10 Sep 2023

Richard Osman: The Last Devil To Die

From Sunday Morning, 10:10 am on 10 September 2023

Even if you don't read his books and know his name, you will almost certainly know Richard Osman’s face if you watch TV, as a droll presence on many panel shows such as Would I Lie to You? Or quiz shows such as Pointless.

Osman is also the author of the hugely popular Thursday Murder Club books, his latest, the fourth in the series, The Last Devil to Die is out now.

Richard Osman

Photo: Penguinrandomhouse

The Thursday Murder Club is set in a luxury retirement village in Kent where four residents gather to investigate crimes.

In their past lives they've been a spy, a psychiatrist, a trade union organiser and a nurse.  The latest edition to the series has the four sleuths investigating drugs importation and a slew of murders, Osman tells Jim Mora.   

“The very basic bones are a consignment of heroin comes through a port in England on Boxing Day, and anyone it touches is doomed essentially. So, you know there's the usual murders, there's romance, fraudsters, there's art forgers, there's all sorts going on, but as ever with the Thursday Murder Club it's the four heroes who are front and centre.”

Osman’s mother is 82 and lives in a retirement village in the south of England and he says she is the inspiration for the character Joyce.

“I always had people say, how do you write an 80-year-old woman? And you know, my mum would always say, my mum's 82 and she said, well I feel 36 and we all feel whatever age it is that's in our head right now.

“No one feels 82 in their mind, what happens is we are around grief a lot more, our bodies fall apart a lot more. So, there's a tax to pay on being that age, but when I'm inside their heads, I want to show their mischief, their adventurousness, their intelligence and their wisdom.”

Osman’s four heroes represent a generation he admires, he says.

“You've got this generation of people who are slightly invisible and overlooked but have this incredible wisdom.

“Britain is obsessed with class, as I'm sure you know. So, we've got two middle class characters, we've got the psychiatrist, and we've got the spy, we've got two working class characters, the nurse and the trade union official, we've got people who would not have met in their average daily life, they would not have met at work, they would not have met socially.

“But suddenly, because they're all put together where they're living, they do meet. I knew that we'd get comedy from that, I knew that we’d get emotion from that.”

His mother has flourished in her retirement home and he believes they are ideal communities for many older people.

“When she went to live there, she met people she'd never would have met, in 1000 years. And suddenly I could see her blossom as she met these different people who had been sort of randomly put together - and there's nothing better in fiction than a great randomly put together gang.”

Any humour in the books comes from the characters, Osman says.

“I'm not writing jokes, Ron and Joyce and Ibrahim and Elizabeth just their personality means that funny things happen, and funny things are said.

“But I know things are going well, when I read stuff back and I'm laughing at the start of a scene and at the end of the scene I'm crying.”

Ibrahim is the character who most resembles him, says Osman.

“Ibrahim’s the psychiatrist, he likes his rules and regulations. If they're going somewhere, he always likes to know how they're going to get home, when they're going to be home. Ideally, he'd like to stay in if he could do, and there's a lot of me in that.

“And my mum is very like Joyce, who is the sort of quiet one who actually gets things done. But you know, my family are full of very strong women and very bolshie men.

“And it feels a bit like Thursday Murder Club are like the history of my family.  I would say I'm 40 percent Ibrahim, 30 percent Joyce, 20 percent Ron and 10 percent Elizabeth.”

Lee Child is a fan of Osman’s books - and they share other characteristics.

“I love chatting to readers, I love their theories, I love hearing about their personal experiences that chime with the experiences of people in the book.

“I'm slightly taller than Lee Child but slightly less rich. But we both have in common that our readers are the reason we write.”

Osman has enjoyed immense professional success but puts it down largely to luck.

“Just because there are a few success stories like mine doesn't mean that the system works. The system doesn't work, I had to be incredibly lucky to get what I got. And so many people aren't, didn't have that luck.

“And I think there's something that's very wrong with the way we organise our societies, because there's so much wastage, there's so much wastage of potential.”

Osman has a condition called nystagmus which he says has given him an edge in his career.

“It means my pupils never settle, they're constantly moving, which means everything, even with glasses, is like through a fog. So, you can't drive or can't play cricket or anything like that. And that is difficult and has been difficult over the years.

“But it also gives me so much because I see the world in a slightly different way. And I have to take part in the world and a slightly different way.”

It’s meant he’s had to hone his improvisation skills, he says.

“I can't read an autocue, so it means that every single time I'm on TV, I'm making it up as I go along. And once you've done that for a few years, you get quite good at it.”

He has also been open about his struggles with food addiction.

“It is that thing of whatever secret shame you have, and everyone's got a secret shame, everybody has, the second you speak about it; it is no longer a secret and no longer a shame.”

He wishes he’d opened up about his food addictions earlier, he says.

“I spent years hiding this, being ashamed and being embarrassed and thinking no one would understand. And honestly, everyone just goes, Oh, yeah, yeah, I see that, if I can help, let me know. And you think I could have done this 30 years ago, but it's shame, shame is the thing that gets us, and shame dies in the light.”

As for the Thursday Murder Club, he’s giving them a rest and launching another crime-solving duo.

“I think they [Thursday Murder Club] need a bit of rest and recuperation after the book I've just put them through.

“So, I'm just starting on a new series of books about a father in law and daughter in law detective duo, which is going to be great fun, I think.”