Hawking household at odds over his 'Simpsons' return

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* Professor Stephen Hawking is involved in the most unlikely of marital disputes, over his decision to take a cameo role on The Simpsons for a second time.

* Professor Stephen Hawking is involved in the most unlikely of marital disputes, over his decision to take a cameo role on The Simpsons for a second time.

The prize-winning physicist, who is a long-standing fan of the satirical cartoon, has agreed to make an almost unprecedented return to the show, in an episode to be broadcast in the United States next year.

Scripts for the forthcoming show have already been sent to Hawking, and are causing some concern to his wife, Elaine. The reason, I'm told, is that it features electro-convulsive shock therapy being used to treat schizophrenia.

Mrs Hawking, pictured with her husband, is a trained nurse, and feels uncomfortable at the controversial treatment - the subject of heated debate in the medical community - being used for comedy. She is also worried about a backlash when the show is aired.

"I'm not altogether happy with it," she tells me. "I just don't think that ECT's the sort of thing that anybody should make fun out of; it's just not right for comedy. I read the scripts and obviously told Stephen of my concerns, but he thinks it's fine, so I'll have to go along with that."

Despite the contretemps, it was all smiles on Wednesday, when Professor Hawking presented an Outstanding Contribution award to Matt Groening, the creator of the hit cartoon show, at the British Comedy Awards.

* THERE IS more than a touch of the Dickensian about Johnny Vegas, so it's somehow appropriate that he should appear in a new BBC production of Bleak House .

I gather that the lugubrious comedian is to play Krook, the drunken proprietor of a rag and bone shop in the forthcoming costume drama.

The series will be directed by Andrew Davies, who adapted Pride and Prejudice a few years back, and broadcast on BBC1 next autumn.

"We intend to make the book into a prime-time show rather than just bunging it on to BBC2," says Vegas. "It's about bringing culture to the mainstream, where they'd normally have a home makeover show."

Vegas's character meets a sticky end: the level of alcohol in his blood causes him to combust spontaneously.

It is, of course, quite unthinkable that life could ever mirror art.

* KEVIN SPACEY has taken careful steps to safeguard his artistic legacy. The Old Vic's creative director has commissioned a series of no less than six portraits of himself, by the artist William Quigley.

Produced at a cost of roughly £50,000, they depict the Hollywood star in character as Bobby Darin, the singer he plays in his latest film, Beyond the Sea .

"Kevin was very intense as a model," reports Quigley, who has been working on the project since June. "We started off just doing two canvases, one with an open collar and the other in black tie. But then the project mushroomed."

Heaven forbid that Mr Spacey's ego might do the same

* DENISE LEWIS is touchingly forthright about the setbacks she encountered on the path to Olympic glory. She has given an interview to Your Life! - a glossy magazine distributed, at some expense, by the Department of Health - in order to tell us (among other things) about matters of personal hygiene.

Yesterday, the NHS put out a breathless press release highlighting their "scoop".

"Sex survey reveals all in celeb-packed issue of Your Life! " it reads. "Olympic heptathlete and star of Strictly Come Dancing Denise Lewis tells the exclusive story of her battle to overcome Irritable Bowel Syndrome."

* Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a dispute over festive traditions trampled by the so-called jackboot of political correctness.

Latest corner of the land to reverberate to cries of "you couldn't make it up" is South Wales, where Llandaff Cathedral choir have ditched the carol "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" in favour of an alternative: "God Rest Ye Merry People".

"This smacks of political correctness," reckons Glyn Davies, a Tory member of the Welsh Assembly. "Changing the words of a much-loved carol in this way is quite ridiculous and unnecessary."

The Very Rev John Lewis, Dean of Llandaff Cathedral, thinks otherwise. "There are different versions of lots of carols," he tells me. "I can't remember where I found this one, but it isn't an attempt to be particularly politically correct."