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Mathews, Arthur (1959-)

Writer, Actor

Main image of Mathews, Arthur (1959-)

While inevitably best known as the co-writer of the seminal 'Irish' sitcom Father Ted (Channel 4, 1995-8), Arthur Mathews' varied career has also included acting, producing and writing novels and plays. He was born in 1959 in County Meath, Ireland, and made his professional debut contributing material with his regular writing partner Graham Linehan to The All New Alexei Sayle Show (BBC, 1994-5). The programme was not a great success, but it established one of Mathews' trademarks in his willingness to embrace a straight-faced juxtapostition of the surreal and the everyday. He then co-wrote, again with Linehan, Sayle's more conventional sitcom Paris (BBC, 1994), which suffered from a tired satirical target, the posturing artist abroad.

However, Father Ted (Channel 4, 1995-8), proved anything but tired. Mathews and Linehan created a topsy-turvy world on the remote Irish locale of Craggy Island where the trio of exiled Catholic priests are involved in various bizarre escapades, nearly always involving fellow clergymen. While there was undoubtedly an element of satire against the Catholic church, the programme's sheer zaniness and joie de vivre saw it take its place in the canon of classic sitcoms. It won countless awards, including two BAFTAs. Mathews also made several acting appearances within the programme, most notably as the endlessly equivocating Father Clarke in the episode 'Speed 3'.

At the same time, the prolific writing team contributed material to such shows as The Fast Show (BBC, 1994-2001), Harry Enfield And Chums (BBC, 1994-7) and The Day Today (BBC, 1994). Mathews co-created the sitcom Big Train (BBC, 1998-2002) with Linehan, but wrote the second series entirely on his own. The disparity between the two is striking, indicating that, as with his regular partner, Mathews thrives better in a collaborative environment. Much the same can be said of the disappointing sitcom Hippies (BBC, 1999), created with Linehan, but written by Mathews alone, and lacking the surreal genius of earlier work. He also worked with Chris Morris on his far darker 'sitcoms' Brass Eye (Channel 4, 1997-2001) and the even more twisted and bizarre Jam (Channel 4, 2000), which may, in passing, be the first comedy to credit a 'lizard handler'.

Although he did not collaborate with Linehan on the first series of Black Books (Channel 4, 2000-4), Mathews was contributed to the second series, notably its stand-out episode 'The Fixer', which showed his surreal imagination at full blast. He also wrote a novel, Well Remembered Days, about the life of a bigoted, sexually perverse Irish Catholic in the twentieth century, a hilarious, underappreciated parody of the 'Irish misery memoir' as popularised by the likes of Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes). He was involved in the writing of the properly Irish sitcom Stew (RTE, 2004), and had his most significant acting role as the voice of Niall The Rabbit in the bizarre cartoon comedy series I Am Not An Animal (BBC, 2004), alongside such former collaborators as Steve Coogan, Simon Pegg and Julia Davis. He also co-wrote the comic musical I, Keano, a satire on the footballer Roy Keane.

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 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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