Who knew TV favourite Richard Madeley had a dark side? He gives a glimpse of it to Grant Woodward.
They were the nice couple next door who were beamed into our living rooms every morning. The husband-and-wife team who shared tears, laughter and the occasional awkward Ali G impression with the nation through 21 years of telly.
More remarkable though is the fact that Richard Madeley’s off screen partnership with Judy Finnigan remains in rude health all these years later. So what’s the secret? “Luck,” Madeley says cheerily. “That and a Rubik’s Cube.”
He tells the story of how, in the early 1980s, he was doing a lighthearted segment for Leeds-based news show Calendar which found him twiddling one of the 3D puzzles on camera and magically making the sides match up.
“There happened to be an ITN executive in Leeds that night and he saw my report go out. He liked it and called London to say he’d found them an ‘and finally’ bit for that night’s News at Ten.
“Over in Manchester, a Granada executive caught it on his way to the toilet and thought, that’s the bloke I’ve been looking for to join Judy Finnigan and Tony Wilson on Granada Reports.”
A month later he had teamed up with Judy across the Pennines and they soon found themselves sharing a passionate kiss in the back of a taxi. The rest is history.
Despite helping him meet the love of his life, Richard insists the decision to go to Manchester was a difficult one.
“I came to Calendar in April or May 1980,” he recalls. “I have really fond memories of it, I had a lovely time.
“It was a step up to get a job there, but also I just loved Yorkshire. We lived in Aberford – this was with my first wife, Linda – and were opposite the pub, The Arabian Horse. It was perfect.
“I just really enjoyed the Yorkshire people and the whole ambience of the place. It was great.”
Looking back, he believes he and Judy “were predetermined to the other”.
“The first stroke of luck was that we met and fell in love,” he says. “The second piece of luck, I think, is that we’ve grown in the same direction.”
Having gone from being regional news presenters together to sofa-bound sparring partners on This Morning and Richard and Judy, the pair are now both carving out new careers as novelists.
Judy has published two and Richard’s third, The Night Book, is on its way. “We leapfrog each other,” he says. “We don’t write in the same year because that would be too much. It’s all consuming and it wouldn’t be healthy. And also because we don’t want to be in competition with each other.”
Amid all this talk of wedded bliss, it’s a shock when he outlines the plot of his new book, published at the end of this month.
The central character is trapped in an abusive relationship with a wealthy, much older man. The title, The Night Book, refers to the clandestine book in which she confides her darkest fantasies about killing him – “horrible, really violent fantasies,” adds Richard, with no little relish – before fate hands her an opportunity.
It’s set in the long, hot summer of 1976, for which Madeley has plugged into his experiences as a young local radio reporter.
“You didn’t see a cloud for weeks and weeks. They appointed a Minister for Droughts it was that bad. It drove people slightly mad actually.
“I was covering the Lake District and it was like being in the Italian lakes. But just below the surface it was still freezing.
“People were diving down and drowning from the shock. On the radio station we were putting out warnings every hour saying please don’t swim in the lakes.”
He got a feel for the time and place and then pieced together a plot. “It occurred to me that perhaps there’s this woman who’s trapped in this abusive marriage and keeps hearing all these stories of people going into the lakes and drowning. The thought starts to stir in her that maybe there’s a way out of all this.”
He and Judy will seek the other’s opinion during the novel-writing process. “If I’m slightly stuck or there’s a fork in the road in the story and you’re not sure which to take, you say, ‘What do you think?’
“We’re both quite robust and aren’t afraid to show each other our pages.”
But then the couple have been forced to grow thick skins down the years thanks to some unwanted media attention. At the moment they have a problem with a photographer who follows them wherever they go. “I think you could define him as a stalker,” says Richard. “He’s been following us for the last few months.
“But in terms of being a figure of interest to the tabloids and social media now, so what? It’s not like getting cancer is it? It shouldn’t affect your life.
“If there’s been an unpleasant, bitchy piece about me or Judy, it’s never lost me a job, a friend or changed my life in any way.
“So I choose not to worry about it. It’s not real.”
He’s not afraid to embrace social media, either, despite some of the barbs that come his way.
“It’s so pathetic that sometimes I feel sorry for the people putting it out,” he says.
“If it’s come from a bloke I have this picture in my head of this corpulent 40-something sitting in his parents’ box room in his underpants.
“Perspective is everything.”
HOW MADELEY MADE HIS MARK
Richard Madeley began his career in local newspapers, before moving to BBC Radio Carlisle at the age of 19 as a news producer and presenter.
After a stint at Border Television he fronted Calendar with Richard Whiteley, before moving to Granada Reports where he met Judy Finnigan, who was assigned to assist him on his first day.
He will be in conversation with Judy at York Explore Library on July 6. For details call 01904 620784. The Night Book is published by Simon & Schuster on June 30.