Per­fectly Point­less

He’s the geeky, 6ft 7in brainbox be­hind many of to­day’s big­gest quiz shows. So how come he’s be­sieged by saucy mes­sages and end­less of­fers of mar­riage? It’s a teaser that leaves even Richard Os­man strug­gling to an­swer. By Jim White

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - NEWS -

‘The the­ory is be­ing a funny guy is like be­ing a beau­ti­ful woman’

Richard Os­man has the ap­pear­ance of a man who knows the an­swer to ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing. There he is on our tele­vi­sion screens each af­ter­noon, never caught out, never wrong-footed, telling us stuff we didn’t know about things we never re­ally thought about. But if you want to flum­mox the co-host of Point­less, the BBC quiz show, then the ques­tion to put to him is this: how on earth did he come to be named 2016’s Weird Crush Of The Year by Heat mag­a­zine?

‘Ah, um, er, re­ally, ah, well, I’m not the per­son to ask,’ he stum­bles, mo­men­tar­ily – and most un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally – lost for words. ‘But the the­ory is, be­ing a funny guy is like be­ing a beau­ti­ful woman. And I sup­pose be­ing on telly you get ad­ver­tised more. What I do know is, it’s all very pe­cu­liar for me.’

With his big specs, his long face and his nev­erend­ing frame folded in be­hind his Point­less desk, the most un­likely sex sym­bol is prob­a­bly not alone in strug­gling to work out how he has weak­ened fe­male knees across the view­er­ship. But ev­ery time his phone pings, it sig­nals the ar­rival of quan­tifi­able ev­i­dence that he has. On his so­cial me­dia feed, Os­man, who sep­a­rated 10 years ago from the mother of his two teenage chil­dren (he is cur­rently dat­ing broad­caster Emily Dean), re­ceives a bub­bling tor­rent of pro­pos­als of mar­riage. Plus plenty of am­bi­tious of­fers of more tem­po­rary li­aisons.

‘I think a lot of peo­ple treat Twit­ter as a dat­ing web­site,’ he says.

Not, he is quick to add, that he has ever made ac­quain­tance with those seek­ing him out. ‘I don’t re­spond,’ he says.

The truth is that 46-year-old Os­man is the most ac­ci­den­tal of sex sym­bols, a man who, un­til he be­came a fix­ture on tele­vi­sion eight years ago, har­boured ab­so­lutely no am­bi­tion to be well known.

‘I didn’t ask for it,’ he says. ‘I didn’t seek it out. My life could very eas­ily have gone on quite hap­pily with­out it.’

And quite hap­pily is some­thing of an un­der­state­ment: this was a man at the very top of his cho­sen field.

In 1992 he had left Cam­bridge Univer­sity with a pol­i­tics and so­ci­ol­ogy de­gree, keen to be­come a sports jour­nal­ist. But then he an­swered an ad­vert for a job as a re­searcher on a Sky TV se­ries about video games. When he went for the in­ter­view he was over­come by an odd sen­sa­tion. ‘It felt like I’d come home,’ he re­calls. Work­ing in tele­vi­sion turned out to be his per­fect job. Largely be­cause he had, he ad­mits, spent so much of his child­hood in front of the set at the mod­est Hay­wards Heath home he shared with his mother and brother. His favourite shows were Su­per­stars, Auf Wieder­se­hen, Pet and the pro­gramme he says is the great­est in tele­vi­sion his­tory, Fam­ily For­tunes. But he wasn’t fussy. He’d watch any­thing.

While his older brother Mat be­came a rock star as bassist with the Brit­pop band Suede, Os­man was more than happy work­ing be­hind the cam­era, well away from pub­lic recog­ni­tion, com­ing up with for­mats, think­ing of new shows. He proved to be very good at it. Over the years he in­vented Sur­vivor, Deal Or No Deal, and Mil­lion Pound Drop. When he turned up with an idea, doors opened; ex­ec­u­tives knew ratings would fol­low.

In 2009, by now work­ing as cre­ative direc­tor at in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­tion com­pany En­de­mol, he ar­rived at the BBC with a pro­posal for a quiz show.

It was called Point­less, and to demon­strate how it would work, he and a col­league stood in as the hosts. A watch­ing BBC com­mis­sioner said some­thing he never ex­pected to hear: maybe it would be best if Os­man him­self pre­sented it.

Point­less was an im­me­di­ate suc­cess, es­tab­lish­ing it­self as a sta­ple of the af­ter­noon sched­ule. In case you haven’t seen it, the game show works like this: con­tes­tants are asked gen­er­al­knowl­edge ques­tions that have been an­swered by a group of 100 peo­ple prior to the show. The aim is to give cor­rect an­swers that few or no re­spon­dents gave to the pre-show sur­vey, mean­ing it is ad­van­ta­geous to give ob­scure or lit­tle-known an­swers.

Part of the show’s ap­peal stems from its two hosts: Os­man and the comic ac­tor Alexan­der Arm­strong, a Cam­bridge con­tem­po­rary. Their chem­istry is writ­ten across the screen: Os­man says that in eight years he and Arm­strong have never had so much as a cross word.

