TV personality and quiz show master Richard Osman is one of the stars lining-up for the Bath Festival in May. The author of bestseller The Thursday Murder Club – currently on course to sell 1m hardback copies – will be in conversation with comedian, actor and writer Miles Jupp at The Bath Forum at 7.30pm on Wednesday 19 May - click below for more...
Here, Richard chats about writing a best-seller – now set to become a Steven Spielberg movie – as well as his surprise TV presenting career later in life and how he deals with fame.
The Thursday Murder Club is your first novel, isn’t it?
Yes, the first novel. It’s set in a retirement community in the English countryside. I went to one where a friend of mine’s mother was living and I was in the gorgeous place, with a lake and a restaurant and gym and all sorts of things, and I thought to myself ‘this would be a really good place for a murder’. I know that’s not what you’re supposed to think, but it just had that vibe to it. And then when I started chatting to some of the people who lived there, who were all over the age of 70, I started learning about different people’s lives. And I though ‘if there was a murder here, this lot would solve it’. So that’s where the idea for the book came from. It’s four residents of a retirement community who team up to solve the crime. And they are all very different people – one was a spy, one was a nurse, one was a trade union leader and one was a psychiatrist, so pretty much anything you throw at them – and I throw an awful lot at them – one of them has the capacity to deal with it. So it's a great setting and lovely characters, and to have a whodunnit right in the middle of that was great. It was a joy to write.
Did you have any moments where you had writer's block?
Well, I didn't tell anyone I was writing it because I've always wanted to write a novel but I didn’t want to do that thing of being a TV presenter who says to a publisher, ‘I'd like to write a novel’ and they say ‘of course’. So I thought I’d do it in secret, just write the whole thing and then show it to someone and just say, ‘you’ve got to be honest with me, is this any good?’
So you didn’t even tell your family?
I said that I was writing something. But nobody saw a word of it and I certainly didn’t share it publicly. I just wanted to do it for myself. I obviously secretly wanted it to be a successful novel, but it would have been okay if it wasn't. So in terms of writers’ block, because I wasn’t writing to a deadline or for a publisher, there wasn't that pressure. A couple of times I nearly gave up - I’d read a brilliant book by someone else and I’d think ‘what are you trying to write a book for, mate?’ Then I’d stop and pick it up a week later. And so I took my own sweet time with it really. I think it took about 18 months to two years, something like that. It’s really hard writing another one now.
You said it was a burning ambition to write a novel – was that since you were a kid?
I've always written in my career. I've always been a comedy writer and I've always read crime fiction. That's been my thing. In my TV career, I've only really ever made TV shows that I would like to watch. That's the thing that I do – I think, what would I like to watch? And then I'll make that, which is less common than you would think in telly. And so, yeah, given that I read a lot of crime fiction, I’ve always thought, ‘God I’d love to have a crack at that’. But I think you have to take it very very seriously and until now I haven’t quite had the time or the headspace. I’d just got to the stage where I could and I had this idea, it came along at the right time, and I started writing and falling in love with the characters. And it just gained momentum and gained momentum essentially.
Did you finish it before lockdown?
I did, but I’ve been writing the second one during lockdown.
Is that a continuation of the first one?
It is. Essentially everybody who survives the first book returns for the second. That’s been a treat. It turns out that lockdown has been very good for meeting deadlines. If you’re not allowed to go out for four months, it’s weird how much work you can get done. So, yes, I’m going to keep doing this for as long as they will let me - there’s two books at the moment, but hopefully we’ll sign for a few more.
I heard Spielberg’s company have bought the rights to make it into a film?
Yeah, it’s his company. So when films start getting made again, hopefully that will come off. So my year will be half and half between writing and presenting. We’re just about to do another 200 episodes of Pointless and there’s another 100 House of Games set up for next year. So I’ll be busy, that’s for sure.
Is it a dream come true to have your book made into a movie?
It’s a dream come true to have a bestseller. That’s the dream. The film… that’s someone else’s business. I wrote the books for people to read. And the fact that people are reading it and loving it, it’s like… it’s a phenomenon unlike anything I’ve ever done on telly. It’s been incredible and I’m loving writing the second one. It’s just working out how to how to balance that with the TV stuff. It seemed to work this year, so hopefully it will next year too.
Yes, it will be, it’ll be fun. So I hope to write a whole load more of these. It’s a career I love - I’d love to be writing more of these. I’m back in the studio now, too, which is lovely, to do another 100 episodes of House of Games. So we’re recording those at the moment. And we’ll record some more Pointless at the end of the year as well. So essentially I’m spending half the year writing and half the year doing quiz shows. It looks like that might be the next four or five years of my life. But you should never make plans too far in advance.
