Terence Blacker: Divorced, and back on the couch

Share
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.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: With 100 days still to go how will Cameron, Miliband and Co. keep us all engaged?

Andrew Grice
A solar energy farm in France  

Nature Studies: For all the attractions of solar power, it shouldn’t blight the countryside

Michael McCarthy
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project