Obituary: Andrew Osmond

It is generally agreed that Osmond thought up the name Private Eye in Willie Rushton's bedroom
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The Independent Culture
ANDREW OSMOND was a writer of great industry who was blessed with a rich fund of original ideas. He wrote millions of words in his 61 years. Many of them have been greatly enjoyed and by an army of people. At his best, his writing in the genre of the political thriller was as good as it gets.

When Christopher Booker, Willie Rushton and Richard Ingrams (whom Osmond had met at Oxford) put together the first issue of Private Eye in 1961, they approached Osmond for funds. To their amazement he coughed up the then vast sum of pounds 300. Although memories differ, it is generally agreed that Osmond thought up the name Private Eye during a meeting in Rushton's bedroom, which doubled as the editorial office in the early days. He then helped sell the first issue, wandering through Chelsea pubs and offering it to likely looking readers for six old pence a copy.

What drew people to Osmond was his immense warmth and ceaseless generosity. There are few of us who are incapable of displaying some kind of charity, perhaps by lending something valuable or through a well-judged compliment. But, in Osmond's case, he was himself generous. It was not something he did, it was actually his nature.

There are countless examples of Osmond's generosity, such as when early on he found he had more Private Eye shares than he actually needed. His response was to give half of them away to those contributors who had none. (This included me and my wife Tessa, who worked at Private Eye at the time. By extraordinary coincidence, Tessa received a dividend from the shares Andrew Osmond had given her on the day he died.)

It often happens that generosity and a fertile imagination go hand in hand - they are possibly born from the same root. Osmond's seemingly endless stream of ideas was to serve him well when, after a spell in the Foreign Office in Rome (he had joined the diplomatic service in 1962) where he had met Douglas Hurd, the two men decided to co-write political thrillers. Their first was Send Him Victorious in 1968. The huge success of Scotch on the Rocks (1971) and The Smile on the Face of the Tiger (1969) was proof, should it be needed, that Osmond had all the skills to write professionally, and he had by then decided to go it alone.

Although well crafted and full of twists, Osmond's first solo novel, Saladin! (1975), failed to have the impact of the collaborative books. One reason may have been that he never told a story better than when it had just entered his head. He often put a novel through dozens of drafts, each losing a little of the brightness of the one before on the way.

I first met Osmond at Private Eye in the late Sixties where, having by now left the Foreign Office, he had been asked by Richard Ingrams, the then editor, to think of ways to help the magazine climb out of what had become something of a financial slump. For a while he ran Private Eye's commercial side, which largely consisted of thinking up ways of selling mugs, tea cloths and satirical cushions designed by Willie Rushton. It was a job he enjoyed, not because it needed any commercial experience but bags of his unlimited energy and enthusiasm.

The net result was a thriving mail-order business. When not being the commercial director (I name him this in retrospect as no one apart from the editor has any official name at Private Eye), he would spend the day walking around the office with a cup of coffee and a French cigarette, and recounting in absorbing detail the storyline of a film or novel he had just thought up.

If it was a film, Osmond would go through the whole thing, from the credits to the dialogue in final scene. Some of his film ideas were brilliant and I suspect that, if there had been fewer, one at least might have got beyond telling it to the girl who dealt with the subscriptions.

He was strikingly handsome and he always dressed with elegance and style, as well as being at all times exceptionally well groomed, even when drunkenly playing beach football in his underpants, as he did during one of Private Eye's annual day-trips to Boulogne.

When he left Private Eye in 1974, he collaborated again with Douglas Hurd to produce War Without Frontiers (1982). It was well received, but a better book by far was Harris in Wonderland (1973). This was a detective thriller published 10 years earlier, which he wrote with Richard Ingrams but under the pseudonym Philip Reid, a combination of their middle names. To collaborate on something as personal as a book is a clear act of giving, which is perhaps why Osmond's novels written with his friends had the edge.

Although he had been to Harrow and served with distinction in the Gurkha Rifles in Malaya he seldom mentioned these facts, though he used elements from both in his books. When he did speak about his military service it was always in terms of how hopeless he had been. In 1985 he joined Writers in Business and more recently he helped to form a similar firm, Company Writers, which set out to improve the quality of writing in company reports and the like.

It provided a healthy income and was demanding work in its own way but it did not provide the challenge of writing a novel. But Osmond was happy, in that he knew his wife and children were the direct beneficiaries of his demanding, if not entirely creative work.

It was at home that Andrew Osmond's generosity came into its own. When he, his wife and their two small children, Louise and Matthew, moved to a large former vicarage in a tiny village near Oxford, the family instantly became part of the local community which included a keen cricket team. Most people enjoy a weekend guest or two but not Osmond. His idea of a weekend guest was the entire workforce of Private Eye. Throughout the Seventies, the Osmonds turned bank holidays into cricket weekends and fed and watered (with champagne) everyone.

Andrew Philip Kingsford Osmond, writer: born Grimsby, Lincolnshire 16 March 1938; married 1964 Mira Stuart Baldwin (one son, one daughter); died London 15 April 1999.