Let's take a positive view of divorce

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The Independent Online

If there is one flaw in the generally straightforward persona of those who write for a living, it is a small tendency to professional bitterness.

If there is one flaw in the generally straightforward persona of those who write for a living, it is a small tendency to professional bitterness. You can sense it at literary gatherings, hanging in the air like the smell of yesterday's lunch. Behind the ulcerous smiles of the guests as they applaud the triumph of someone younger, richer and less wrecked than they are, lurk those familiar, mutinous thoughts. It could have been me. I should be up there. I had that idea years ago.

Were I were prey to this kind of small-mindedness, I might have experienced a twinge of irritation at a recent diary item in these pages. The comic actor Rob Brydon and his co-writer Paul Duddridge have come up with a marvellous idea for the Christmas market. Called Making Divorce Work, it will offer Brydon's great comic creation, Keith Barret - the sad little Welshman who grins gamely though his life's many disasters - the chance to provide a guide for those like him who have been dumped by their spouses.

Duddridge has explained that "it's a straightforward self-help book, but it will be written in character by Keith, so you may not actually want to take the advice." Helped by a spoof interview hosted on the BBC by Keith Barret, the book has already earned "a high five-figure sum".

With the significant exception of those high five figures, this story has a nagging familiarity. Ten years ago, the actor and writer Nigel Planer created a character called Jonathan Hughes, a perma-tanned TV presenter off the Kilroy production line. Jonathan was about to get divorced from his wife Libby, but unfortunately, because he co-presented a daytime TV show with her, they had to go on being the celebrity couple after their divorce.

There was a book, of course. Called Let's Get Divorced! Growing Apart Together, it was written by Nigel and myself and was, well, essentially a self-help book but written in character so readers might not have actually wanted to take the advice. Now that healthy selfhood was part of all modern relationships, Jonathan argued, then breaking up - or as he preferred to call it "dynamic disintegration" - was simply part of personal growth. Positive divorcehood (a concept he registered as a trademark) was a great adventure, every bit as valid as positive marriage.

Although there are inescapable similarities be between Brydon/ Duddridge's Making Divorce Work and Planer/Blacker's Let's Get Divorced!, there will be no need to consult m'learned friends. A self-help guide for marriage break-up was a good idea than, but an even better one now. Divorce is a hot topic, with celebrity couples welcoming the press into their personal misery just as they used to welcome Hello! interviewers into their lovely home, a national debate about the rights of fathers, and the shelves of Tesco offering a bargain DIY divorce kit.

More importantly, the joke has changed. A decade ago, it was celebrities who were funny, struggling to maintain their image as their lives fell apart. Now they have become oddly untouchable. They appear as smiling guests, feeds for the funny guy, on that great new TV standby, the spoof interview show.

Today it is the ordinary, little people - star-struck, pretentious, out of their depth - at whom we are laughing as they struggle to interview some great public figure. Mrs Merton, Ali G, Alan Partridge and Keith Barret represent a new kind of comedy, one that provides a hint of satire, but always safely contained and wrapped up in celebrity glitter. As long as the guests - Mohamed Fayed, David Beckham, Germaine Greer, Richard and Judy - play along with the joke, no harm can come to their image.

There are few new comic ideas, but characters move on and represent the times in which they live. Brydon and Duddridge deserve the best of luck with their latest take on the ever-fresh topic of dynamic disintegration.

Miles Kington is away

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