We have come to expect the unexpected from Richard Osman, the affable leader of quiz shows Pointless and House of Games.
The two are arguably two of the most inventive of their genre of the past decade, throwing, as they do, convention with force to the wind.
Needless (and his celebrity version) – which Osman co-hosts with Alexander Armstrong – turns the questions on their heads, instructing candidates to come up with the most obscure correct answers – to score zero points.
Meanwhile, House of Games pits four celebrities against each other in a series of eclectic and ever-changing – most ingeniously silly – challenges over five weeknights.
No screams, just smiles
The two late-afternoon shows made a name and a familiar face to Osman, who cut his teeth on television as a backstage producer. And while he wasn’t expecting it, Osman says he rather appreciates all the attention.
“Measuring 6 feet 7 inches, I have never walked into a room, neither on the subway, nor on the street without being noticed,” he says.
“Now, with the fame, I’m lucky enough to have people smile and say hello rather than shouting. I’m happy to say hello and those who know I’m a Fulham fan will come see me and start talking about it. I love that . ”
Osman may be the one providing all the missing unnecessary answers, but he’s not involved in framing the questions and claims he’s not as smart as people think he is.
“I’m good at words and at taking quizzes and I have a good memory but it’s not smart,” he says. “I am visually impaired [he has nystagmus] so I can hardly see. But that meant that I had to listen a lot and grasp the information very well. ”
Nonetheless, he is the man who had the original seeds of the ideas that have become what we now watch on screen. So, despite being a self-proclaimed champion of “mainstream” and “shit” television, Osman clearly likes to think outside the box.
“My heart, my soul is very traditional. I love shows like Homes Under the Hammer and Bargain Hunt. I wish I could have been cooler, but I’m not. It’s my upbringing – very British and all on TV so [the 70s] was a shared experience as there were so few channels.
“But there isn’t a totally new idea. You just think, ‘What if that gets mixed in with that?’, And you find a combination that people haven’t had before. I like doing it better than I expected to make millions of people love it. ”
Humor, alcohol, cake and detective
True to form, Osman’s latest project sees him reshaping again, but this time it’s himself – from TV personality to crime novelist.
Written in secret for 18 months, the Thursday Murder Club bears the quirky mark of Osman in that it takes place in an unusual way in a retirement village.
The idea even caught Osman off guard as it occurred to him on a visit that he thought was a perfectly enjoyable but uneventful lunch to his mother’s friend in one of these communities.
“The surroundings seemed familiar to me because you are in a beautiful countryside, but I was surprised because there were a lot of people everywhere.
“Then when you start talking to them, 70+, you think, ‘My god, there is talent, wit, wisdom and a sense of evil in this generation, it’s all there.’
“I thought it would be a perfect setting for a murder story. Let’s throw the worst at them and see how they deal with it. ”
The protagonists of Osman are a cunning gang of four whose past careers range from psychiatrist to secret agent (at least that’s what we’re led to assume).
Operating as the book’s title club, they come together to investigate unsolved murders from the case notes of a former member and former detective.
It’s fun and keeps the brain well oiled. But their investigation gets serious with the here and now murder of a local property dealer.
One murder leads to another, not to mention an unidentified skeleton, a suspicious priest, and multiple obscure secrets, all of which demand unorthodox ingenuity from our quartet to beat the police to solve the crimes.
Humor abounds, along with copious amounts of alcohol and cake. But there is also a lot of pathos because Osman does not hesitate to tackle the fragility of old age. He says he would like his novel to encourage greater respect for the elderly.
“When you’re older, a number of things around you change. There are physical difficulties. There is a great deal of grief. But you’ve learned things that others don’t and have so much experience to share.
“But, not only do we underestimate this generation, we also ignore the epidemic of loneliness. The book says it’s not necessary. When I was in this community I thought everyone should have this option if they wanted to. . I’m counting the days! ”
As a “big fan” of detective fiction, Osman says he always knew this would be the kind of book he would end up writing.
Plus, Osman’s literary venture was the next best option for the career he would have pursued had things turned out differently.
“My grandfather was a police officer in Brighton for many years, and this is the job I wish I had done more than anything,” he explains.
“Even now, as a police officer, detective, and investigator, I would absolutely love it because I love that thing about what’s going on under our noses that we don’t know. Just regular people who seem like they have secrets you wouldn’t believe. It’s fascinating . ”
Still, the loss of the police has been a gain for television. Long before Osman became a popular figure on our screens, he was a producer at Endemol. [with which he’s still involved] on hit shows such as Deal Or No Deal and The Million Pound Drop.
The Useless Osman / Armstrong partnership happened purely by accident. Tracing the show on the BBC, Osman’s role-play of the Question Master went so well that he got the job (although that was never his intention).
He enlisted the then-comedian Armstrong (whom Osman calls “Xander”) whom he had heard was free, after saying “no, thanks” to an offer from Countdown.
The two had only vaguely been aware of each other when contemporaries at Cambridge University and later their paths sometimes crossed on television.
Now, thanks to Pointless – which started quietly at 2:30 p.m. on BBC Two in 2009 before being upgraded to BBC One’s teatime – Osman says he is “especially lucky that this friendship, which I hold very, very dear, developed into a TV show. “.
And as alluring as the quirky format and sometimes silly responses are, it’s the warmth of this duo – to each other and to the competition – that makes Pointless so accessible.
“None of us are particularly skilled – that’s just not what we have. We are a little shy and embarrassed about things. There’s never a script or a rehearsal, none of that, ”Osman says.
“But Alex, who’s so lovely and enthusiastic about everything, and I’ve been so lucky that as a partnership people get something out of it, they can say we really love each other.
“And people fascinate me. No matter what people do, I always want to hear about it and Alex is the same. They come on the show and have fun – the world is not, as we are told, angry place where everyone is furious at each other all the time. ”
So, would Osman make a good teammate?
” You know what? I’m really competitive, but I don’t mind losing. All I want is to play. This is what quizzes are. You just play. ”
The Thursday Murder Club is available from September 3.