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'They said they wanted an obnoxious priest': How Brendan Grace and the Father Ted writers created Fr Fintan Stack

While other actors were “shouting and roaring” at auditions, Grace said he decided to take a different approach.

Joe Dolan Funeral Scenes Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

FRIENDS, FANS AND fellow comedians have been paying tribute today in the wake of the death, aged 68, of Brendan Grace. 

The hugely popular Dublin comedian was – for want of a better phrase – an ‘old school’ all-round entertainer: although best known for his standup, he started his career as a musician and also acted on film and TV. 

Always pitched as a family-friendly draw (he was a fixture in panto in the 1980s and never used the f-word on stage) – among a later generation of comedy fans, Grace will be best remembered for his turn as malevolent priest Fr Fintan Stack in Father Ted. 

Stack – a hard-living, jungle music-loving bully of a man – is shipped to Craggy Island because the bishop doesn’t know what else to do with him, and proceeds to crash Ted’s car, get Dougal drunk and drill holes in the walls of the parochial house for no apparent reason before being dispatched to a home for wayward priests. 

The creators of the show drafted in Irish comedians and comic actors from a range of different backgrounds – from established performers like Frank Kelly (Father Jack) to up-and-comers like Tommy Tiernan. 

Although Grace would have been well in the running for a role in the series, he still had to audition. Other actors – including some well-known names – also read for the part. Pat Laffan – best known for his role in The Snapper – was one of those actors, he later revealed (Laffan later went on to play another cult ‘Ted’ character – amorous milkman Pat Mustard). 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie about his role in the series back in 2015, Grace said that he was aware other actors were “shouting and roaring” as they auditioned.

Grace took a different approach: 

“I just recalled a teacher I had in the Christian Brothers in James’s Street, 50 years ago, and I put his voice on.

He was a sly, slithery… He was the kind of brother who would tell you before he hit you that he was going to hit you.

Source: Niall Shanahan/YouTube

Grace said that – if Dermot Morgan hadn’t tragically died – he was told a mooted fourth series could have featured more appearances by Father Stack “simply because he out-obnoxified Father Jack”. 

Speaking to Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ Radio 1 this morning, Arthur Mathews said he and fellow Ted writer Graham Linehan were pleasantly surprised at Grace’s portrayal at his audition. 

“It was different from what we expected but it was very funny. 

It was more subtle really and a bit more passive-aggressive than outwardly aggressive. It was really sinister.

He added: “I think he liked the idea of appealing to a new audience. It was the second season, so he would have known what the show was about.” 

It’s arguable Grace’s Fr Stack had a higher strike rate of catchphrases than any other one-off guest star from the series. There are dozens listed on the IMDB website, including: “Bye girls”, “Ya dirty fecker” and (of course) “If you ever say that to me again, I’ll put your head through the wall”. 

Ever since the internet took over the world, Fr Stack has enjoyed an unforeseeable half-life as a go-to meme for pretty much anyone who’s had their fun and wants their friends to know that, at the end of the day, that’s really all that matters. 

meme

Grace’s outing, ‘New Jack City’, was voted the best Father Ted episode of the entire three series run at the inaugural Ted Fest back in 2007.

When he spoke to us four years ago, Grace said he was still being asked to leave phone messages in the guise of Fr Stack almost 20 years after his episode aired. 

Said Grace: “It’s mostly 15 to 20 year old boys, for some reason – fellas who are really taken in by Fr Stack. They ask me to leave messages calling their ma or da a ‘dirty fecker’ – that kind of thing.

My feeling on it is that it was a tremendous experience. It took a week in London to do it – but it’s ageless, Father Ted. It’s so bizarre that it will last for a long time.

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About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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