessed ‘academic disaster’ and struggled with a speech impediment which affected how he pronounced the letters ‘R’ and ‘S.’ A surgical procedure, which he underwent in his late teens, coupled with daily vocal exercises, gave Brett the resplendent voice for which he would become renowned.
Interested in acting from an early age, after leaving Eton, Brett studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama, making his stage debut at the Library Theatre in Manchester in 1954. Brett remembered how his father had initially been disparaging about his chosen career, as he had believed that ‘any respectable middle-class boy shouldn’t do a thing like that. He thought it was all drinking champagne out of slippers.’Continue reading →
Robert St Clair ‘Bob’ Grant was born in Hammersmith on 14th April 1932. From an early age, his ambition was to become an actor, and he would later study at RADA. After finishing his National Service, he took various jobs and ironically, given the role that would eventually make him a household name, he briefly worked as a bus driver. In the 1952 performance of R. F. Delderfield’s 1945 comedic play, Worm’s Eye View, Grant made his theatre debut. Over the next few years, he devoted himself to the stage before making his first television appearance in the 1959 series, Quatermass and the Pit. The following year, during the run of Macbird at the Theatre Royal in Stratford, fellow actor Stephen Lewis; three years later Grant would feature in the film Sparrers Can’t Sing alongside Lewis, who also wrote the screenplay.
The two actor’s path would finally cross again in 1969. Lewis had been cast as the dour and officious Inspector Blake in the new London Weekend Television comedy, On the Buses. With veteran musical hall performer Reg Varney as Stan Butler, the show’s main protagonist, a cheeky but downtrodden bus driver, Grant starred as his lecherous conductor, Jack Harper.
On the Buses was an immediate hit and the escapades of Butler and Harper, and their relentless quest to outwit Inspector Blake proved immensely popular with 1970s audiences. As well as its own brand of uniquely British and slightly risqué brand of humour, the show also touched upon contemporary issues and concerns such as the sexual revolution, feminism and the economy. Reflecting the wave of immigration that had taken place during the previous decades, the programme was notable in that it included several black and Asian characters who worked for the Luxton and District Bus Company. Continue reading →