Saturday 10 December 2016

Television review: Me Uncle Mike, me Father Ted

*Irish Pictorial Weekly (RTE1)
* Father Ted (Channel 4)

Published 27/04/2015 | 02:30

Illustration: Jim Cogan
Illustration: Jim Cogan

I think it was Bob Dylan who said of Neil Young's Only Love Can Break Your Heart, that whenever he heard it, he just wanted it to go on for ever. Some of us feel the same way about Me Uncle Mike by Foster and Allen, which is now best known as the signature tune for Irish Pictorial Weekly, the one that goes "scitthery-dye-dill-doo-dill-dal-di-deedle-dill-dee-aah"....

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It is, of course, magnificent, though straight away I know that connoisseurs of the art of lilting will find fault with my transcription of the words, if "scitthery-dye-dill-doo-dill-dal-di-deedle-dill-dee-aah" can indeed be called words. They are more than words, they are the instinctual release of the pure essence of some ungovernable impulse in the Gaelic consciousness, and as such they are almost impossible to write down.

If you want mere words, telling a little story, they can be found in the verses of Me Uncle Mike, which have conventional lyrics and which can be found on You Tube, being performed by Foster in a variety of rustic tableaux - I could not recommend it more highly. But "scitthery-dye-dill-doo-dill-dal-di-deedle-dill-dee-aah"....that is the story of Ireland itself, and all the bucklepping that we have done, and all the bucklepping that we are about to do.

Something about the playing of the accordion too, perhaps the total lack of the slightest hint of anything even resembling embarrassment, seems to turn it into the ultimate celebration of the tradition of bucklepping, and all the buckleppers who ever went out into the world, bucking and lepping.

And if the instincts of Foster are perfect in his enunciation of each scitthery-eye and every scitthery-dye, so too the instincts of Irish Pictorial Weekly supremo Barry Murphy are perfect in selecting this music to convey the spirit of the nation which he is seeking to represent.

There was an uneasy moment just before the show last Sunday when the continuity announcer told us that "no one is safe from the satirical sketches...", and she pronounced satirical in a new way, "satire-ical". Rhymes with "scitthery-eye-rical"

Still you wouldn't dwell on that with Foster and Allen lepping through the door. The "satirical sketches" that followed were all seeking somehow to achieve the pure hilarity of Me Uncle Mike, but intentionally.

It is high-class stuff in many ways, with Murphy and his crew showing an acute awareness of the maddeningly random nature of what is funny - they don't do "sketches" as such, this is not really "satire", they are instead looking for those incandescent moments of comedy of the type achieved by Mick Foster without even trying.

So in one of their great "civil servant" presentations, the fellow with the Dundalk accent saying "ker-ching ker-ching" and poking at his colleagues in a delighted fashion - even with a hint of bucklepping - is what stays with you.

Written on a page it is nothing, performed with a Dundalk accent and a lot of poking it is funny. Which takes talent, and years and years of hard work, and even after all that you might need some happy accident in order to nail it.

Which may partly explain why funnymen are perhaps not the most obviously joyous of folk in their daily lives - and also why we celebrate with such enthusiasm 20 years of Father Ted, recognising as we do that for a comedy to be funny, and to stay funny, some sort of magic must have happened.

I recall being upstairs on a Dublin bus about 10 years after "Ted" was originally shown, listening to a couple of young lads behind me replaying a large chunk of an episode that they had seen the previous night, presumably having caught up with the show on its eighth or ninth repeat.

I do not think that my old friends and colleagues Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan in a hundred million years could have visualised such scenes when they were starting out, though I remember Arthur being so bold as to suggest that the first series, in his opinion, had turned out quite well.

When I saw it, I think the first really strong impression I had, was that Dougal had the magic. He was one of those much-loved "poor idiot boys" such as Woody in "Cheers", and he would surely be a star.

Not as big as Foster and Allen perhaps, at the time. But big.

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