John O'Farrell (author)
27 March 1962 |
Maidenhead, Berkshire, England
John O'Farrell (born 27 March 1962) is a British author, comedy scriptwriter and political campaigner.
O'Farrell grew up in Maidenhead, Berkshire, the youngest of three children, attending Courthouse Primary School and then Desborough Comprehensive. His father was a book dealer from Galway, Ireland. He had some success as a child actor, playing Christopher Robin in the West End at the age of ten, and appearing in the horror film From Beyond the Grave with Diana Dors and Donald Pleasence. O'Farrell went on to study English and Drama at Exeter University.
Radio and television career
O'Farrell moved to London in 1985, winning a talent competition at Jongleurs, Battersea, but soon gave up stand up-comedy in favour of comedy writing. After turning up at the open meetings for Radio 4’s Week Ending he teamed up with Mark Burton and the writing partnership got their first commission from Harry Thompson (who later named his two pet rats Burton and O’Farrell). The duo won the BBC Light Entertainment Contract Award, and contributed to a number of radio 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. 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 on the show. O'Farrell is credited with the idea of making John Major permanently grey. 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. Also for Hat Trick Productions they wrote a BBC1 sitcom The Peter Principle ('The Boss' in the US) starring Jim Broadbent. They are also credited for 'additional dialogue' on the Aardman film Chicken Run.
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. It 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.
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.
In 2000 O'Farrell published his first novel, The Best A Man Can Get, which became the best-selling debut novel of 2002. It was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 starring Mark Heap and Tamsin Greig. The novel was later optioned by Paramount Pictures. Two further novels followed, This Is Your Life and May Contain Nuts, which was nominated for the Bollinger Wodehouse Award and adapted for ITV by his former co-writer Mark Burton and starred Shirley Henderson and Darren Boyd. His novels have been translated into over twenty languages, including a Japanese manga edition of The Best a Man Can Get.
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.
O'Farrell has contributed short stories and non-fiction pieces to a number of charity collections; Nick Hornby’s Speaking with the Angel, Magic, Mums, Dads and Being British edited by Gordon Brown.
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.
O'Farrell has appeared on such programmes as Newsnight Review, Question Time, Grumpy Old Men. and Have I Got News For You, the only guest to have previously 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 Turn Over Your Papers Now and The Grand Masquerade for Radio 4. (O’Farrell’s radio programme The Grand Masquerade on the Kit Williams 1979 treasure hunt book resulted, with the mysterious golden hare resurfacing twenty years after it disappeared.)
He also captained the Exeter Alumni team on University Challenge in December 2012. Other TV and radio appearances include Crime Team, What the Papers Say, The News Quiz, Heresy, Quote Unquote, The Wright Stuff, What the Dickens, The 11 O’clock Show, We’ve Been Here Before, Clive Anderson’s Chat Room and Loose Ends.
In September 2006, O'Farrell launched the news satire website NewsBiscuit to create a new outlet for British comedy on the internet. 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 were published in 2008 as Isle of Wight to Get Ceefax. A number of the writers have gone on to write for BBC Radio after developing their material on NewsBiscuit.
O'Farrell is a lifelong member of the Labour Party and is politically active. He stood as a no-hope Labour candidate in his home town of Maidenhead 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. He has also written jokes for Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, as well as other senior Labour figures.
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 during this time, being a vocal supporter of state education. In September 2012, he became Writer in Residence at Burlington Danes Academy in northwest London through the literacy charity First Story.
In February 2013 John O'Farrell was selected to be the Labour candidate in the Eastleigh by-election which was caused by the resignation of Chris Huhne. His selection was seen as an interesting move by Labour in a seat where they were rank outsiders and many supporters welcomed the element of humour that O'Farrell brought to party politics. However, during the campaign O'Farrell was the subject of a campaign by the Daily Mail and other papers who quoted extracts from his political memoir and history books selected to discredit him. Particular attention was focussed on O'Farrell's confession that as a young man in 1984 he had momentarily regretted that the Brighton bomb had not been successful in assassinating Margaret Thatcher. His memoir had also recalled he had wanted "Great Britain to lose the Falklands War for the benefit of Great Britain" - such was his strength of feeling that Mrs. Thatcher must not be re-elected as Prime Minister. The two extracts were both high-lighted by Prime Minister David Cameron during PMQs on 27 February 2013 and were heavily covered by The Sun on election day. Despite the hostile press coverage, O'Farrell slightly increased Labour's share of the vote but finished fourth following a strong showing from UKIP that pushed the Conservatives into third place. He confirmed soon afterwards that despite having found the by-election a positive experience, he did not intend to stand for Parliament in 2015 and that he had never put himself forward for any seat prior to the by-election.
