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. Marriages in the public eye aren’t exactly known for their longevity, but you would bank on theirs to go the distance.
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 Yorkshire local 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.”
If there’s been a 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. I call it the ‘parallel universe’.
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. Richard had already separated from his wife but Judy was married with twin boys.
She broke off the affair after a few months but then came back and asked, if they did get together after she divorced, would he be up to being a stepfather? He went on holiday to Greece for two weeks and decided the answer was “Yes”.
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 just outside Leeds – 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.
“Quite often couples are perfectly compatible and happy, everything in the garden’s rosy. But as the years go by they’re a bit like roses growing up the side of a cottage. One goes left and the other goes right. Suddenly one day they look at each other and they’re miles apart.
“If you’re lucky that doesn’t happen, you end up in the same spot. And that’s what’s happened to us. We’re still in the same ball park.”
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. He’s also written an acclaimed biography, Fathers and Sons. “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 at BBC Radio Carlisle.
“People will remember it was an unbelievable summer. 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. It was extraordinary. Windermere was like Lake Como. 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.”
The book, he explains, is predicated on the idea that “there are men six feet under because their wives, who hated them, didn’t intervene at a critical moment in their lives”. The wife who did nothing when her husband collapsed with a heart attack while mowing the lawn, he suggests. Or left the room as her other half choked to death on his breakfast.
He’s clearly thought about it a lot. “It must happen,” he insists. Who knew the housewives’ favourite we’ve seen on our screens all these years had such a dark side?
He and Judy will seek the other’s opinion during the novel-writing process too.
“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 in the face of some unwanted headlines down the years, not to mention a mile of column inches filled with thinly veiled insinuation.
“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.”
Having said that, they do have a problem at the moment with a photographer who follows them wherever they go. “I think you could define him as a stalker. He’s a guy who parades himself as a paparazzi but actually he’s rather odd. He’s been following us for the last few months.
“We’ve got to the point where we think we’re going to have to do something about him because whenever we go out he’s hiding somewhere and that’s not journalism, that’s harassment.
“But I take it quite easy as far as most of it’s concerned. 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, shape or form. So I choose not to worry about it. I call it ‘the parallel universe’. It’s not real.”
He’s not afraid to embrace social media, either. “I look at the crap that comes my way and it’s so pathetic that sometimes I feel quite sorry for the people putting it out,” he says.
“You have to be in a pretty bad place to waste your time doing that. 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. It’s quite a sad image. Perspective is everything.”
Richard will be in conversation with Judy at York Explore Library on July 6. For details call 01904 620784. The Night Book will be published by Simon & Schuster on June 30.