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9 September 2021

Richard Osman Q&A: “Do any New Statesman readers have a spare right knee?”

By New Statesman

Richard Osman was born in Essex in 1970 and is a host on quiz shows including Pointless, which he created. His first book, The Thursday Murder Club, was the bestselling novel of 2020.

What’s your earliest memory?

My mum singing around the house. She used to sing a song that starts, “Can you hear the H-bomb’s thunder/Echo like a crack of doom.” It’s essentially about nuclear destruction. But she was very cheerful when she sang it! 

Who are your heroes?

My grandad, who was a soldier and a police officer. He dragged his family from the working class into the middle class. When I graduated from Cambridge, I felt it was his achievement rather than mine.   

What book last changed your thinking?

City of Lies by Ramita Navai. Iran has been on the news for most of my life. The book is about ordinary Tehranis and is full of incredibly human stories. Now, every single time Iran or Iraq or Afghanistan, or any of those areas, is on the news, I listen in a completely different way.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Angela Merkel. I admire her ability to see off populism in her own country. 

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What TV show could you not live without?

Financially, Richard Osman’s House of Games.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

The songs of Suede, or the World Snooker Championships from 1977 onwards. 

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’d be interested to live in Dickensian London, because I’d like to wander round and see what was different, going, “Oh, that’s a Costa now! That’s a Tesco Metro.” 

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Who would paint your portrait?

If either Grayson Perry or William Kentridge fancied a go, I’d be very willing to sit. I think they both have an enormous technical ability and very interesting minds. I love ideas people who can really walk it like they talk it.

What’s your theme tune?

I literally have two theme tunes, with Pointless and House of Games. It would feel greedy to have a third. Though when I danced for Comic Relief, I walked on to “I Wish I Was a Little Bit Taller” by Skee-Lo.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My grandad once said to me: “If you’re ever called to a fight in a pub, never be first through the door.” It’s rather good advice in business, because it’s usually the first person who loses a lot of money, and then the second person who learns from their mistakes and takes all the glory. And I’m an introvert, so I always need someone to go through the door first, then I’ll wander through when everything’s calmed down.

What single thing would make your life better?

I would like my knee to stop hurting. I just had an operation and I don’t think it’s worked. A fully functioning right knee is what I need: do any New Statesman readers have a spare?

When were you happiest?

On a camping holiday in France when I was 11, when we went on a day trip to a water park. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better day in my life, just going on water slides all day.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

Police officer. My grandad was in the police because he was left-wing and he wanted to protect people. He wouldn’t police the miners’ strike, for example, because he thought it wasn’t his job. 

Are we all doomed?

Yeah, but that’s good: things can’t go on forever. Fawlty Towers only had 12 episodes, for goodness’ sake.

“The Man Who Died Twice” by Richard Osman is published by Viking Press

This article appears in the 10 Sep 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Eternal Empire