How did Graham Linehan, the creator of Father Ted, become the most hated man on the internet?

Tom Fordy
Graham Linehan in 2016 - Clara Molden

It’s been quite a descent for Graham Linehan: from co-creator of the much-loved Father Ted – much loved, because it’s, well, so lovely and loveable – to a much-despised figure for his years-long campaign against trans ideology.

Linehan is also the co-creator and/or writer of popular comedies The IT Crowd, Black Books, Big Train and Motherland. But his more recent position, at the centre of the trans debate’s most toxic area, has been deeply unfunny. Now Linehan has been permanently suspended from Twitter. 

A Twitter spokesperson said that Linehan’s @Glinner account had been “permanently suspended after repeated violations of our rules against hateful conduct and platform manipulation.” It was reportedly – and finally – shut down after tweeting “men aren’t women tho” in response to the Women’s Institute, who had wished transgender members a happy Pride.

His suspension follows Katie Hopkins getting the boot from the social platform. Yet it’s impossible to imagine Linehan aligning himself with Hopkins’s brand of attention-seeking far-Right vitriol. He’s an outspoken liberal: a self-professed supporter of feminism, opponent of Gamergate – a harassment campaign targeted at women within the gaming industry – and a critic of Brexit.

He also spoke out against Count Dankula, aka Marcus Meechan, the YouTube comedian who taught his dog to do a Nazi salute, and tried to have Meechan’s GoFundMe page shut down.

But Linehan has also followed Katie Hopkins in retreating to social media network Parler, which is gaining notoriety for its conservative-supporting stance and alt-Right users.

Linehan became embroiled in the trans debate after a 2013 episode of The IT Crowd was criticised for transphobic jokes. In the episode, Douglas (Matt Berry) unwittingly dates a trans woman, April (Lucy Montgomery). Linehan said it was the Douglas character, not the episode, that was transphobic. But the humour does derive from April’s masculinity: she downs beer, enjoys Steve Seagal marathons, arm-wrestles and beats up Douglas.

It began as a defence of his jokes – or perhaps an ability to apologise – yet in the years since Linehan’s stance has escalated into fierce criticism of trans ideology and activism. “I’ll admit I’m not a great person to be in this conversation,” he said on Newsnight. “I’m a comedy writer and I am very blunt.”

Linehan has argued that trans activism has aggressively shut down debates, de-platformed, and attacked women such as academics Kathleen Stock, Jane Clare Jones, Meghan Murphy and Magdalen Berns. Linehan has blamed trans ideology and activism for being misogynistic and erasing women’s rights. He has claimed there’s a conflict between trans rights and women’s hard-earned sex-based rights. He's been especially vocal about biological females giving up safe spaces to share with female-identifying persons. 

Linehan was co-creator of the sitcom Father Ted - Channel 4

He has also denied that he is transphobic. In a Daily Mail article – in which he dubbed himself “the most hated man on the internet” – Linehan wrote: “I believe trans people – those unfortunate enough to suffer body dysphoria – are having their condition exploited and trivialised by abusive, controlling and authoritarian trans rights activists. And I think women and children are suffering because of it.”

Linehan also caused upset when he compared treatment for trans kids to Nazi experiments. In December 2018 he opposed a Big Lottery Fund grant of £500,000 to trans kids charity Mermaids and encouraged Mumsnet users to complain (“Mumsnetters Assemble!” he wrote). A counter campaign was set up by popular gamer Hbomberguy – real name Harry Brewis – which raised a further £264,000 for Mermaids.

Linehan has been accused of bullying in his tactics: he has mocked Twitter users for having preferred pronouns in their bio; accused trans rights supporters of betraying women; encouraged pile-ons (“Keep it up,” he tweeted) from his 600,000 followers; likened random users and even a queer studies academic to being paedophiles by calling them “groomers”.

One of Linehan's offending tweets  - Twitter

It’s a dangerous game. Journalists and Twitter users who have criticised him and found themselves on the wrong side of his followers have reportedly received abuse and even death threats. 

On the other side of the argument, Linehan has argued that the women and lesbians he stands up for face abuse and harassment themselves. “All I’m asking for is that people like and the women I support are not attacked, their meetings aren’t protested, [and] they aren’t abused on Twitter,” he said on Newsnight.

