September 30, 2021
New Richard Osman novel set to be one of the UK’s fastest-selling books of all time
by Tom Clayton
How to explain Richard Osman to an American audience? This could be, ahem, pointless…
Here goes: having grown up in Essex and studied at Cambridge University, Osman, a devoted disciple of television, then worked his way up through various UK media and broadcasting posts. He went on to work for TV production companies Hat Trick and Endemol, eventually becoming Creative Director of the latter. During his time at Endemol he worked on one of the most popular and recognisable game shows of the century thus far: the British iteration of Deal or No Deal, shown on Channel 4.
Presented by UK broadcasting royalty Noel Edmonds, the show ran for 3,000 episodes between 2005 and 2016 and, at the height of its popularity, pulled in around 4 million viewers every afternoon. Indeed, Osman was the one to reveal the identity of the mysterious “banker,” with whom Edmonds had been bantering for eleven years…
Then came an idea for a format which would change Osman’s life. Having never previously entertained the idea of presenting on-camera himself, he gamely stood in as the “assistant” while Endemol pitched Pointless to the BBC in 2008. Described by Osman as “a reverse Family Fortunes,” Pointless was a new kind of afternoon quiz show which rewarded obscure knowledge. A Guardian article from 2013 describes what happened next:
Osman was never supposed to be on screen … “They said: ‘Would you do it?’ And I thought: ‘Well, why wouldn’t I? I know roughly what the job is. I know it’s a little show tucked away on BBC2 that’s going to disappear after one series.’ You know, it was just one of those things I could tick off and say: ‘I once presented a TV show.'”
Highly-regarded actor Alexander Armstrong—a friend of Osman’s from university—came on board to take the main presenting role and the rest, as they say, is history. (Or geography. Or whichever category you choose.) After a relatively slow start, Pointless became a daytime TV phenomenon, and by its third series was clocking well over 3 million viewers per episode. It also made Osman—with his witty, geeky and charismatic demeanour—an unlikely household name.
While Pointless continues its staggering longevity (recently ticking over 1,000 episodes) Osman has gone on to establish himself as a bona fide star in his own right. His frequent appearances on panel shows—including Have I Got News for You, Would I Lie to You? and 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown—along with the launch in 2017 of Richard Osman’s House of Games, another BBC quiz show in which he plays host, have seen him dominate the airwaves in recent years.
Understandably wary of becoming just another book-writing celebrity, Osman completed the manuscript of his first novel, The Thursday Murder Club, entirely in secret. Nevertheless, when this gentle crime caper set in a retirement village was put on submission in 2019, it was subject to a 10-way, seven-figure auction, eventually won by Viking Press.
And no wonder there was such a frenzy to secure it: The Thursday Murder Club was—and remains—astonishingly popular, becoming only the second adult fiction hardback to sell a million copies this century, and racking up incredible paperback sales too; it has held the number one spot for most of the year. Osman revealed last year that the film rights have been bought by Steven Spielberg.
Now, The Thursday Murder Club gets a follow-up, The Man Who Died Twice, released last week. With typical Osman-esque levity, the biography for it reads: “Critics have already described [The Man Who Died Twice] as ‘his second novel.'” It will be much more than that: according to a Guardian report it looks set to become one of the fastest-selling hardback novels since records began.
Yet it’s difficult to begrudge Osman his success, particularly as someone whose rise largely happened away from the celebrity milieu—he describes himself starting with “zero, or less than zero.” Sometimes, it seems, nice guys don’t finish last.
Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.