You used to work behind the scenes in telly a lot more. What prompted the move to presenting?
Nothing really, it was just pure chance. Pointless was a show we were pitching to the BBC and whenever we pitch we make sure the producers play the presenters because they know the format very well. So like I've done a hundred times before, I was one of the presenters of the show in the pitch and the BBC this time said ‘we need someone like you that's the sidekick Would you be interested in doing yourself?’ And it really, really, really had never been an ambition of mine. I'm not somebody who likes the spotlight or any of that, but I thought ‘why not?’. I was 40 and I felt like I needed to live a little. I thought the show would disappear after one series, though. So many shows launch and they almost all disappear. Statistically, we had a very, very low chance of being successful. And so I have to say that it is a very big surprise that we're still going 11 years later, it's very weird for me.
So it’s hard to predict what’s going to be a success?
Yeah, you absolutely never know. Occasionally we'll make a pilot where we just go, ‘Wow, this is great’. And for whatever reason, the public decide ‘it’s not for us’ and then you'll make another show ad think ‘I don’t know about this one’ and the public go ‘yeah, we’ll take all you have of these’. That’s why I love the British public – I love that thing of doing the best thing you can and seeing what appeals and what doesn't appeal. And my view is quite mainstream. I love to do mainstream things, I love to do stuff that millions of people like. And you know if you have a failure in that arena, you really know about it. It’s always high profile.
"It’s a dream come true to have a bestseller. That’s the dream. The film… that’s someone else’s business. I wrote the books for people to read. And the fact that people are reading it and loving it, it’s like… it’s a phenomenon unlike anything I’ve ever done on telly."
Was it harder to film, because of COVID?
I promise you, it's all been taken very, very seriously. Everyone is in a mask all day. And if you haven't seen something being sanitised, it’s because they've edited that out. But it was really, really impressive, the team behind the show. In general, everyone is really trying their best to make normal telly and entertain people. I think sometimes the hosts get the credit for that, and honestly it's the production managers. And it's the incredible behind-the-scenes teams making these shows happen, and their work has become 10 times harder. My work hasn’t become 10 times harder.
House of Games got 1.8 million viewers back in March, which is amazing. Did you ever dream it would be this successful?
There's no good answer to that really. Honestly, when we’d done a few run throughs, I knew people would like it. I really thought that this had something going for it, although you can never really tell. And the real joy is how much it's been adopted by families. It’s so lovely to sit down at 6pm and watch something that isn’t the news. And everyone loves it - adults, kids. So I had a hunch people would like it and I’m just so chuffed at the ratings. We’re back up to 1.8 again now and it just keeps going up and up and up. And that's really thrilling. And the thing about it doing well that’s lovely is that I know we’re entertaining people and it also means we get to do it again. If people like it, that just means we come back and do it again. And we have so much fun making it, it’s just a joy looking at the ratings and seeing how it's doing. And thinking ‘this is great’.
You used to work behind the scenes in telly and now everyone knows you. Do you have surreal, pinch-yourself moments?
Yeah, you do. But because I’ve worked in telly forever, in a way I don’t. When I’m working, I’m just in a TV studio, which I normally am and the camera s are pointing towards me, and I might be on it not behind it but it’s the same environment, it's the same people, it's the same conversations. And funnily enough, as a presenter, I'm doing the same job as a producer, I'm just sort of driving the show and working out where it goes. So that’s not strange. But it’s strange to walk down the streets and be recognised, but strange in a nice way. To me, it feels like I’m doing the same job I’ve always done, only people are watching me do it now, which is unusual.
How have you coped with the fame that has come along with being in front of the camera?
Honestly, it hasn’t affected me massively, probably because I was 40 odd before I was on telly. I’d had a career and a measure of success, and so I was pretty secure as a human being. So it's just nice to be honest. Because of the kind of shows I do and because I'm quite genuine on the shows I do, people just come up to me in the street smiling and saying hello. That's fine by me. But there are fewer selfies since the pandemic! It’s been lovely, people start conversations with me in the street and no one is mean to me, you know?
What have your family made of your fame?
My kids were 10 and eight when I first went on telly, so they’ve sort of grown up with it. They think it’s hilarious - they remorselessly take the mick out of me. They absolutely don’t care that I’m on TV and I get absolutely no respect for it, and quite rightly too. Can you ever imagine getting respect from your children? They’re now 22 and 20, my kids; I think they’re proud of me and that’s nice, but that’s about as far as they would go!
Do they watch you on TV?
They don’t. Quite often, if Dave is on and there’s a Would I Lie To You on, we won’t switch it off. you know there's when I'm on it, we won't switch it off. We’ll watch it anyway because we love the show. They don’t mind watching House of Games, they like that, but I think Pointless lost its lustre a long time ago for them.
