The first thing I hear when I arrive at a private club in London to meet Richard and Judy is Richard saying excitedly: "It looks as if he is doing a poo!", to which Judy responds, as you would hope she would respond, this being Richard and Judy, by flicking her eyes heavenwards and saying: "Richard!", so I say it too. "Richard!" I say, if only out of the sense that unless all exasperated, middle-aged women stick together and flick their eyes heavenwards, the Richards of this world would run riot and then we'd all be in trouble. They'd be jumping out from behind the aisles in the supermarket, broadcasting details of your hormonal ups and downs and menstrual quirks and offering conception advice along the lines of: "When we were trying to conceive, I would douse my balls in icy water before intercourse". So I say: "Richard!" and flicker my eyes heavenwards, even though I have no idea why we are Richard!-ing today. Heavens, if you're given the opportunity to do a Richard! you just run with it, surely? How many people have the opportunity in their lifetime? Still, why are we Richard!-ing?
Well, the photographer has set up for the picture with a chair formally positioned in the middle of a room, and has used his assistant for some test shots. These shots are up on a laptop, and it's the assistant's rather strained sitting posture which has inspired Richard's remark. I say: "Judy, is there no stopping him?". She says their son Jack is exactly the same; that his friends are always saying to him: "'Jack, why did you say that?', just as I am always saying to Richard: 'Gosh, I wish you hadn't said that'. Jack calls it the gene of misplaced confidence. It's not thinking. It's just opening your mouth and talking." She says this affectionately before drifting off to quietly inspect the room's paintings, while Richard jabbers away. She is a great drifter, and I do wonder if, these days, she wouldn't rather just be left alone. He, meanwhile, is a great jabberer, in person, and on Twitter, where he might Tweet: "Right, it's late and I really do have to go to bed," rather as if we might otherwise not be able to tear ourselves away. I love Richard and Judy. I love her pensiveness and common sense and sensational cleavage and startlingly blue eyes. I love his shiny-haired bounciness and the way he looks as if he might use Lynx or Brut, even though he probably doesn't. I don't know, frankly, if I could ever properly love his doused, icy balls, but you'd get used to them after a while, presumably? You'd gird yourself?
We do the photographs. They are obliging, striking this pose and then that. They are chalk and cheese, physically, as in most other ways. Richard is all lean and loping while Judy is sturdier and softer and quite stately in her purple Principles frock. Richard, at 55, is eight years younger, and may look it, but she's always been the sexier one. It's counter-intuitive but true, I think. (A highly unscientific survey of my friends reveals more men would like to do her than women would like to do him, although it may just be the thought of all that girding.)
Anyway, when I later ask them what advice they would give themselves if they could travel back in time, to when they were just starting out, Richard says: "Do not take yourself seriously. If you take yourself seriously you will suffer terrible, terrible tortures. You will read reviews that will absolutely rubbish you, and it will hurt. Just be comfortable in your own skin, and allow people to hate you. It's a free world." And Judy? How about you? "I would have given a lot to have been given a very thick extra skin. I'm not as sanguine as Richard is about it. I don't read the TV critics much, but when I do..." "They're very misogynistic," interjects Richard, as he so often does. "Such misogynistic rubbish," she continues. "They are not on about me now, thank God, but they're on about every other woman on TV and it's disgusting."
She was once photographed on a beach in the south of France under the headline: "Blancmange in a Bikini". "It was horrifying," she says. You should have worn a burkini, love, I say. She laughs. She is very warm, for all her drifting, and may be quite vulnerable, although I don't think she'd want you to see it. Richard says: "It was a very, very unpleasant experience." He is marvellous at being outraged on her behalf, and may well idolise her. He loves to talk her up. He says he knew Peter Mandelson was gay before it was known he was gay just by the way he looked at Judy when he appeared on This Morning. "We have a big gay following and gay men look at Judy in the same way they look at Judy Garland. There is a kind of worship. It was a commercial break and Mandelson was on next and he was waiting and I could see him looking at you, Judy, with utter worship in his eyes, and utter pleasure that he was about to enter your orbit, and I thought: 'Yes, he's gay'." I don't know if Judy is entirely convinced by Richard's gay-divining abilities, but she smiles patiently all the same.
