John O'Farrell (author)

Last updated

John O'Farrell
Born (1962-03-27) 27 March 1962 (age 59)
Maidenhead, Berkshire, England
OccupationWriter
NationalityBritish
Period1986–present
GenreFiction, non-fiction

John O'Farrell (born 27 March 1962) is a British author, scriptwriter and political campaigner. Previously a lead writer for such shows as Spitting Image and Have I Got News for You , he is now best known as a comic author for such books such as The Man Who Forgot His Wife and An Utterly Impartial History of Britain. He is one of a small number of British writers to have achieved best-seller status with both fiction and non-fiction. [1] He has also published three collections of his weekly column for The Guardian and set up Britain's first daily satirical news website NewsBiscuit. [2] With comedian Angela Barnes, he co-hosts the light-hearted historical podcast 'We Are History'. [3]

Contents

O'Farrell co-wrote the musical Something Rotten! , which opened on Broadway in April 2015, [4] and has been commissioned to co-write a Broadway musical of Mrs. Doubtfire . [5] In September 2017, he published Things Can Only Get Worse?, a sequel to the 1998 political memoir that originally made his name. His books have been translated into around thirty languages and adapted for radio and television. [6]

Early life

O'Farrell grew up in Maidenhead, Berkshire, [1] the youngest of three children, attending Courthouse Primary School and then Desborough Comprehensive where he wrote comedy for the school magazine and stood as the Labour candidate in the school's 1979 mock election. His father was a book dealer from Galway, Ireland, whilst his mother was active in Oxfam and Amnesty International. He attended classes at the Redroofs Theatre School and played Christopher Robin in the West End at the age of ten, before appearing in the horror film From Beyond the Grave with Diana Dors and Donald Pleasence. [7] O'Farrell went on to study English and drama at Exeter University. [8]

Scriptwriting career

O'Farrell moved to London in 1985, winning a talent competition at Jongleurs in Battersea, but gave up stand up-comedy in favour of comedy writing. [9] After attending the open meetings for Radio 4's Week Ending he formed a writing partnership with Mark Burton [10] and they soon became lead writers on the show. The duo won the BBC Radio Comedy Writers Bursary, and wrote for a number of radio comedy series, including Little Blighty on the Down, McKay the New and, with Pete Sinclair, A Look Back at the Nineties and Look Back at the Future, in which O'Farrell also performed. [11] The latter series won a British Comedy Award, a Gold Sony Radio Academy Award and a Premios Ondas.

Burton and O'Farrell were commissioned for Spitting Image in 1988 and the following year became two of the lead writers for the show, where they remained for 10 series. O'Farrell is credited with the idea of making John Major permanently grey. [12] They also wrote for Clive Anderson Talks Back, Nick Hancock on Room 101, Murder Most Horrid , and co-wrote some of the "Heads to Heads" for Alas Smith and Jones . In 1993, they left Spitting Image and became the first writers credited for the scripted parts of Have I Got News For You . Again for Hat Trick Productions, they wrote the BBC1 sitcom The Peter Principle (The Boss in the US) starring Jim Broadbent. They also contributed to the screenplay of the Aardman film Chicken Run . [13] It was announced in April 2018 that John O'Farrell was co-writing a sequel to Chicken Run. [14]

O’Farrell co-wrote the book for the original stage musical Something Rotten! , which opened on Broadway in April 2015, [15] and for which he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical with Karey Kirkpatrick as well as a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Circle Critics Award. The show ran for nearly two years on Broadway before going on tour across the United States. It was announced in August 2018 that the same team had been commissioned to write a stage musical of the film Mrs. Doubtfire for Broadway. [5] The stage musical, also titled Mrs. Doubtfire will premiere at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Washington beginning previews on 26 November 2019, with an official opening on 13 December, running until 29 December 2019. [16]

Literary career

In 1998, O'Farrell published Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter. The book became a number-one best-seller, and was nominated for the George Orwell Award and the Channel 4 Political Awards. The popularity of the book led O'Farrell to be invited to address the 1999 Labour Party conference. The memoir was adapted for BBC Radio 4 starring Jack Dee and Doon Mackichan. In September 2010, it was listed by The Economist as Britain's third best-selling political memoir since 1998, after books by Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. [17]