Do they come up with ideas for you?
They often come to the studios for filming; my son came along to the last series of House of Games and he sat there getting all the questions right. It’s a shame because this series we can’t take anyone along with us to the studios. We’re super locked down and there’s strict social distancing in place. They both love a quiz, that’s definitely true.
Has the move to being in front of the camera given you opportunities that perhaps you wouldn’t otherwise have had?
I think so. Weirdly, they are experiences that are TV related - like being able to go on Have I Got News For You and Would I Lie To You and Question of Sport and all these things, which is exciting. In terms of the rest of my life, I don't know… I would have written a book at my age anyway. I definitely would have done that. Sometimes you get offered to do things like big travel documentaries and go around the world and I never… that's not for me.
I just love staying at home! You can watch Michael Palin go around the world and it looks amazing. But, you know, as a TV producer, I know that what you're not seeing is a 12 hour trip in the back of a minivan to get to some Mongolian village. I don’t want to do that bit! You’ve got this big schedule… I’d rather just go and see the world by myself! But even that, I’m not that fussed about. I’m just really busy. I’m filming all year and I’ve got the book tour planned and finishing the second book. So it’s nice because I haven’t felt the pressure to go away on holiday. I’m not sure, even now, I’d be comfortable getting on a plane.
Was it true that you originally wanted to be a sports journalist when you were growing up?
Yeah, because sports always been my great love and I have always been a writer – in my teenage years, I wrote for magazines and things. So that seemed like a job that maybe I could do. But that's because I didn't really understand that you could have a job in television. I loved telly so much, but I didn't know anyone who worked in TV, I’d never met anyone who worked in TV at the time. There was an advert in the newspaper for a ??? and applied to it, and now I’ve spent 30 years in telly just from applying to that one advert. And it was absolutely my dream, I love telly so much. I’ve genuinely been incredibly lucky.
"My kids were 10 and eight when I first went on telly, so they’ve sort of grown up with it. They think it’s hilarious - they remorselessly take the mick out of me. They absolutely don’t care that I’m on TV and I get absolutely no respect for it, and quite rightly too."
What’s your Plan B career?
The thing I always have genuinely wanted to do is join the police, be a detective, and that's one of the joys of crime fiction as well. I've just always, always been fascinated with crime and I've always been fascinated with what goes on just beneath the surface of any town or village or city. You know, I love that kind of underbelly. It just fascinates me. And the access you are given as a police officer, some of the things that you wouldn't have elsewhere... they do an extraordinary job, as we know, and it’s increasingly dangerous as well. Just that idea of being a detective has always been… My grandfather was a police officer and I would have loved to have followed in his footsteps.
Have you always been a fan of quiz shows?
Yeah, I always loved Blockbusters - that was the big quiz when I was growing up and I loved it. I like playing Trivial Pursuits at Christmas. Quizzes are essentially sport for people who are no good at sport. I love watching sport, but I can’t play it. With quizzes, I can watch them and play them as well.
Are there any shows on TV that you wish you’d had the idea for?
That happens all the time. When I watch Gogglebox, I think that. Literally five minutes into episode one, I thought ‘this is going to be the biggest hit Channel 4 have ever had. That’s a show that tells you about Britain with the characters they’ve got, it also shows you the week’s telly and gives you updates on the news, all of that stuff. And then you get the celebrity versions. You just think, ‘well, this is gonna run forever because there's an endless turnover of characters you can have’. Plus, you’re never going to run out of telly. That show, when you watch it, you think ‘wow, you’ve absolutely nailed it there’.
two tickets to see Richard Osman in conversation with comedian, actor and writer Miles Jupp at The Bath Forum at 7.30pm on Wednesday 19 May.
For a chance of winning, simply click on the link below, fill out the form, and send. Good luck!
Would you like to be on the celebrity version?
Yes, I would! This is a ‘come and get me’ plea.
Do you have a TV guilty pleasure? Is there anything that you watch that you're a bit embarrassed about?
I never get embarrassed by anything on telly, because that’s not the way my brain works. I will sit and watch Homes Under the Hammer, Bargain Hunt, Flog It and Escape To the Country all day – to me, that’s not a guilty pleasure, that’s just pleasure. It’s just stuff I absolutely love. And so anything that brings you pleasure is not a guilty pleasure for me. I’m happy to admit to anything.
Do you have any other TV shows or presenting gigs in the pipeline? New ideas for anything?
Honestly, because I’m writing the book and there will be a third one, I think, that’s the kind of thing I want to concentrate on at the moment. I said at the start of this year that I'll take six months off from making any telly because I want to write, and that was just before the pandemic. So you’ve got to be careful what you wish for!
Tickets go on general release now