We finish the pictures, then meander into the club's courtyard for what was intended to be a cup of tea but turns into a glass of wine, because Judy, being a lush, can't keep away for too long. I'm kidding! There have always been scandalous rumours about their marriage, most notably alcoholism on her part, but they say it's all rubbish. Judy has had health issues. A knee operation. An eye operation. A hysterectomy. This is why she has sometimes looked a bit tired in public. When the allegation was made most recently in print, Richard got a barrister onto it "because it's deeply unfair. Judy just doesn't have these issues". I have a glass of red. Richard has rosé. Judy has Cava, two bottles, then a whisky chaser (kidding! Kidding!).
We're here, ostensibly, to talk about the Richard and Judy Book Club which first launched on Channel 4 in 2004, and which they now run in tandem with WH Smith. The Club, despite not having a TV presence any more, has proved a dizzying success, selling two million copies of the selected titles – Richard and Judy pick eight each season – since last autumn. It is most satisfying, particularly as the literary world sneered when the Club was mooted. "It was," says Richard, "can Richard and Judy read? Really?" The first winner of their Book of the Year was Monica Ali's Brick Lane but, he says, she refused to pick up her award. "Incredible snobbishness," he adds, "incredible." I ask them what their own favourite books of recent years are. Judy says hers is Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife, "which is fucking fantastic". Richard says his is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, "which has footnotes! Footnotes!".
They are both now working on novels of their own. Judy's is a ghost story set in Cornwall while Richard's is a family drama set around the Second World War. Richard says Judy's is "really good" while Judy says Richard's is "really good" which is, I suppose, really good. Richard jabbers on – he can be unstoppable – about his: "After Fathers and Sons (his well-received book on his own family history, among other things) everyone said I should write a novel, but I couldn't think of a plot. A publisher even offered me a plot, but I refused. Then, one morning, I woke up, went downstairs to make tea and I'd given birth to all these people – a whole family! – in my head. Amazing!" We've lost Judy at this point, as she is somewhere else entirely – staring into the distance with those startlingly blue eyes.
Richard is still busy Richard-ing his way through life, making programmes, standing in for Chris Evans on Radio 2, tweeting like a mad thing – "I haven't fallen off a cliff! I've been in the Algarve!" – whereas Judy has almost fully retreated. I'm not saying Richard drags her around like some reluctant, sad, circus bear, but if the wider world went away I'm guessing she wouldn't mind too much. For a short spell, while their Hampstead house was being redecorated, they moved into a rented house in my parent's road and my mum says that while you saw Richard all the time – apparently, some days you couldn't move in Waitrose (Temple Fortune) for Richard – there was barely ever a glimpse of Judy. What was she doing? She reads. She writes. She doesn't cook, though. Richard does all that.
Richard: "Judy is a cook that doesn't cook."
Judy: "I used to cook really, really well, had the Cordon Bleu books and everything, but I just went off it."
Richard: "Judy had children by her first marriage. They were seven when I came on the scene and nine when she came in one night and said: 'I'm not cooking'. So I said: 'I'll do it tonight'. And she said: 'No, I'm not cooking any more at all'. What you said was: 'I'm going on strike'."
Judy: "I was just fed up. It was so hard with two children and two babies [Chloe and Jack] and working and coming home and doing family meals all the time."
Me: "Tell me about it. All that shopping and organisation."
Judy: "Richard loves the shopping."
Richard: "I do, I do. I love the shopping! But, let's face it, my signature dishes are all yours. My spaghetti bolognese is yours, and really good."
Me: "What's the secret?"
Richard: "Sherry and chicken livers."
Judy (ecstatically): "The chicken livers make it out of this world."
Richard (proudly): "But Sunday roasts are mine. I've developed all that!"
When Judy has made her mind up about something that is that, I think. She has said she will never do television again. And nothing could induce you? "No," she says, "but it isn't because of all the misogynistic crap." Why, then? Boredom? "Yes," she says, "I was getting bored by the end, especially by the last show we did." Alas, they just sort of petered out on a digital channel called Watch which nobody did (watch, that is). And how did it feel, I ask Judy, going into work every day to make a programme that had almost no viewers? She says: "I couldn't have cared less". She was through by then, I think.