In October, he was reported to the police by transgender activist Stephanie Hayden after he retweeted a post with Hayden’s name and photos from before she transitioned. Police gave Linehan a verbal warning and told him not to contact Hayden. In response, Linehan alleged that Hayden posted several addresses linked to his family.

Hayden also sued him for libel, harassment and misuse of private information but the case was dropped in March 2019. Last week, Hayden tweeted to say that she was beginning fresh legal proceedings against Linehan and that Linehan had been officially served. Hayden said: “Despite previous legal action, Linehan has continued to abuse and harass me. This needs resolving by the court.”

Richard Ayoade and Chris O'Dowd in Graham Linehan's The IT Crowd - Channel 4

In recent weeks, Linehan would lock and unlock his Twitter account. He also targeted or fell out with other celebrities and comedian pals. He dragged journalist Jon Ronson into a Twitter spat and called out Billy Bragg, Frankie Boyle and Owen Jones for not supporting his stance on protecting women from trans ideology. He also tweeted attacking or mocking musician Grace Petrie and comedians Mae Martin and Josie Long.

In 2018, the actress and comedian Cariad Lloyd was temporarily hounded off Twitter after she made a period joke using the word “bleeders” instead of “women”. Linehan responded: “Don’t you have any respect for yourself or the young girls who will see this.”

Two weeks ago Richard Herring, who has interviewed Linehan twice on his RHLSTP podcast, blocked him. Linehan responded by writing a blog post calling celebs who don’t speak up for women “cowards”. Even Linehan’s brother-in-law James Serafinowicz has been vocally critical on Twitter. Some celebrities have come out in support of Linehan. Jonathan Ross expressed support but recently tweeted an apology after talking to his daughter about trans issues.

JK Rowling ­– another popular hate figure for trans activists – was adopted as an ally by Linehan. Earlier this month, the Harry Potter author wrote a statement explaining her position on sex, gender issues, and why she finds inclusive language such as “menstruators” – as opposed to “women” – to be “dehumanising and demeaning”.

Lineham's 3am plea on Mumsnet following his Twitter ban

When Daniel Radcliffe showed support for the trans community by saying “Transgender women are women”, Linehan called Radcliffe “a traitorous, misogynist piece of s---”.

After being suspended from Twitter Linehan took to Mumsnet. In a bizarre, 3.16am post, he complained that he’d violated new rules by using the word “groomer” (“A phrase Twitter recently decided was Not Allowed”) and said that Twitter has “a high-percentage of trans-identified employees” who are silencing feminists and allies who don’t adhere to anti-misgendering rules. There was an ironic backlash as the Mumsnetters assembled. 

“This is a female space and I don’t think an entitled male should keep barging in here every time he needs something from us,” said one. “Sorry who are you and why should I care that you’ve been banned from Twitter? You seem to be a man from the looks of it so why are you posting in the feminism forum? This is a female space,” replied another.

Since the suspension, Linehan has been on Parler encouraging “all those who care about free speech” to delete their Twitter.

Graham LInehan in 2016 - Clara Molden

I’ve interviewed Linehan over the phone twice in the past few years about Father Ted and Big Train – both shows for which I have a deep affection. It’s difficult to reconcile the courteous and funny man I spoke to with the aggressive social media persona.

Eighteen months ago I saw him at a preview screening at the BBC. Away from a high-profile gathering of celebs and comedians, Linehan was stood alone, tucked around a corner, on his phone. I went over and said hello and thanked him for taking part in a recent interview. He was pleasant but shy, I thought. As I walked away, I spotted Cariad Lloyd among the guests. It was just a few months after their Twitter fallout and I wondered if he’d been hiding away from a real-world situation.

For some, it’s also hard to reconcile the anti-trans reputation with his dozens of hours of brilliant comedy. Ultimately, he’s overshadowed his own work. I’ve seen comedy fans tweet that they can no longer enjoy his shows, or joke that as far as they’re concerned Father Ted was written by (Linehan’s co-writer) Arthur Matthews only. Whatever comedy Linehan writes next, it will inevitably be for a very different audience.