Father Ted creator blasts cancellation as modern-day McCarthyism

EXCLUSIVE: Father Ted creator Graham Linehan was told he was on the ‘wrong side of history' for speaking in favour of women's rights. Even as the tide begins to turn against the intolerance of extreme trans ideology, his moving new memoir reveals the heavy price he paid.

Father Ted cast

Linehan has become one of Britain’s most vocal critics of trans ideology and activism (Image: Channel 4)

With his uniquely surreal sense of humour, gift for dialogue and fertile imagination, Graham Linehan has been the author of some of the most memorable television comedy of recent decades. His finest creation, still cherished by millions of fans, remains Father Ted, the hilariously-wayward yet lovable Catholic priest and his eccentric household on a remote Irish island. Yet perhaps nothing that Linehan has ever written has been as important as this brilliant but often painful memoir. Its compelling narrative amounts to a savage attack on the cowardice, hypocrisy and deceit of an entertainment industry that has surrendered to political dogma and abandoned the concept of free expression.

Following in the tradition of Emile Zola’s explosive newspaper article J’Accuse, in which he tore apart the late 19th century French political and military establishment for its anti-semitic witch-hunt against Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus on bogus charges of treason, Linehan uses his own experience of being denounced as heretic to expose the hysteria that has gripped public discourse.

The thoughtcrime that led to Linehan’s ostracism was his willingness to challenge the rise of the fashionable transgender ideology, which he saw as a threat to childhood innocence, biological realities, and women’s rights.

When he began his career as a writer in the 1980s on the Dublin music magazine Hot Press, his stance would have been seen as just common sense, even progressive. But all that began to change as trans activists pushed their revolutionary agenda, accompanied by bullying and blackmail.

With dramatic speed, the Bafta-winning writer, now 55, was transformed from the darling of the comedy circuit into the enemy of the people because he refused to subscribe to the new orthodoxy. The ruthless campaign against him brought about the end of his marriage, his career, his friendships, his livelihood and his home.

“I lost everything,” he writes with understandable bitterness. “Each betrayal sits in my memory like crows dotted along a telephone wire.” At one stage in 2020, having found himself divorced, jobless and virtually friendless, he contemplated suicide. “During Covid, it was horrific because I was completely alone,” he has recalled. “I was thinking, I could jump off that building. Would that be tall enough to kill me or would I just be crippled for life?”

Modern liberals like to wail about the impact of the anti-communist crusade led by the unbalanced, right-wing senator Joe McCarthy in 1950s America, but the victims of McCarthyism endured far less than Linehan.

In one typical incident, he was suddenly dropped by producers of the show Father Ted The Musical, on which he had been working for more than five years, and which he regarded as his “pension”. At this final meeting, he recorded, “I have never experienced anything like the coldness and contempt with which I was treated.” Heroically he refused to accept the lump sum he was offered in compensation, feeling that the money was tainted.

Anyone who values freedom should read this book, which provides a chilling insight into how a determined cabal can seize the agenda by exploiting social media and the modern cult of identity politics. Referring to his case, Linehan writes of his amazement at “how swiftly these internet low-lifers gained such power over society”. Terrified of accusations of bigotry, and desperate to signal their political virtues, key figures in the media, politics, the arts and the law pathetically colluded with the trans lobby. “When the history of these years is written,” he declares, “it is not only the extremist activists who will be recalled with revulsion but also the spineless corporate figures who never made an attempt to resist them.”

The relentless campaign of harassment included the publication online of fake obituaries, bogus claims that he posted intimate photos of his anatomy, allegations that he was a Nazi sympathiser and demands that he should be convicted of sex crimes, have the word “rapist” tattooed on his shaved head, and be chemically castrated.

Graham Linehan speaking at an event

Linehan is fascinating on the art of writing for comedy (Image: SWNS)
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He further recounts that, as part of a systematic “assault on my sanity,” he was questioned three times by the police, acting on spurious complaints from a zealot with a criminal record and a vendetta against him.

The later parts of his memoir are all the more powerful because of his anger.