In 1999, O'Farrell began a weekly satirical column in The Independent , soon switching to The Guardian where he remained until 2005. Three collections of his columns have been published; Global Village Idiot, I Blame the Scapegoats and I Have A Bream. [18]

In 2000, O'Farrell published his first novel, The Best a Man Can Get, which was the best-selling debut novel in 2002 and eventually sold half a million copies. It was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 starring Mark Heap and Tamsin Greig. The novel later was optioned by Paramount Pictures. Two further novels followed, This Is Your Life and May Contain Nuts, the latter of which was nominated for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize and adapted for ITV by his former co-writer Mark Burton and starred Shirley Henderson and Darren Boyd. [13] [19]

In 2007, he returned to non-fiction with the publication of An Utterly Impartial History of Britain, or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge which was BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week and went on to sell over 250,000 copies. This was followed in October 2009 by An Utterly Exasperated History of Modern Britain, or Sixty Years of Making the Same Stupid Mistakes as Always.

His fourth novel, The Man Who Forgot His Wife, was published in March 2012 and was nominated for the Bollinger Wodehouse Award for comic fiction. [20]

O'Farrell has contributed short stories and non-fiction pieces to a number of charity collections: Nick Hornby's Speaking with the Angel, [21] Magic, [22] Mums, Dads and Being British edited by Gordon Brown. He also contributed a story for The Anniversary, a collection of short stories published as part of the Quick Reads Initiative.

In November 2015, he published his fifth novel There's Only Two David Beckhams described as a football fantasy set at the Qatar World Cup in 2022, which earned him his third nomination for the Wodehouse Award. [23]

In September 2017, he published Things Can Only Get Worse? Twenty Confusing Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter - the sequel to his first political memoir, picking up where the original left off, from the New Labour landslide of 1997 following the journey over two decades up to Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and Theresa May's snap election of 2017. The memoir was shortlisted for the 2017 Parliamentary Book Awards for 'Best book by a non-Parliamentarian' [24] and was adapted for serialisation on BBC Radio 4. [25]

O'Farrell has sold over 1 million books in the UK alone and his novels have been translated into approximately 30 languages, including a Japanese manga edition of The Best a Man Can Get. [22]

Broadcasting

O'Farrell has appeared on such programmes as Newsnight Review , Question Time , Grumpy Old Men . [13] and Have I Got News for You , the only guest previously to have worked on the show's production team. He has written and presented a number of TV and radio documentaries such as Losing My Maidenhead and Paranoid Parenting for BBC1, and Dreaming of Toad Hall [26] Turn Over Your Papers Now and The Grand Masquerade for Radio 4. After O'Farrell's radio programme The Grand Masquerade on the Kit Williams 1979 treasure hunt book, the golden hare resurfaced, 20 years after it had disappeared. [27]

He appeared in Pointless Celebrities in 2016 and 2019 and captained the Exeter Alumni team on University Challenge in December 2012. Other TV appearances and radio broadcasts, include Crime Team, What the Papers Say, The News Quiz, Heresy, Quote Unquote, The Wright Stuff, The Daily Politics, What the Dickens, The 11 O'Clock Show, We've Been Here Before, Clive Anderson's Chat Room and Loose Ends. In January 2020, he teamed up with comedian Angela Barnes to create a new podcast called 'We Are History' which looks at funny, quirky or interesting stories from British and world history.

Internet

In September 2006, O'Farrell launched Britain's first daily news satire website, NewsBiscuit, to create a new outlet for British comedy on the internet. [28] The site also develops new writing using a submissions board where readers can rate each other's material and suggest rewrites or edits. A collection of some of the best stories was published in 2008 as Isle of Wight to Get Ceefax. [29] A number of the writers have gone on to write for BBC Radio or publish books after developing their material on NewsBiscuit. [30]

Politics

O'Farrell is a lifelong member of the Labour Party. He stood as a no-hope Labour candidate in his home town of Maidenhead (the constituency of now former Prime Minister Theresa May) during the 2001 general election, which was the subject of the BBC documentary Losing My Maidenhead. During the 2005 general election his comic emails to Labour members raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for the party's election campaign. In April 2007, he conducted the first ever interview of a serving Prime Minister on the internet when he spoke to Tony Blair. [31] He has written jokes for Prime Ministers Blair and Gordon Brown, as well as other senior Labour figures. [32]

He successfully campaigned for a new state secondary school to be opened in Lambeth – the Lambeth Academy – and became the chair of governors from its opening in 2004 until 2012. He also sat on the board of the United Learning Trust, and is an outspoken supporter of state education. [33] In September 2012, he became Writer in Residence at Burlington Danes Academy in northwest London through the literacy charity First Story.

