What do I have in common with Robert Thorogood, multi-award winning creator of the hugely popular BBC One light-hearted murder mystery series, Death in Paradise?
More than you might think. We’re both BBC scriptwriters. OK, so his show is a global phenomenon, broadcast across the world from Australia to Russia and India, and series 11 is about to launch in 2022. And I wrote sketches. But still …
We’ve both moved from script- to novel-writing. OK, so his book, The Marlow Murder Club has been launched to widespread acclaim and was picked as Fiction Book of the Month by the Booksellers Association. And Note to Boy, while getting great reviews and recently bagging a PenCraft award for humour, is enjoying more modest success. But still …
And both Robert and I enjoy a glass of wine. Erm … think I might be able to match him on that.
How do I know this? Because I recently had the pleasure of meeting Robert at a thoroughly good (see what I did?) author talk at the Wycombe Arts Centre. He was being interviewed by those cheeky We’d Like a Word podcasters – and, let us not forget, authors – Stevyn Colgan and Paul Waters. I say ‘interviewed’ but actually, it was more of a freewheeling chat, as Robert (like his creation) is just that sort of effortlessly entertaining chap.
Not that his road to success was smooth. He was frank about his struggle to the top. Soon after leaving Cambridge, he set up, directed and acted in a touring theatre company alongside – wait for it! – Robert Webb, David Mitchell and Olivia Colman. Fearing he’d peaked too soon, he then watched as those three actors soared into the entertainment stratosphere, while Robert T was still office temping to support his writing habit.
He talked about the importance of perseverance in a writer, and the need to be always ready with a script or a brilliant idea, because you never know when opportunity might come a-knocking. For him, that was in 2008 when he came to the attention of Tony Jordan, legendary writer of Life on Mars, Hustle and East Enders. Death in Paradise was finally broadcast in 2011.
There were confessions too. Robert told us he’d never even been to the Caribbean when he wrote his first ‘uptight copper’ scripts; that he was as starstruck as any fan when he first sat in the real-life Catherine’s Bar, and his knowledge of Jeeps and Land Rovers is somewhat shakey. Finally, he owned up, like many in the audience at the Arts Centre, to getting up and shaking his booty whenever the Death in Paradise sig tune comes on.
But above all, we learnt what extremely hard work it is producing a well-loved, warm-hearted and cleverly plotted murder mystery show, even if it is set on a paradise island with weather and scenery to die for. I’m not sure we were convinced.
Robert Thorogood’s novel, The Marlow Murder Club, is out now.
If you’re a fan of Death in Paradise – and who isn’t? – the We’d Like a Word podcast with Robert, and many previous interviewees, including me, will be posted very soon.