Terence Blacker: Divorced, and back on the couch

Related Topics

The co-author of Families and How to Survive Them has embarked upon his Alimony Tour. One of the comic themes of this travelling one-man show derives from his divorce from his third wife Alyce, and the expensive settlement which followed. It could have been worse, one gag goes. "Imagine how much I'd have had to pay Alyce if she had contributed anything to the relationship – such as children or conversation."

The world has much to thank John Cleese for. He was a guiding light behind a history-changing TV sketch show. He co-wrote and starred in the funniest and most painful situation comedy ever created. There are many who loved films like A Fish Called Wanda and Clockwise. The guide to surviving family life, which he wrote with the psychotherapist Robin Skynner, is full of sanity and commonsense.

As a public figure, though, Cleese has become a scary reminder of the limitations and perils of therapy. With an emotional openness which presumably derives from thousands of hours talking about himself to various shrinks down the years, he has shared with interviewers the details of his own psychodrama.

His mother was a severe disappointment. "Dreadful," he says in the new show. "Classically self-centred. And she lived to 101 – I thought I'd never get rid of her." His father was a conventional, repressed, lower middle-class Englishman of the type Cleese has used to great comical effect throughout his life.

The problems in his marriages can be traced back to his mother. "I have a history of being rather placatory with women," he just told The Sunday Times. "If you have a mother who is very selfish and you don't get much attention from her, it sends you the message that you're not worth it... I think all my wives and girlfriends have had aspects similar to my mother."

Therapy had brought Cleese and his third wife, Alyce Faye Eichelberger, together – she was in the trade herself – but had failed to save it. Why, Cleese was asked, did he agree to see a therapist with his wife after the relationship had broken down? "It's because I had become placatory."

A simple, familiar message emerges from these various accounts of his own emotional history: the fault is apparently always someone else's. The past provides a moral get-out-jail-free card.

There is a problem when shrink sessions morph into press interviews and comedy shows: certain inconsistencies become rather obvious. The joke about his third wife failing to provide children or conversation, for example, is more than merely unkind – when they married, Alyce Faye was 48. Their conversational life those days seemed pretty good, too. In one profile, they revealed that they read the same books together so that they could discuss them at the end of the day.

Blame others, air your emotional problems in public, be openly cruel to those you once loved: are these really the lessons that psychotherapy teaches? I wonder what a family therapist would say about this kind of behaviour. To the naïve and unshrunk, it would seem obvious that, while acts of public cruelty towards ex-intimates may be satisfying at the time, they will be more harmful in the long-term to the hater than the hated. Access to public curiosity and sympathy may give a celebrity power over a civilian but, as Gordon Ramsay will surely discover in time, it is never wise to use fame to resolve private agonies.

In an age of emotional spin and games-playing, John Cleese's habit of public candour has the merit of naked honesty. There might even be more to be learned from his enraged autobiographical riffs than from the rather gentler guide to family life which he once wrote with Robin Skynner.

The moral they offer to the world is plain: beware of an over-dependence on psychotherapy.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: ICT Infrastructure Manager

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Edinburgh city centre scho...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most