Books: In the lists

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IF there is one thing the British like more than a real character, it's a real character gone ever so slightly off the rails. (Completely off the rails is even better, but Hurricane Higginses don't grow on trees.) Fred Dibnah, number 10 in the hardback list this week, is the Bolton steeplejack who became an overnight star in the early Eighties after Don Haworth made a television programme about him. He not only demolished industrial chimneys with an irresistible mix of glee and sang froid, but kept a steam engine in his back garden and held gloriously unreconstructed opinions about everything from the Empire to a woman's place. It wasn't that celebrity went to Fred's head, rather that the 20th century finally caught up with him: there was an unfriendly divorce (he took to calling his ex-wife Joan Collins), separation from his three children, a disastrous amount of drinking. Then salvation, found at a steam rally, in the shape of Mrs Dibnah the Second, who supplied not only the restraining hand (and business nous) that every real character needs, but the happy ending that never goes amiss in the bestseller lists.