They started, of course, in 1988 with This Morning, although I'd dispute it invented daytime television in this country, as I remember House Party, and Good Afternoon with Mavis Nicholson. "She's died," says Richard. "No she hasn't. Richard!" says Judy. I say the key to This Morning's success was your married relationship, and the fact that you sat on that sofa doing what married people do. You bickered and teased and flirted and sulked and rowed and laughed and gave away bedtime secrets and tried Viagra. I think Richard was rather disappointed with Viagra. "It's not an aphrodisiac. It just makes things last a little longer," he says. But the best bits, of course, were always the glares Judy gave Richard when he was being silly, or those jabs to the ribs... priceless. "I knew it was good TV," admits Richard, "even though I had to bear the bruises." "Richard has less of a filter than I do," says Judy. "And it's a quality. He'll go to places I wouldn't dare, or am too embarrassed to go to. He takes risks in that way, although it isn't conscious, because he doesn't do it consciously." "And when I was presenting with you," Richard tells Judy, "it meant I could allow myself more freedom, because you would cut in if you thought I was going too far. I find that when I'm on Radio 2, as my filter level isn't so high, I'm having to do what you do." Be your own filter, I suggest, so it's harder work? "Yes," he says. "I have to stop and think: 'Is it OK to say this?'." So you're unfiltered, and Judy is your filter? "I'm not entirely unfiltered," he replies, with a little hurt in his voice, "or I'd be off air."
He then says that a lot of the things he's reported to have said, he actually never did say. "I never said to the artist: 'It's a self-portrait. Who is it of?' And I never talked about my daughter's periods on air." "I would never have let him," says Judy.
They knocked all other sofa couples into a cocked hat, because they were for real, rather than some contrived, older man/younger woman combination, and truly engaged with their viewers. "We knew," says Richard, "that if we were interested in something, they would be too." In 2001, they moved to Channel 4, making a success of the 5pm slot before deciding to pack it in altogether in 2008. They'd genuinely had enough, and wanted to do other things. Richard wanted to explore radio. Judy wanted to write. "But then a month before we were due to finish, UKTV came along with a HUGE cheque and said: 'We're launching a brand new channel and it will be a zero audience to start with but we think you are the guys to build it up', and we just couldn't resist..." The cheque? "...the challenge." However, just before they went on air, the channel went from free to paid-for and no one could find it. It didn't play to their strengths anyhow, and was more a celebrity entertainment show. "I thought that if I had to interview one more soap star I would blow up," says Judy. They called it a day after six months, and did not find it at all humiliating. "It was quite funny in the end," says Judy, "our figures were dropping so relentlessly, Richard said, at one point, more people were following him on Twitter than were actually watching." "Our audience had fallen to hospital radio levels," confirms Richard cheerfully.
We finish by sitting in the sun, sipping our wine, talking about this and that. We talk about Piers Morgan and wonder if there is anything out there that could ever embarrass him. (No, we decide.) We talk about their favourite books from their childhoods. It's Brendon Chase for Richard, and Anne of Green Gables for Judy, although she was fond of a bit of Harold Robbins, too. "My father loved Harold Robbins. It was his guilty secret. I don't think my mother realised what they were like, but he had every single one and I used to pick them up after he'd read them and think they were so naughty."
I ask what they like to watch on TV. Richard says he likes "good drama and charismatic presenting, like Brian Cox. I like taste-ability and chew-ability, you know?". "I'm hooked," says Judy, "on Medium with Patricia Arquette. I love her to bits." "Judy," says Richard excitedly, "is practically having a lesbian affair with Patricia Arquette!" "Richard!" says Judy. "Richard!" I say. The best thing about Richard and Judy is that there is no "real" Richard and Judy. They are as seen on TV, and I miss them, and want them back, although I'm guessing Judy is not for turning. Maybe all that girding has simply taken it out of her. It would me.
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