After two great series of Father Ted, it had become a very popular sitcom, so Channel 4 showed the special episode “A Christmassy Ted” on Christmas Eve 1996. Writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews had a lot of creative ideas to pack in, so the special ran for slightly longer than an hour, being shown in a 65 minute slot.
The good news is that this episode is definitely up to standard. It begins with a rather odd fantasy sequence where Ted appears alongside the cast of the BBC1 drama Ballykissangel. (This also means that Dervla Kirwan is the only person to have appeared in an episode of both Goodnight Sweetheart and Father Ted.)
There are lots of other great moments including Dougal becoming rather overexcited by things like flashing Christmas tree lights and what pictures might hide behind advent calendar doors. Things soon get awkward for Ted though when out Christmas shopping he alongside Dougal and a group of priests get lost in a department store and they soon discover that they are trapped in Ireland’s largest lingerie section. Realising that this could lead to a scandal, Ted has a bright idea.
Ted manages to heroically to get the priests out of the store, even the one with the really dull voice. Ted receives recognition for this by being nominated for the highly prestigious Golden Cleric award. However, Ted isn’t very gracious in accepting this award at a special ceremony, with a speech that is somewhat bitter and rambling, taking the sparkle off the moment somewhat.
Ted then bumps into someone claiming to be an old friend, and Mrs Doyle tries to guess his name. This is a very funny sequence partly because most of her guesses are mates of the writers (including Neil Hannon who wrote the theme music). He seems to be after something though and tries to become closer to Ted by doing things like walking into his bedroom in his pants (which seems to make a lot of the studio audience shriek in horror).
Father Todd Unctious (as we eventually discover he is called) is jealous of Ted and wants to steal his award, although he is eventually found out. Ted also admits that he became big headed after he won the award and was in the wrong too. Meanwhile, Mrs Doyle spends her time falling off window ledges and becoming upset that her work might be replaced by an automated tea making machine. Jack is up to his usual antics too, including drunkenly falling asleep in a creche, and later shouting at his fellow lovely-voiced priests.
This episode of Father Ted seems to have become something of an institution. I am fairly sure that it has been shown at Christmas on Channel 4 every year since 1996, so this year will remarkably be the 20th time that they will have shown it. Never mind The Snowman, once I see Ted and co. sweating in that lingerie department on the screen I know that the special day isn’t far away.