O'Farrell is married with two children, who both attended Lambeth Academy. He and his family live in Clapham in South London and holiday in West Cork. 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 Lyttleton during I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, and O'Farrell joked "I married the lovely Samantha!"
- The Man Who Forgot His Wife (16 March 2012) (2012, Doubleday, ISBN 978-0-385-60610-3 (11 October 2012) Black Swan ISBN 978-0-552-77163-4
- May Contain Nuts (2 May 2005) (2005, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-60608-7)
- This Is Your Life (2002) (2004, Grove Press, ISBN 0-8021-4134-X) (2003, Black Swan, ISBN 0-552-99849-4) (2002, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-60098-4)
- The Best a Man Can Get (2000) (2002, Broadway Books, ISBN 0-7679-0714-0) (2001, Black Swan, ISBN 0-552-99844-3) (2001, Broadway Books, ISBN 0-7679-0713-2) (2000, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-60084-4)
- "A History of Capitalism According to the Jubilee Line" (2013, Penguin, ISBN 978-1-846-14634-3)
- An Utterly Exasperated History of Modern Britain: or Sixty Years of Making the Same Stupid Mistakes as Always (22 October 2009) (2009, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-61622-8)
- An Utterly Impartial History of Britain — Or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots In Charge (22 October 2007) (2007, Doubleday, ISBN 978-0-385-61198-5)
- I Have A Bream (February 2007) (2007, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-61088-2)
- I Blame the Scapegoats (2003) (2004, Black Swan, ISBN 0-552-77194-5) (2003, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-60674-5)
- Global Village Idiot (2001) (2004, Grove Press, ISBN 0-8021-4038-6) (2002, Corgi, ISBN 0-552-99964-4) (2001, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-60293-6)
- Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter, 1979-1997 (1998) (1998, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-41059-X) (1999, Black Swan, ISBN 0-552-99803-6)
References and notes
- "May Contain Nuts" interview BooksatTransworld.co.uk
- "John O'Farrell" IMDB John O'Farrell
- O'Farrell, John, "Tony plans a trip down in Devon", The Guardian, 5 July 2000
- "I Can't Believe I Did That", The Independent, 15 October 2003
- May Contain Nuts interview BooksatTransworld.co.uk
- Alphabetical Name Index"RadioHaHa"
- O'Farrell, John, Things can only get better - Eighteen years in the life of a labour supporter, London: Black Swan, 1999, p. 261
- "John O'Farrell" IMDB.com
- "Rivals - The best-selling political memoirs in Britain", The Economist, 1 September 2010
- Author Page APWatt.co.uk
- "John O'Farrell" BooksatTransworld.com
- "SPEAKING WITH THE ANGEL" Bookreporter.com
-  "The Bookseller" 10 May 2012
- "Dreaming of Toad Hall" bbc.co.uk/radio4
- Plunkett, John, "Unearthed again – golden hare that obsessed a nation" Guardian.co.uk, 20 August 2009
- "The world of wiki-comedy", BBC.co.uk, 20 September 2007
- "Isle of Wight to Get Ceefax: And Other Groundbreaking Stories from Newsbiscuit" Amazon.co.uk
- "About NewsBiscuit" newsbiscuit.com
- "O'Farrell YouTube interview with Tony Blair"
- "Guest details for the Last Word" Channel4.com
- Why I choose state education over private school | Education | The Guardian
- O'Farrell, John, "The family secret" Guardian.co.uk, 29 May 2009
- The Guardian, 9 November 2009, John O'Farrell, 'My Media', London, Media Section pg. 8.
- "Famous Fulham Fans" Fulhamish. Blogspot.Com
- There's Only One F in Fulham, August/September 2004 Issue 91, pg 45.