Richard Madeley’s new novel might be his most Partridge moment yet

‘Father’s Day’ is 68-year-old Madeley’s latest literary effort  (Getty)
‘Father’s Day’ is 68-year-old Madeley’s latest literary effort (Getty)

The sun is rising above a Roman amphitheatre just outside Cirencester, where two police officers have been called to the scene. Lurking inside this historic ruin is a truly grisly surprise: a man has been suspended from a sideways wooden cross. This is not, as you’d be forgiven for assuming, the introduction to a particularly disturbing episode of a Midsomer Murders spin-off, or some middle England reboot of The Wicker Man. Welcome, instead, to the opening chapter of Richard Madeley’s new novel, Father’s Day.

It’s a scene that the veteran broadcaster retold with his imitable panache during a recent appearance on BBC Radio 2. “There’s a man who has been crucified,” he told host Michael Ball. “He’s very dead.” Madeley’s synopsis, with all its unusual over-enunciations and meandering non-sequiturs about Roman history (did we really need to know the amphitheatre’s seating capacity in the first century AD?), was an inevitable hit on Twitter/X. “I was listening to this yesterday and nearly crashed the car,” one social media user wrote in response.

The 68-year-old, who became a household name while presenting ITV’s This Morning in the late Eighties up until the early Noughties alongside wife Judy Finnigan, but now flies solo as a host on Good Morning Britain, has acquired a reputation as a real-life Alan Partridge. He certainly shares a penchant for odd asides and unwieldy anecdotes, as well as an offbeat interview style, with Steve Coogan’s comedy character (Madeley, for his part, says he “couldn’t care less” about the comparisons, because “taking yourself seriously is daft”).

Just this week, he could be seen on GMB inspecting Kerry Katona’s new nose job at uncomfortably close range. Other greatest hits include the time he pondered whether we should “pity” Prince Andrew, his bizarre interrogation of the RMT’s general secretary Mick Lynch (“Are you or are you not a Marxist?”) or the unforgettable moment when a bright orange Madeley turned up for filming after over-zealously applying his daughter’s fake tan as a moisturiser. But could the presenter’s new book be his most accidental Partridge venture yet?

Father’s Day is not Madeley’s first literary effort. He has been writing novels for just over a decade (before that, he released the autobiographical Fathers & Sons, which looked back at his fraught relationship with his dad) and he and Finnigan have headed up the Richard and Judy Book Club for even longer than that, lending their seal of approval to crowd-pleasing commercial fiction. His back catalogue is filled with mysteries and murders set against the backdrop of picturesque locations, often in the sort of places where a TV presenter might have a second home (think the south of France, the Lake District or, as in the case of his latest work, the Cotswolds).

After that dramatic opening chapter, things take an even darker turn. The (very) dead man, we learn, was a twisted catfish who skulked around in internet chat rooms, pretending to be a troubled teen named Rosie (he was in fact a fortysomething loner and recreational cat killer named Arthur, who lived in his parents’ box room). He drew young girls into his confidence, then encouraged them to start harming themselves or even consider suicide. Did Arthur’s killer know about his awful proclivities? Were they motivated by revenge?

Madeley and his wife Judy Finnigan have hosted their book club since the Noughties (Getty)
Madeley and his wife Judy Finnigan have hosted their book club since the Noughties (Getty)

It’s pretty grim stuff – or at least it would be, were it not constantly lightened up by Madeley’s wonderful Partridgeisms. Celebrity novelists are often accused of simply hiring a ghostwriter then slapping their name on the front of their book and taking all the glory. You can tell Madeley didn’t do this, because the narrator’s voice is, well, so very him. Sometimes the writing is so blunt as to become almost poetic. “The man looked like the t**t he was,” goes one evocative description of a TV historian roped in to provide insight on the Roman-style crucifixion.

Elsewhere, the narrative is heavy with references to what you can only imagine are some of the author’s favourite preoccupations. There are extended sequences devoted to a protagonist’s house hunt: “Three bedrooms. Orchard garden. Views of the village across a wooded valley. Freehold.” Tick, tick, tick. Later, we learn that, pre-crucifixion, the novel’s killer was scrupulous about the structural integrity of the wooden cross, as “the experience of working with the architect on his kitchen refit had brought home the importance of properly designing a structure and making sure he had the right tools and materials at the ready”. Kevin McCloud would either be proud or mildly disturbed.

Cars are always respectfully referred to by their full brand names and Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” gets a surprising amount of airtime. “It always sends a tingle down my spine,” says Nick, the aforementioned house hunter, who happens to be a successful novelist who writes books – “all Sunday Times bestsellers” – about the Roman empire. He’s also very, very keen for Aidan Turner to star in the next TV adaptation. Nick embarks on this career, we learn, after one university tutor kindly takes him aside and tells him: “We believe you should write novels, and perhaps plays or screenplays, based on your wonderful, instinctive grasp of what it was to be Roman.” If only all universities offered such ego-boosting careers advice, rather than looking at your arts degree and asking if you’ve ever considered applying for the civil service fast stream.

Madeley’s latest book is a revenge thriller, with a side order of facts about the Romans (Tristan Fewings/Getty)
Madeley’s latest book is a revenge thriller, with a side order of facts about the Romans (Tristan Fewings/Getty)

Nick’s line of work explains the near-constant bombardment of tangential details about the Romans. The man is the perfect advert for the widespread pop culture theory (propagated on that most reliable of sources, TikTok) that men think about the Roman empire at least once a day. Even when he’s trying to enjoy a date with a beautiful pathologist named Sally, he can’t resist from sprinkling a few Roman facts into their conversation. Like every good female love interest, Sally is blessed with “what would have been described in an earlier era as film star looks”. Those film star looks, we learn, are very specific. “Indeed she was often mistaken for the British actress Felicity Jones,” Madeley writes, a resemblance “which had led to a tabloid newspaper story claiming that the star had moved to the Cotswolds”.

In fairness to Madeley, his book isn’t all strange asides and Felicity Jones doppelgangers. Beyond this, he’s pretty adept at weaving together different narratives and time frames, and the underlying story asks interesting questions about retribution, justice and who gets to dish this out. With a grisly murder plot and a picturesque location, you have to wonder whether he, like Nick, has been writing with one eye on a TV deal. It certainly has the makings of a slightly unhinged ITV three-parter. I wonder if Aidan Turner’s got a gap in his schedule.