The father-of-two has become one of Britain’s most vocal critics of trans ideology and activism, claiming it is eroding women’s rights and harming children. Linehan has been especially vocal about women sharing safe spaces with men who identify as women and is fiercely opposed to transgender athletes competing in women’s sport.

He points out that no less than 80 percent of trans men who identify as female retain their male organs, making a nonsense of the complacency about opening up women’s spaces like prisons, refuges, and single-sex hospital wards.

Of the threat to women and girls from perverts, he writes that the introduction of gender self-identification “didn’t just unlock the henhouse to any passing predator; it scattered a buffet of treats that led to the door”.

What worsened the ordeal was that, near its start, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which entailed some agonising medical procedures. News he had recovered only prompted more abuse from activists. “I wish the cancer had won,” wrote one. With heavy irony, Dublin-born Linehan says that he became used to “people writing me nasty letters about the importance of kindness”.

The deepest pain, however, was not physical but mental, stemming from his sense of betrayal by friends and colleagues who refused to stand by him. “My old buddies – the gunslingers and the iconoclasts – were nowhere to be seen,” he writes. He felt particular regret over the rift with Arthur Matthews, his co-creator on Father Ted. Forged by their comedic talent and their Irish roots, their bond had almost been fraternal when they first began to work together as sketch-writers for a variety of shows.

Hailing from a middle-class, devoutly Catholic family, he had been a well-regarded, highly articulate rock journalist. But, even working alongside Matthews, the attempt to make a living in the ferociously competitive scene of London could hardly have been a more daunting test. Their first landlord was none other than Griff Rhys Jones, a shrewd businessman as well as a comedy legend, whose hugely successful BBC show with Mel Smith had turned out to be the first big break for the two young Irishmen.

Graham Linehan at the BAFTA ceremony 2014

Graham and his wife Helen went on to have two children, but their marriage did not survive (Image: Getty)

Linehan is fascinating on the art of writing for comedy, and the upbeat tone of these chapters makes the anguish of his downfall all the greater.

The first sitcom he devised with Matthews, set in Paris in the 1920s, was a comparative flop, partly because its over-the-top surrealism meant that it was not grounded in a strong set of characters or unifying theme.

But they got the ingredients just right with Father Ted, including the ideal cast headed by Dermot Morgan as Ted himself. Morgan, a well-known Irish comedian, singer and actor, recognised the huge potential of the series and was desperate to win the leading role.

“It was burning a hole in him,” recalls Linehan. Though his partnership with Matthews did not last, further success followed with the IT Crowd, about a computer department that languished in the basement of an office block.

Again, like Father Ted, the show had a surreal edge and rich characters, one of them superbly played by Richard Ayoade.

Before filming began, an unintentionally funny moment arose between Ayoade and Linehan, who had been asked to give more details about the character. “You’re playing the biggest nerd that ever lived. A nerdy, nerdy nerd who doesn’t know how to behave with regular humans,” Linehan said. “So what sort of voice should I have?” asked Ayoade. “Oh, just your regular voice,” said Linehan.

But there were no bad feelings about the gaffe. Ayoade has been one of the few figures from showbusiness who stood in solidarity with Linehan through all his tribulations

In addition to his career, Linehan had family responsibilities, having married the writer Helen Serafinowicz, whose brother Peter was also an accomplished actor, comedian and impressionist.

Helen and Graham went on to have two children, but their marriage could not survive the pressures of the long fight against the trans lobby, especially when Helen grew worried about financial and personal security as Graham grew increasingly isolated.

But the worst may now be over for him. Towards the end of the book, he argues that the tide is turning against extremism and intolerance. People are warmer to him in the street, broadcasters less hostile. When the producer of Father Ted The Musical kicked off the project, she told him he was “on the wrong side of history”.

But the opposite may be true. This brave, wise, and funny man could well be vindicated in the years to come.

  • Tough Crowd by Graham Linehan (Eye Books, £19.99) is out now. Visit expressbookshop.com or call Express Bookshop on 020 3176 3832. Free UK P&P on orders over £25.

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