In February 2013, O'Farrell was selected as the Labour candidate in the Eastleigh by-election which was caused by the resignation of Chris Huhne. [34] He became the target of a campaign by the Daily Mail and other Conservative-supporting newspapers who used extracts or jokes from O'Farrell's books to claim that he was unsuitable for office. [35] as David Cameron attempted to embarrass the Labour leader Ed Miliband by reading out extracts of Things Can Only Get Better during Prime Minister's Question Time. [36] O'Farrell slightly increased Labour's share of the vote, but finished fourth. [37] He announced that he was not intending to stand for Parliament in 2015. [38] On the death of Margaret Thatcher, O'Farrell led calls for Labour supporters to put their hatred behind them, and to donate to those who suffered under her rule. [39] His political and education campaigns are chronicled in his memoir Things Can Only Get Worse.

Personal life

O'Farrell is married with two grown-up children, who both attended Lambeth Academy. He and his family live in Clapham in South London and holiday in West Cork. [40] O'Farrell met his wife Jackie when she worked in BBC Radio Comedy. She was the production assistant who had to sit on stage beside Humphrey Lyttelton during I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue , and O'Farrell joked "I married the lovely Samantha!" [41] He does much of his writing at the London Library. [42]

He supports Fulham F.C. [43] and revealed in the club fanzine that the characters in each of his novels are named after players from a particular Fulham team. [44]

Bibliography

Fiction

Non-fiction

Related Research Articles

Jerome Kern American composer

Jerome David Kern was an American composer of musical theatre and popular music. One of the most important American theatre composers of the early 20th century, he wrote more than 700 songs, used in over 100 stage works, including such classics as "Ol' Man River", "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man", "A Fine Romance", "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", "The Song Is You", "All the Things You Are", "The Way You Look Tonight" and "Long Ago ". He collaborated with many of the leading librettists and lyricists of his era, including George Grossmith Jr., Guy Bolton, P. G. Wodehouse, Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II, Dorothy Fields, Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin and Yip Harburg.

Tim Brooke-Taylor English actor and comedian

Timothy Julian Brooke-Taylor OBE was an English actor and comedian best known as a member of The Goodies.

P. G. Wodehouse English author (1881-1975)

Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, was an English author and one of the most widely read humorists of the 20th century. Born in Guildford, the third son of a British magistrate based in Hong Kong, Wodehouse spent happy teenage years at Dulwich College, to which he remained devoted all his life. After leaving school he was employed by a bank but disliked the work and turned to writing in his spare time. His early novels were mostly school stories, but he later switched to comic fiction, creating several regular characters who became familiar to the public over the years. They include the feather-brained Bertie Wooster and his sagacious valet, Jeeves; the immaculate and loquacious Psmith; Lord Emsworth and the Blandings Castle set; the Oldest Member, with stories about golf; and Mr Mulliner, with tall tales on subjects ranging from bibulous bishops to megalomaniac movie moguls.

Jeeves Fictional character in stories by P.G. Wodehouse

Jeeves is a fictional character in a series of comedic short stories and novels by English author P. G. Wodehouse. Jeeves is the highly competent valet of a wealthy and idle young Londoner named Bertie Wooster. First appearing in print in 1915, Jeeves continued to feature in Wodehouse's work until his last completed novel Aunts Aren't Gentlemen in 1974, a span of 60 years.

Anne Fine, OBE, FRSL is an English writer. Although best known for children's books, she also writes for adults. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and she was appointed an OBE in 2003.

Alexei Sayle English stand-up comedian

Alexei David Sayle is an English actor, author, stand-up comedian, television presenter and former recording artist. He was a central figure in the British alternative comedy movement in the 1980s. He was voted the 18th greatest stand-up comic of all time on Channel 4's 100 Greatest Stand-ups in 2007. In an updated 2010 poll he came 72nd.

