Unnecessary star and detective novelist Richard Osman discovered “extraordinary” parallels between his ancestors and the intrepid detectives in his series of books, during Who Do You Think You Are?
Richard Osman did some detective work and discovered that his ancestors were amateur sleuths like the characters in his detective novels.
Osman, whose debut album The Thursday Murder Club sold a million copies, learned that his own relatives were at the center of one of Brighton’s most notorious murder cases in 1831.
During the filming of Who do you think you are? he found newspaper reports telling how his four-time great-grandfather Gabriel Gillam had discovered clothing and a body about two miles from Brighton.
Initially unsure of what they had found, Gabriel and another man, David Maskell, visited the site several times before realizing what they had discovered was the mutilated body of a woman from the town.
Gabriel, his wife Mary and mother Elizabeth also drove to the scene before notifying a peace officer, the closest equivalent of someone in charge of law and order before a police force be introduced to Brighton.
Osman said: “So it’s a fearless little gang that maybe goes out into the fields to solve a crime. You can just imagine the three of them were sitting around a table talking about it.
“I find it extraordinary. I write about a gang investigating things.
“It’s my four times great-grandmother, great-grandfather and five times great-grandmother who go to investigate.
“It makes all the hair on my neck stand on end.
“I’ve written about amateur sleuths discovering bodies. Suddenly, there’s a real case with Gabriel at the heart of it all.
After digging at the site of Lovers’ Walk, which was farmland at the time, north of Brighton, Gabriel and the peace officer discovered the dismembered remains of a woman, named Celia Holloway.
Gabriel gave evidence at an inquest at a local pub the following day and was a witness in the court case which led to Celia’s husband John being convicted of murder.
He was sentenced to death at Lewes, East Sussex, in December 1831.
Osman was shocked and delighted with his discovery. He said: ‘Gabriel and his wife, Mary and mother, Elizabeth, are the poorest of Brighton’s poor fishermen. And it is an incredible circus of which they suddenly found themselves at the heart. To say that they were the detectives of the time. And their investigations essentially lead to justice.
“I fancy writing a detective duo of Gabriel Gillam and his mother, Elizabeth, solving crimes in 1830s Brighton – it’s just not a bad idea.”
The creator and co-host of Useless, Osman recently announced he was quitting his television role to focus on his writing following the success of The Thursday Murder Club and the follow-up to The Man Who Died Twice.
In Who Do You Think You Are? he also learns that his family were fishermen in the 19th century and dates back to 1757 in Brighton.
Osman, who was born and brought up in Brighton, said: “I assumed we weren’t going too far from Brighton. The place is very close to my heart.
Who do you think you are? With Richard Osman airs on BBC One, June 9.