A sunny disposition

PUBLISHED: 11:14 10 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:47 20 February 2013

Richard and his son

Richard and his son

Richard Madeley's friendly smile is a key factor in Richard and Judy's daytime TV success, but it hides the secrets of a difficult Essex childhood. Pat Parker reports

FOR 20 years, Richard and Judy have been the king and queen of daytime TV, and Essex boy Richard Madeley is famous for his bouncy, upbeat and sometimes gaffe-prone style. It is hard to imagine that as a boy, he suffered physical beatings by his otherwise loving father.

'I'm a very sunny person. I think it's important to leave that baggage behind you. You can go through life like Jacob Marley, dragging these chains of sin and pain behind you or you can get on with life'

Born in Rush Green in Romford, Richard later moved to Brentwood where he attended Shenfield Tech. His father worked in the PR department of Ford's of Dagenham, and Richard's first job after leaving school at 16 was to work as a cub reporter on the Brentwood Argus. His mum still lives locally, and his sister, Elizabeth, teaches at the Anglo-European School in Ingatestone. He and Judy still regularly visit Essex for family gatherings.

Richard, a boyish 53, is famous for his so-called gaffes and his ability to embarrass Judy by discussing some intimate aspect of their relationship on air. It's all part of his charm, but also of his emotional openness and honesty. And yet never once, during any of the This Morning phone-ins or even in his and Judy's autobiography, did he reveal that as a boy he was beaten by his father. Until now.

His new book, Fathers and Sons, tells of a cycle of cruelty which afflicted three generations of Madeley sons. The story begins in 1907, when his great-grandfather Henry, who had seven children, faced financial ruin after his grocery business collapsed. His brother, William, offered to pay for the family to sail to Canada to start a new life. But in return, he demanded that one of Henry's sons stay behind to work unpaid on the family farm.

That boy was Richard's grandfather, Geoffrey. The family never told the ten-year-old of his fate. They stopped off at William's farm in Shropshire the night before sailing from Liverpool. Geoffrey awoke in the morning filled with excitement at the prospect of a sea voyage to a new life, only to find that he had been left behind. He never recovered from his sense of betrayal and abandonment.

The deal allowed him to visit his family in Canada when he was 21. He did so, and enjoyed a few happy months reunited with his family, before William wrote, urging him to return. He promised to leave him the farm in his will if he did so.

Out of a sense of duty, Geoffrey returned. But William deceived him. When he died, he cruelly left the farm not to Geoffrey, but to his brothers and sisters in Canada. Unsurprisingly, Geoffrey grew up emotionally frigid and unable to show affection to his son, Christopher,
Richard's father.

Christopher was left emotionally scarred by this treatment, and grew up withdrawn and lacking in confidence. He moved to Canada after leaving school and became a journalist. He and his Canadian wife, Richard's mother, eventually moved back to England, and moved to Romford after Christopher got a job at Ford's.

Christopher doted on his baby son, Richard, who grew up happy and secure, despite his father's occasional outbursts of temper. But then one day, at the age of seven, Richard committed some minor misdemeanour. What happened next shocked him to the core.

'There was a fire burning in the room and I thought a hot coal had spat out on to my leg,' explains Richard. 'I really did think I'd caught fire. I'd never been hit before, and I was thunderstruck rather than frightened.'

Richard explains more about his feelings following a series of excessive punishments in his book, but in between, his father would be as loving and playful as before.

After one particularly bad episode when Richard was nine, his father gave him a heartfelt apology, and promised never to beat him again. 'He asked for my forgiveness,' says Richard, 'and I forgave him, and I never had cause to regret that. Some people have said I was too forgiving, but all I know is that that act of forgiveness actually healed our relationship.'

For Richard there are no psychological scars. 'I'm a very sunny person. I think it's important to leave that baggage behind you. You can go through life like Jacob Marley, dragging these chains of sin and pain behind you, or you can confront things, and get on with your life.'

'My father was racked by self-doubt, and I remember thinking, "I'm never going to be like that. I'm never going to be sucked down by events.
I'm going to live life to the full".'

Richard became a journalist, moving from the Brentwood Argus to the East London Advertiser and, at just 19, up to Radio Carlisle as a presenter/producer. He had a rash and short-lived marriage soon afterwards, and it was while honeymooning in the West Country that he received the news that his father had died from a massive heart attack. He was just 49.

Richard's book ends happily. He met Judy, eight years his senior, on his first day at Granada TV (she famously greeted him with the words, 'Hello, I'm your mummy'), and the pair married in 1986. Richard became step-dad to Judy's twin sons, and the couple went on to have a son and daughter of their own.

'I never underestimate the value of a happy marriage. Half of all marriages end in divorce, and I think there are a minority of people who can genuinely say they made the right choice. Frankly, it's just good fortune that Judy and I met each other when we did. Of course we get on each other's nerves from time to time - everybody does - but fundamentally, we get along. Fundamentally, we speak the same language.'

Get the book
Fathers and Sons, by Richard Madeley,
is published by Simon and Schuster
and is priced at £18.99.

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