Armando Iannucci British comedian, film director and producer

Armando Giovanni Iannucci is a Scottish satirist, writer, director, and radio producer. Born in Glasgow to Italian parents, Iannucci studied at the University of Glasgow followed by the University of Oxford. Starting on BBC Scotland and BBC Radio 4, his early work with Chris Morris on the radio series On the Hour transferred to television as The Day Today. A character from this series, Alan Partridge, co-created by Iannucci, went on to feature in a number of Iannucci's television and radio programmes, including Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge and I'm Alan Partridge. Iannucci also fronted the satirical Armistice review shows and in 2001 created his most personal work, The Armando Iannucci Shows, for Channel 4.

<i>Mrs. Doubtfire</i> 1993 American comedy-drama film directed by Chris Columbus

Mrs. Doubtfire is a 1993 American comedy-drama film directed by Chris Columbus. It was written for the screen by Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon, based on the 1987 novel Alias Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine. Robin Williams, who also served as a co-producer, stars with Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan, Harvey Fierstein, and Robert Prosky. It follows a recently divorced actor who dresses up as a female housekeeper to be able to interact with his children. The film addresses themes of divorce, separation, and the effect they have on a family.

Blandings Castle is a recurring fictional location in the stories of British comic writer P. G. Wodehouse, being the seat of Lord Emsworth, home to many of his family and the setting for numerous tales and adventures. The stories were written between 1915 and 1975.

Sandi Toksvig Danish-British comedian, writer and activist

Sandra Birgitte Toksvig is a British-Danish writer, comedian, broadcaster, actor, podcaster, TV presenter and producer on British radio, stage, and television. She is also a political activist, having co-founded the Women's Equality Party in 2015. She has written plays, novels, and books for children. In 1994, she came out as a lesbian.

Phill Jupitus British Lithuanian comedian

Phillip Christopher Jupitus is an English stand-up and improv comedian, actor, performance poet, cartoonist and podcaster. Jupitus was a team captain on BBC Two's popular music quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks from its inception in 1996 until its end in 2015, and also appears regularly as a guest on several other panel shows, including QI and BBC Radio 4's I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.

Peter Sallis British actor

Peter John Sallis was a British actor. He is known for his work in television.

Malorie Blackman British writer

Malorie Blackman is a British writer who held the position of Children's Laureate from 2013 to 2015. She primarily writes literature and television drama for children and young adults. She has used science fiction to explore social and ethical issues. Her critically and popularly acclaimed Noughts and Crosses series uses the setting of a fictional dystopia to explore racism. Her book New Windmills Spring sold out within a week of publishing it.

Alan Carr English comedian and television personality

Alan Graham Carr is an English comedian, radio presenter, television personality and writer.

"Pig-Hoo-o-o-o-ey" is a short story by P. G. Wodehouse, which first appeared in the United States in the 9 July 1927 issue of Liberty, and in the United Kingdom in the August 1927 Strand. Part of the Blandings Castle canon, it features the absent-minded peer Lord Emsworth, and was included in the collection Blandings Castle and Elsewhere (1935), although the story takes place sometime between the events of Leave it to Psmith (1923) and Summer Lightning (1929).

Justin Matthew Edwards is a British actor and writer.

Mark Burton (writer)

Mark Burton is a British television writer, screenwriter, television producer, film producer, and film director.

The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize is the United Kingdom's first literary award for comic literature. Established in 2000 and named in honour of P. G. Wodehouse, past winners include Paul Torday in 2007 with Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Marina Lewycka with A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian 2005 and Jasper Fforde for The Well of Lost Plots in 2004. Gary Shteyngart was the first American winner in 2011.

<i>Leave It to Jane</i>

Leave It to Jane is a musical in two acts, with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse, based on the 1904 play The College Widow, by George Ade. The story concerns the football rivalry between Atwater College and Bingham College, and satirizes college life in a Midwestern U.S. town. A star halfback, Billy, forsakes his father's alma mater, Bingham, to play at Atwater, to be near the seductive Jane, the daughter of Atwater's president.

Angela Barnes English comedian

Angela Barnes is an English stand-up comedian, mostly known for her appearances on Mock the Week.