‘Peo­ple seem to think we’re ei­ther at each

other’s throats or that we’re lovers. Nei­ther is true.’ More to the point, the pair ex­ude up­beat good cheer. How­ever foggy-brained the con­tes­tant, what­ever the ex­haust­ing grind of record­ing 200 episodes, four a day in a two-month marathon splurge, on this show no­body will ever be hu­mil­i­ated for cheap laughs. Here, fail­ure is greeted not by a sar­cas­tic ‘you plonker’ but with a sym­pa­thetic ‘Aaah, what a shame’. ‘As a kid, I never liked mean pro­grammes,’ Os­man says. ‘My view is al­ways try to be kind. That’s what my mum al­ways told me: be nice. Listen, if there’s a joke, I’ll make it. But even then, some­times you make a joke and you see a flicker in the con­tes­tant’s eye and you think: next time I speak to you I’m go­ing to be lovely be­cause I’m not sure you en­joyed that.’

Ex­ud­ing knowl­edge and hu­mour as he peered at the world through his bot­tle-bot­tomed glasses, Os­man quickly caught the wider at­ten­tion. Now, wher­ever he goes, he gets mobbed. It isn’t just that he is eas­ily recog­nised. It is be­cause he ap­pears to be so ge­nial on screen, peo­ple are far from in­tim­i­dated about ap­proach­ing him. More­over, it is hard for him to es­cape the at­ten­tion. As ev­ery­one that he meets seems to feel obliged to point out.

‘It’s the first thing peo­ple say when they ask for a photo with me,’ he says. ‘ “You’re tall,” they go. This is not some big rev­e­la­tion: I do know I’m tall. As I say to my son [who stands 6ft 5in at 16], you can’t ac­tu­ally change be­ing tall. You can ei­ther be tall and con­fi­dent about it or tall and em­bar­rassed. Those are your only op­tions. You can’t pre­tend to be short.’

Top­ping 6ft 7in in his teens, he has been asked what the weather’s like up there for as long as he can re­mem­ber.

‘I wasn’t bul­lied, I al­ways talked my way out of it,’ he says of his gan­gly youth. ‘But it was awk­ward. It’s be­ing too tall for com­fort. It’s taken me many years to be com­fort­able with it. Your head is al­ways above the para­pet.’

He pauses for a mo­ment and flashes his big broad smile. ‘But you know what, there re­ally are many worse things to be.’ His daily ap­pear­ances on Point­less soon put the funny, tall, geeky guy in de­mand. He was a nat­u­ral for com­edy panel shows, an ace guest on chat shows, his World Cup of Bis­cuits for Comic Re­lief was em­braced by mil­lions.

This month he can be seen pre­sent­ing the new se­ries of Child Ge­nius on Chan­nel 4. The pro­gramme, which mixes quiz and doc­u­men­tary to un­cover the na­tion’s bright­est un­der-14, is that rare thing on tele­vi­sion: a show Richard Os­man didn’t think up. ‘Hav­ing seen the first two se­ries I thought, “Ooh that’s a good idea, I wish I’d thought of that.” So when I was asked to do it I said yes, be­cause I re­ally ad­mired it.’

And he feels more than com­fort­able mix­ing with some of the bright­est minds around. Es­pe­cially as they all be­long to young­sters.

‘They are charm­ing be­yond words, they ask ques­tions you aren’t ex­pect­ing and they have a laugh. And I love their com­pet­i­tive­ness. I’d have loved to have been on this show as a kid. Not be­cause I was a ge­nius but be­cause I was so com­pet­i­tive. Still am.’

In­deed, the chal­lenge of keep­ing up with the child ge­niuses has, he says, kept him in com­pet­i­tive shape. Which has been of enor­mous help when­ever he hails a taxi.

‘The mo­ment they clock me in the mir­ror, cab­bies in­vari­ably say to me, “Here’s a good ques­tion for you.” If you don’t get it, it makes their day. But if you do get it, they are fu­ri­ous.’

Pre­sum­ably, be­ing the nice guy he is, just to hu­mour his in­quisi­tors, he pre­tends not to know the an­swer.

‘God no. Are you kid­ding me? I’d never do that,’ he says, per­plexed at the very idea. ‘That’s like say­ing to Ryan Giggs: would you de­lib­er­ately miss a penalty? Of course you wouldn’t do that. That’s what you train for, right?’

And, as he grins at the pre­pos­ter­ous­ness of de­lib­er­ately duck­ing a ques­tion, his phone chirrups an­other so­cial me­dia no­ti­fi­ca­tion. Some­where, some woman is hop­ing tele­vi­sion’s favourite brainbox will take a mo­ment from con­found­ing cab­bies to look her way. Child Ge­nius, Au­gust 14, 8pm, Chan­nel 4

Richard Os­man, left, with Point­less co-pre­sen­ter Alexan­der Arm­strong.

Richard with his brother Mat in 1989 on Richard’s first day at Cam­bridge, left. Davina McCall, right, who pre­sented Os­man’s Bafta award-win­ning The Mil­lion Pound Drop. Inset be­low, Noel Ed­monds who pre­sented an­other of Os­man’s win­ning cre­ations, Deal Or No Deal

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