Giles Wood and Mary Killen, Oldie writ­ers and un­likely stars of the small screen, tell Harry Mount about the fame game and their mar­riage

Giles Wood and Mary Killen only shared an hour to­gether each day. And then Chan­nel 4’s Gog­gle­box tal­ent-spot­ted the painter and the agony aunt. Harry Mount dis­cov­ers how late-on­set fame saved their mar­riage

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‘Have you got the brick?’ Mary Killen asks her hus­band, Giles Wood, as we leave their thatched Vic­to­rian cot­tage for lunch in Marl­bor­ough.

The brick is kept in re­serve, to knock a hole through the wind­screen of their Volvo if the crack in the wind­screen gets any big­ger.

‘Would you like th­ese?’ says Mary, hand­ing over a pair of lady’s sun­glasses, as I set­tle in the front seat, star­ing at the crack, ‘In case it smashes.’

Giles has just shown me round his charm­ing gar­den, a shel­ter belt of wilder­ness he has planted to hide the flat Wilt­shire prairies that lie be­yond. He points out two deep, lethal in­ci­sions he has in­cised, fif­teen feet up, into a tree.

‘The wind will do the rest,’ he says, ‘I haven’t got a chain­saw.’

In my namby-pamby, met­ro­pol­i­tan way, I worry about it fall­ing on pass­ing tod­dlers.

‘There aren’t many peo­ple around – only builders,’ Giles says cheer­fully, re­fer­ring to the build­ing work on his newly ex­tended shed.

Wel­come to the glo­ri­ous haven from health and safety that is the world of Giles Wood, painter and Oldie Coun­try Mouse colum­nist, and Mary Killen, reg­u­lar Oldie con­trib­u­tor and au­thor of the Dear Mary prob­lem page in the Spec­ta­tor.

Since 2015, they have be­come TV stars, too, as the bo­hemian cou­ple with the Wil­liam Mor­ris wall­pa­per in Gog­gle­box – the se­ries that films cou­ples and fam­i­lies re­act­ing to the week’s tele­vi­sion pro­grammes.

Gog­gle­box has been a sur­prise Chan­nel 4 hit, win­ning a BAFTA and more than three-and-a-half mil­lion view­ers. And now Giles and Mary have writ­ten a joint di­ary for the last year.

‘It’s like The Coun­try Di­ary of an Ed­war­dian Lady,’ says Mary.

‘Some of it’s dull as ditch­wa­ter,’ says Giles, who fin­ishes Mary’s sen­tences with dead­pan punch­lines, and vice versa.

The di­ary deals with the hum­drum is­sues of ev­ery­day life, like Giles’s lone shop­ping trips to Marl­bor­ough.

‘He of­ten sneaks away with­out me,’ Mary says, ‘And I want to come.’

‘There are only so many car park­ing spa­ces in Marl­bor­ough,’ says Giles, ‘All she has to do is walk along, look for the Volvo and she’ll find it. I set her ini­tia­tive tests by mak­ing her look for the car.’

The di­ary is just one pleas­ant af­ter­ef­fect of late-on­set fame.

‘Since be­ing on Gog­gle­box, our mar­riage has im­proved be­cause we have time to talk to each other,’ says Mary, ‘Pre­vi­ously, I’d get up at five or six and he’d get up at ten.’

‘I do suf­fer from night ter­rors, hav­ing

gone to bed hav­ing watched the hor­ror chan­nel,’ says Giles.

‘At one o’clock, he’d just be hav­ing break­fast,’ says Mary. ‘We didn’t over­lap much. We’d have one wak­ing hour in each other’s com­pany.’

Now, thanks to Gog­gle­box, Giles and Mary spend six hours, from 6pm to mid­night, twice a week, watching, and re­act­ing to, pre-recorded tele­vi­sion pro­grammes. Two cam­eras sit on tripods just below their telly. One cam­era moves con­stantly to catch their fa­cial ex­pres­sions close up, while the other stays still. A four-man TV crew sit in the kitchen, op­er­at­ing the cam­eras.

‘Part of your brain can’t for­get they’re next door,’ says Giles, ‘Some­times, you can hear them laugh­ing.’ Mary is less aware of the ar­ti­fice. ‘I go into a kind of trance,’ she says, ‘I

think, “We’ll be dead soon. I need the in­come stream.” What’s the point of be­ing self-con­scious?’

To be­gin with, Giles and Mary weren’t liked by the view­ers.

‘There’s one par­tic­u­lar per­son who de­scribes us as Fred and Rose­mary West,’ says Giles.