References

  1. 1 2 "May Contain Nuts" interview BooksatTransworld.co.uk
  2. "BBC NEWS - UK - Magazine - Have I got (online) news for you?" . Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  3. https://www.beyondthejoke.co.uk/content/8203/angela-barnes-podcast
  4. "Breaking News - SOMETHING ROTTEN! to Skip Seattle and Open at the St. James Theatre in Spring 2015; Casey Nicholaw Set to Direct!". BroadwayWorld.com. 16 December 2014. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  5. 1 2 Gans, Andrew. "Jerry Zaks Will Direct Broadway-Aimed Musical Mrs. Doubtfire" Playbill, 28 August 2018
  6. "John O'Farrell". RCW Literary Agency. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  7. "John O'Farrell", IMDB John O'Farrell
  8. O'Farrell, John, "Tony plans a trip down in Devon", The Guardian, 5 July 2000
  9. "I Can't Believe I Did That", The Independent, 15 October 2003
  10. May Contain Nuts interview, BooksatTransworld.co.uk
  11. Alphabetical Name Index. RadioHaHa
  12. O'Farrell, John, Things can only get better – Eighteen years in the life of a labour supporter, London: Black Swan, 1999, p. 261
  13. 1 2 3 "John O'Farrell", IMDB.com
  14. "'Chicken Run' Sequel in Works at Aardman (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter.
  15. "Aardman and STUDIOCANAL announce new Nick Park film". Aardman.com. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  16. McPhee, Ryan (6 June 2019). "Mrs. Doubtfire Musical Will Make Its World Premiere in Seattle". Playbill. Retrieved 29 July 2019.
  17. "Rivals – The best-selling political memoirs in Britain", The Economist, 1 September 2010
  18. Author Page at APWatt.co.uk
  19. "John O'Farrell: Filmography". www.bfi.org.uk. British Film Institute . Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  20. "Fourth Pratchett nomination for Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize" . Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  21. "SPEAKING WITH THE ANGEL", Bookreporter.com
  22. 1 2 "John O'Farrell" at BooksatTransworld.com
  23. "Former winner Marina Lewycka up for Wodehouse book prize". BBC News. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  24. "Parliamentary Book Awards Shortlist Unveiled".
  25. "BBC Radio 4 - Things Can Only Get Worse - Episode guide". BBC.
  26. "Dreaming of Toad Hall" bbc.co.uk/radio4
  27. Plunkett, John, "Unearthed again – golden hare that obsessed a nation" Guardian.co.uk, 20 August 2009
  28. "The world of wiki-comedy", BBC.co.uk, 20 September 2007
  29. Isle of Wight to Get Ceefax: And Other Groundbreaking Stories from Newsbiscuit, Amazon.co.uk
  30. "About NewsBiscuit" newsbiscuit.com
  31. Labour Party (23 April 2007). "Tony Blair Labourvision interview: Life as PM, child poverty" via YouTube.
  32. "Guest details for the Last Word", Channel4.com
  33. "Why I choose state education over private school", The Guardian, 30 July 2012
  34. O'Farrell, John (13 February 2013). "John O'Farrell: why I'm standing for Labour in the Eastleigh byelection" via www.theguardian.com.
  35. Hoggart, Simon (27 February 2013). "O'Farrell's grim reaper wish for Iron Lady is swipe too far for Cameron" via www.theguardian.com.
  36. Sparrow, Andrew (27 February 2013). "Cameron and Miliband at PMQs – Politics live blog" via www.theguardian.com.
  37. "Eastleigh 2013 by-election: full results and charts". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  38. "My Eastleigh experience was enough – I won't stand for election in 2015". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  39. McTague, Tom (9 April 2013). "Margaret Thatcher dead: Campaigners call for donations to charities for those who suffered under her rule". mirror.
  40. O'Farrell, John, "The family secret", Guardian.co.uk, 29 May 2009
  41. "John O'Farrell, My Media", The Guardian, 9 November 2009, London, Media Section pg. 8.
  42. "BBC Radio London - Robert Elms, With John O'Farrell and The Zombies, Listed Londoner John O'Farrell". BBC.
  43. "Famous Fulham Fans" Fulhamish. Blogspot.Com
  44. There's Only One F in Fulham, August/September 2004 Issue 91, pg 45.