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Linehan, Graham (1968-)

Writer, Producer, Director, Actor

Main image of Linehan, Graham (1968-)

Most comic writers would be happy to have been involved in one seminal series. Graham Linehan, however, has a career seemingly defined by striving forward for the next success within the sphere of television comedy, while apparently never seeking to expand his horizons into the more lucrative, if less writer-driven, sphere of film. He was born in 1968 in Castlenock, Dublin, and educated at CUS in the city. After an early career as a journalist for the Irish music magazine Hot Press, he first collaborated with Arthur Mathews on The All New Alexei Sayle Show (BBC, 1994), which was not a great success but demonstrated their affinity for the surreal and off-kilter. They later collaborated with Sayle on the failed sitcom Paris (BBC, 1994), and contributed memorable sketches to such trend-setting comedies as The Day Today (BBC, 1994), The Fast Show (BBC, 1994-2001) and Harry Enfield and Chums (BBC, 1994-7), as well as collaborating with Steve Coogan on his early attempt to break free from Alan Partridge, Coogan's Run (BBC, 1995).

However, it was with Father Ted (Channel 4, 1995-8) that Linehan and Mathews demonstrated their true talent for hilariously askew farce, visual gags and surprisingly pointed satire on the always topical subject of the Catholic Church, helped by pitch-perfect performances from an immensely talented cast who never made the mistake of playing the material for over-obvious laughs. The tragic death of its star, Dermot Morgan, brought it to an inevitable halt, although Linehan and Mathews had already planned to end it after three series. Linehan also co-directed some of the episodes in the final series. The programme deservedly won countless awards, including two BAFTAs for best comedy, and is today regarded as one of the greatest British sitcoms ever produced.

Many young writers would see this success as a means of establishing a Hollywood foothold, but Linehan continued to work with British television stars such as Chris Morris, most notably on the still controversial Brass Eye (Channel 4, 1997, 2001), as well as having a knowing cameo, along with Mathews, in I'm Alan Partridge (BBC, 1997). He injected some characteristic Irish whimsy into the script of the otherwise conventional romantic comedy The Matchmaker (Ireland/US/UK, 1997) and co-created, again with Mathews, the disappointing comedy series Hippies (BBC, 1999). A far happier collaboration between the two was the first series of Big Train (BBC, 1998), which showed their surreal humour at its most outrageous and frequently hilarious, and also introduced such comic talents as Simon Pegg, Julia Davis and Kevin Eldon to a wider audience. The second series was solely written by Mathews.

A further Morris collaboration, Jam (Channel 4, 2000) was more artistically successful than enjoyable, and Linehan's involvement with the first series of Dylan Moran's Black Books (Channel 4, 2000) as both writer and director divided opinion, with some feeling that Moran's persona was too wild and tangential to be kept within the 'sitcom' lines that Linehan's writing had (erroneously) been assumed to be synonymous with. The more haphazard, surreal tone of the next two series proved this to be correct, although Linehan did win another BAFTA, along with Moran and the producer Nira Park, for the programme. He continued to develop his directorial instincts, working on the pilot episode of Little Britain (BBC, 2002), and then going solo with his much-anticipated office sitcom The IT Crowd (Channel 4, 2006).

Although there was always the faint public suspicion that it was Linehan, rather than Mathews, who was the guiding genius behind Father Ted (mainly engendered by the former's higher public profile and presence on the DVD commentaries), The IT Crowd proved that Linehan's talent was best suited to collaboration. Although the programme was certainly funny, thanks in no small part to Chris Morris' energetic, committed performance as the deranged company boss Denholm, there was an overwhelming feeling of an opportunity having been missed. The dynamic of three misfits all united in a bizarre environment again drew unflattering comparisons to Father Ted, though a second series has been commissioned. Linehan has also had cameos in several television series apart from I'm Alan Partridge, mostly but not exclusively his own. None of these have revealed any hidden thespian depths but they have made him a more recognisable figure than many comparable writers.

Alexander Larman

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Big Train (1998-2002)Big Train (1998-2002)

Cult sketch show from the creators of Father Ted

Thumbnail image of Black Books (2000-04)Black Books (2000-04)

Cult sitcom about a grumpy, alcoholic Irish bookseller

Thumbnail image of Day Today, The (1994)Day Today, The (1994)

Highly influential spoof news/current affairs programme

Thumbnail image of Fast Show, The (1994-2000)Fast Show, The (1994-2000)

Enormously popular TV sketch show which spawned countless catchphrases

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Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Mathews, Arthur (1959-)Mathews, Arthur (1959-)

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Thumbnail image of Sayle, Alexei (1952-)Sayle, Alexei (1952-)

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