HIS career as a comedy writer has humble beginnings – a sketch for a friend at a Green Party conference.

Now his latest book has outsold the offerings from household names such as Bill Bryson and Frankie Boyle.

In fact, the popularity of Richard O Smith’s third book As Thick As Thieves caught his publishers by surprise as it ran out of copies in the run up to the Christmas period and it had to print more.

The book features stories about stupid criminals – some of which were sourced from past copies of the Oxford Mail and Oxford Times.

Comedy writer Mr Smith, who has lived in Rose Hill for 24 years and written for BBC2’s Dara O Briain’s Science Club, said: “The publisher was taken by surprise. Amazon ordered 200 a day, then they ordered 2,000 and that was the end of the stock.

“The small publisher managed to get it printed very quickly but it lost crucial sales.

“All December I was beating household names. At one stage I was number five.”

The book – endorsed by comedian Hugh Dennis – reached number one bestseller in lawyers and criminals humour on Amazon and in the top 20 in the humour section.

It features 350 true stories about stupid criminals including the burglars who left their four-year-old son and a wallet containing full ID at the crime scene.

Mr Smith, 49, who also writes for Radio 4’s Now Show and News Quiz, said: “There’s also a chapter in the book ‘Silence In Court’ documenting actual remarks made in British courts, including an exchange between a defendant accused of dangerous driving and prosecutors in Oxford Crown Court a few years ago: “What gear were you in at the moment impact occurred with the other vehicle?” Defendant: “My Fred Perry top, jeans and Nike trainers.”

Mr Smith, who wrote the obituaries for three years on the Lincolnshire Standard, added: “I dedicated the book to local newspapers. We should support them.

“I spent two years in Oxford’s Bodleian Library sifting through local newspapers and getting stories like the man who handed himself in to get the reward money.”

Mr Smith, who lives in Rivermead Road, Oxford, with his wife Catherine, 42, has been doing comedy writing for the last couple of years and began doing it full-time in 2012 after leaving his job in pensions and investments.

He said when he first started doing sketches he did one for a friend for the Green Party conference about the four Yorkshiremen.

He said: “A little while after I heard the same sketch on Radio 4 so when I called them up they invited me on to their show.

“I now work for people like Hugh Dennis and even do stand-up myself. I do a one hour show about the history of Oxford at events.

“I have no idea where I get my inspiration from which terrifies me.”

Mr Smith was the main UK writer on Rupert Grint’s new animated £22m film Foosball, released in April.