John O'Farrell (author)

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John O'Farrell
Born (1962-03-27) 27 March 1962 (age 53)
Maidenhead, Berkshire, England
Occupation Writer
Nationality British
Period 1986–present
Genre Fiction, non-fiction

John O'Farrell (born 27 March 1962) is a British author and comedy scriptwriter. Previously a writer for such shows as Spitting Image and Have I Got News For You, he is now best known as a writer of humorous 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] He co-wrote the musical Something Rotten! which opened on Broadway in spring 2015 [3] and is currently[when?] writing a screenplay with Nick Park for Aardman Animations[3] having just completed his fifth novel.[3] His books have been translated into around 25 languages and adapted for radio and television.[4]

Early life[edit]

O'Farrell grew up in Maidenhead, Berkshire,[1] the youngest of three children, attending Courthouse Primary School and then Desborough Comprehensive. His father was a book dealer from Galway, Ireland. He attended classes at the renowned Redroofs Theatre School and he played Christopher Robin in the West End at the age of ten, and appeared in the horror film From Beyond the Grave with Diana Dors and Donald Pleasence.[5] O'Farrell went on to study English and drama at Exeter University.[6]

Scriptwriting career[edit]

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.[7] After turning up at the open meetings for Radio 4's Week Ending he teamed up with Mark Burton[8] and the writing partnership received 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.[9] 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. O'Farrell is credited with the idea of making John Major permanently grey.[10] They also wrote for Clive Anderson Talks Back, for 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" in the Aardman film Chicken Run.[11] In 2013, he returned to Aardman, co-writing a screenplay with Nick Park, currently[when?] still in development.

Most recently,[when?] O’Farrell has co-written the book for the original stage musical Something Rotten! which opened on Broadway in April 2015[12] for which he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical with Karey Kirkpatrick.

Literary career[edit]

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.[13]

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.[14]

In 2000, O'Farrell published his first novel, The Best A Man Can Get, which was the best-selling debut novel in 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.[11] His novels have been translated into over twenty languages, including a Japanese manga edition of The Best a Man Can Get.[15]

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,[16] Magic,[15] 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.[17] His fifth novel will be published in the summer of 2015.


O'Farrell has appeared on such programmes as Newsnight Review, Question Time, Grumpy Old Men.[11] 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[18] 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, twenty years after it had disappeared.[19]

He 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, "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 September 2006, O'Farrell launched Britain's first daily news satire website, NewsBiscuit, to create a new outlet for British comedy on the internet.[20] 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.[21] A number of the writers have gone on to write for BBC Radio or publish books after developing their material on NewsBiscuit.[22]


O'Farrell is a lifelong member of the Labour Party. 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.[23] He has written jokes for Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, as well as other senior Labour figures.[24]

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 a supporter of state education.[25] 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.[26] His selection was seen as an interesting move by Labour in a seat where they were rank outsiders.[27] However, during the campaign, the Daily Mail and other papers quoted extracts from his political memoir in which he confessed that in 1984 he had momentarily regretted that the Brighton bomb had not been successful in assassinating Margaret Thatcher.[28] He also recalled that he had wanted "Great Britain to lose the Falklands War for the benefit of Great Britain."[29] The two extracts were highlighted by Prime Minister David Cameron during Prime Ministers' Questions on 27 February 2013, and were repeated by The Sun on election day.[30] O'Farrell slightly increased Labour's share of the vote, but finished fourth.[31] He announced that he was not intending to stand for Parliament in 2015.[32]

Personal life[edit]

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.[33] 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!"[34]

He supports Fulham F.C.[35] and revealed in the club fanzine that the characters in each of his novels are named after players from a particular Fulham team.[36]




References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b "May Contain Nuts" interview
  2. ^ [1], BBC News, 18 September 2006
  3. ^ a b c [2] Broadway World
  4. ^ [3] "RCW Literary Agency"
  5. ^ "John O'Farrell", IMDB John O'Farrell
  6. ^ O'Farrell, John, "Tony plans a trip down in Devon", The Guardian, 5 July 2000
  7. ^ "I Can't Believe I Did That", The Independent, 15 October 2003
  8. ^ May Contain Nuts interview,
  9. ^ Alphabetical Name Index. RadioHaHa
  10. ^ O'Farrell, John, Things can only get better – Eighteen years in the life of a labour supporter, London: Black Swan, 1999, p. 261
  11. ^ a b c "John O'Farrell",
  12. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "'Something Rotten!' Puts a Shakespearean Twist On Broadway Musical Comedy, Starting Tonight",, 23 March 2015
  13. ^ "Rivals – The best-selling political memoirs in Britain", The Economist, 1 September 2010
  14. ^ Author Page at
  15. ^ a b "John O'Farrell" at
  17. ^ [4] "The Bookseller" 10 May 2012
  18. ^ "Dreaming of Toad Hall"
  19. ^ Plunkett, John, "Unearthed again – golden hare that obsessed a nation", 20 August 2009
  20. ^ "The world of wiki-comedy",, 20 September 2007
  21. ^ Isle of Wight to Get Ceefax: And Other Groundbreaking Stories from Newsbiscuit,
  22. ^ "About NewsBiscuit"
  23. ^ "O'Farrell YouTube interview with Tony Blair"
  24. ^ "Guest details for the Last Word",
  25. ^ "Why I choose state education over private school", The Guardian, 30 July 2012
  26. ^ [5]
  27. ^ [6]
  28. ^ [7]
  29. ^ [8]
  30. ^ [9]
  31. ^ [10]
  32. ^ [11]
  33. ^ O'Farrell, John, "The family secret",, 29 May 2009
  34. ^ "John O'Farrell, My Media", The Guardian, 9 November 2009, London, Media Section pg. 8.
  35. ^ "Famous Fulham Fans" Fulhamish. Blogspot.Com
  36. ^ There's Only One F in Fulham, August/September 2004 Issue 91, pg 45.

External links[edit]