Richard Osman talks about addiction and success on Desert Island Discs

Image above: Richard Osman; photo credit BBC

One of the best selling books this Christmas was The Man Who Died Twice, a sequel to The Thursday Murder Club, by Chiswick based author Richard Osman. At time of writing both books are in Amazon’s top ten.

The first, about a group of friends living in a retirement village in rural England who pool their considerable expertise to solve a murder, became the third best-selling hardback novel of all time when it was published in 2020 and was the Christmas number one that year.

Richard Osman talked to Lauren Laverne for the Boxing Day edition of Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4; he spoke about his gratitude for the phenomenal success he’s achieved.

The host of Pointless is one of the most recognisable faces on television, but did not become a household name until he was in his forties. He had spent the previous 20 years developing and producing TV shows as a television executive before he tried out on camera, including some of the most well known: Total Wipeout, Deal or No Deal and Eight out of Ten Cats.

He told Lauren Laverne they had always played board games at home. Only later did he realise the some of the rules were made up by his grandfather to suit himself.

Richard has enjoyed creating games since he was a boy and has always been fascinated by the process, so much so that the ‘luxury’ he chose to take to his desert island, according to the convention of the programme, was a pad of paper, a pen and dice so he could continue to make up games.

“Because I don’t see very well I was never a child who engaged with the world much. I was quite happy entertaining myself. I still do.”

He has an eye condition which he said made everything look fuzzy:

“It’s like being in fog the whole time… The haze in the distance which you see as a building, I see as a beautiful abstract painting.”

Putting the most positive spin on the condition, he said when he presented Pointless he was not able to read autocue, so he made up his script as he went along, which meant he stayed sharp and didn’t fall into the trap of reusing the same tired phrases.

“I have been able to use it to my advantage but I would love to be able to see properly.”

He was very lucky to get into a job he was born to do. He has always loved television and watched a lot of it, so he found he instinctively knew how to put together shows. He chose the Morcambe and Wise theme Bring me Sunshine as his first piece of music because it captured that sense of shared culture created by television, that we still have in our collective folk memory from the 1960s and ’70s.

“I love television. I love its presence in the corner of every living room in Britain and the sense of belonging that television uniquely can bring.”

His other great love, he said, was sport, and television helped him because he was able to see the action in slow motion replays which he missed watching live.

Image above: Lauren Laverne, Desert Island Discs

Struggle with food addiction

Lauren Laverne asked him about the traumatic event in his childhood which was to have a huge impact on him emotionally. Richard’s father left when he was nine, leaving his mother Brenda to look after him and his older brother Matt. It was all very English, he said, with never a cross word spoken until one night he just announced he was leaving.

“It was sudden and unexpected. He said he was in love with someone else. It was never explained to me.”

His father moved out instantly, which came as a complete shock and he lost touch with him, reconnecting only when he was in his twenties. Richard spoke about the impact on him, saying he shut a part of himself down.

He also opened up about the addiction to food he has had since that time. As an adult he sought help because he realised it was a problem. Despite having been to Cambridge University and established a successful career in television and having two children he adored, he felt directionless:

“If you have addictive behaviours you know something’s up.”

In the way an alcoholic cannot leave bottles of spirits in the house untouched, so he is with food such as chocolate and crisps.

“There hasn’t been a day in my life since I was nine when I haven’t thought about problems with food” he said.

Dealing with a food addiction is in some ways harder even than dealing with drugs or alcohol, he said, because you can’t turn your back on food altogether, you have to eat to live, but his addiction is now “more under control than not”.

Images above: Book covers for The Thursday Murder Club and The Man Who Died Twice

Best thing about success – being able to treat my mother

He told Lauren Laverne he was “beyond grateful” to his mother for the way she brought him and his brother up. They did not have much money but she would do things like booking a 48 hour coach trip to Italy and camping.

When his brother had success with his band Suede and they were on Top of the Pops, the young Richard Osman thought:

“There are opportunities out there. We can do it.

“My favourite thing about my success is being able to treat her. I will never be able to pay her back but just being able to give her these little things is nice.”

The ‘little things” include her house, which he said she loved, in a retirement village near where he grew up in Sussex. This was the inspiration for The Thursday Murder Club. He reads a lot of crime fiction and when he visited her there the idea popped into his head that it would be the perfect setting for a murder mystery.

He also realised that she was surrounded by people “with incredible skills who have done extraordinary things” now overlooked because of their age, and the producer in him realised he was on to a good idea.

His mother “panicked” that he would reveal her friends’ identities and secrets. She read it once with a legal eye and then again in a more leisurely way for enjoyment.

Steven Spielberg has snapped up the rights to produce a film version.

Richard said he is now at a point in his life when he is happy and grateful. He is living with “the woman I am going to be with for the rest of my life”, Ingrid and life is good.

You can listen to Richard Osman’s Desert Island Discs here on BBC Sounds.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali

See also: Books of the month by Annakarin Klerfalk

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