Grad­u­ally, they grew more pop­u­lar, as view­ers warmed to the new cou­ple.

Giles and Mary have also worked out why peo­ple want to watch other peo­ple watching tele­vi­sion.

‘It breeds a sense of na­tional unity,’ says Mary, ‘When Naked At­trac­tion [a dat­ing show with naked peo­ple] was on last week, Gog­gle­box showed all the fam­i­lies re­coil­ing in hor­ror. The view­ers feel re­lieved. They say, “Thank God, I’m not alone. Ev­ery­one else is shocked, too.”’

‘It’s a re­place­ment fam­ily for peo­ple. They know we’ll be there on Fri­day at nine. And we’ll be watching telly just like them.’

Gog­gle­box has also been a fi­nan­cial boost – al­beit a small one – for the two free­lancers.

‘With un­cer­tainty in the world from Brexit, it was quite a smart move for us,’ Giles says, ‘Jour­nal­ism is un­cer­tain; art is un­cer­tain. This is some­thing reg­u­lar, which we’ve never had, re­ally.’

The canny tal­ent scouts at Gog­gle­box have also alighted on one of the fun­ni­est cou­ples in Bri­tain.

‘One of the best things about Gog­gle­box is that some clever edi­tor has seen what makes them click as a cou­ple,’ says Craig Brown, the writer and satirist who has been close friends of the cou­ple for more than thirty years, ‘And so you get glimpses of them laugh­ing very af­fec­tion­ately at or with each other.

‘The key thing about them is that they are both howl­ingly funny, in dif­fer­ent ways. Giles presents a kind of par­ody of nor­mal­ity, and of re­ceived opin­ion, whereas Mary’s hu­mour is more whim­si­cal. They’re in­dis­pens­able.’

Giles was born in Stoke-on-trent in an undis­closed year – they both pre­fer not to give their ages. The fam­ily busi­ness, S.A. Wood and Sons, had been mak­ing tile fire­places since the Vic­to­rian era. The busi­ness was sold, ‘to sup­port my fa­ther’s life­style – and his mis­tress,’ says Giles.

He went to Shrews­bury School and then Wim­ble­don School of Art where, in 1980, he met Mary, a model at the school.

‘Not a nude model,’ Giles adds, ‘A cos­tume model.’

They moved to their cot­tage, out­side Pewsey, thirty years ago, and have two daugh­ters, Freya, an artist, and Posy, a teacher. Mary was born in Larne, North­ern Ire­land, where her fa­ther was a doc­tor. She came to London, aged eigh­teen. She grad­u­ally moved into jour­nal­ism, work­ing with Craig Brown – ‘A key so­cial spring­board,’ she says – at Tatler, then edited by Mark Boxer.

In the late 1980s, Mary came up with a Tatler agony col­umn – Can­did Coun­sel. Rather than deal­ing with the usual agony ma­te­rial, like di­vorce and death, it con­fronted so­cial co­nun­drums such as for­get­ting the names of your din­ner guests. In the early 1990s, the Spec­ta­tor snapped up the col­umn, re­named Dear Mary.

Spend­ing a day with the cou­ple is like at­tend­ing a comic mas­ter­class in irony, their dif­fer­ent senses of hu­mour neatly dove­tail­ing. Craig Brown is ex­pe­ri­enced at di­ag­nos­ing their char­ac­ters.

‘Giles has what he calls his En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Mishap and Mis­ery,’ says Craig, ‘He has an un­fail­ing photographic mem­ory for ev­ery­thing that has gone wrong in any­one’s life, par­tic­u­larly if he was the cause of it. He lives for Schaden­freude.’

‘One of Mary’s key char­ac­ter­is­tics is her mad char­ac­ter sketches, usu­ally based on the prin­ci­ple of two plus two equals ninety-four. So she’ll say, “Poor Sally. She lost her ball on the beach when she was five-years-old and, thirty years later, her mar­riage ended in di­vorce,” or some such non se­quitur.’

Giles and Mary like to say how much they an­noy each other but, un­der­neath, there is clear, deep, mu­tual love.

‘Giles says the chief rea­son not to di­vorce is for eco­log­i­cal rea­sons – you then have to have two houses,’ says Mary.

‘That in­volves habi­tat de­struc­tion,’ says Giles, dead­pan.

‘The Di­ary of Two No­bod­ies’ by Giles Wood and Mary Killen is pub­lished by Vir­gin Books on 2nd Novem­ber (£14.99)

Screen time: Giles and Mary watch telly in their cot­tage near Pewsey, Wilt­shire

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