Richard and Judy earmark book club favourite for Hollywood stardom

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The Independent Online

They are television's first couple, the king and queen of daytime chat. But Richard and Judy, already hailed as the unlikely saviours of the publishing industry thanks to the phenomenal success of the book club slot on their Channel 4 show, have pulled off another coup. They have helped broker a movie deal.

Working Title, the production company behind Notting Hill and Love Actually, has just bought the film rights to the novel Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor for what is thought to be a six-figure sum. The book was drifting in the sales charts until it was featured in the couple's Oprah Winfrey-style book club slot, catapulting it to the top of the bestseller list.

The book, a tale of emigrants from the Irish famine heading to the US, has now sold more than a quarter of a million copies as a direct result of its appearance on the show.

Mr O'Connor's novel, although well received by critics, was languishing in the charts, but became the number one bestseller for four weeks after Richard and Judy gave it their approval.

Conrad Williams, the agent who negotiated the movie deal, said that Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan's programme had played a large part in the film process.

"Working Title were aware of the book and were enthusiastic, but didn't know quite how to do it. Then Richard and Judy's show came on the air - it was a fantastic sales promotion for the book and things moved fairly swiftly after that," Mr Williams said.

A major director is now linked to the project, but film bosses are keeping tight-lipped until he officially signs up.

The author is grateful for the exposure the show has given him. "I think it's acquiring a greater presence and a bit of a buzz may have been one of the elements in Working Title reaching their decision," Mr O'Connor said. "I don't think anyone expected the show to be so successful in promoting book sales."

Publishers now consider that simply making it to the Richard and Judy shortlist is more important for sales than a Booker Prize win. Every Wednesday - since its launch in January - the couple highlight one of 10 books shortlisted for their best read of the year prize to be presented at the British Book Awards next month.

Amanda Ross, producer of the Channel 4 show, said: "Zoë Heller's Notes on a Scandal was down at 1,219 in the bestseller list and went in to the top 10 when it was mentioned we were going to feature it on the show."

Publishers initially submitted 269 books for the new award, and a team from the programme eventually whittled them down to the 10 featured in the show. Viewers vote for the winner, which will be announced on 7 April.

"The final 10 was really hard to arrive at," Ms Ross said. "We had to make sure there was a spread of genres, and we were very aware that the publishing industry would be critical of what we chose and it would determine the nature of the book clubs for the future."