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Poor groom should flee this comedy of manners

If human history's most pitiable groom-to-be should be reading this, I hope he will forgive this avuncular advice. Freddie Bourne, you are too young to remember either John Stonehouse or the original version of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

Time is very short, so to spare you the bother of googling the former and buying the DVD box set of the latter, this is the gist. Both men left their clothes on a beach to fake suicide by drowning, and vanished to begin a new life. Take heed, Freddie, and do the same. Disappear forthwith, forge a new identity, and never come back.

Well, he'd be insane to hang around, wouldn't he, trapped in a pincer movement between his warring stepmother and the fiancée at whose alleged poor manners the former has taken such violent and unwittingly public umbrage.

If the story of the pre-marital bust-up between Carolyn Bourne and Heidi Withers seems an ineffably middle-class version of Wayne Rooney trying to break up a family fight at 4am on the day of his wedlock to Coleen, there is more to it than that. Each of us must ask whose side we are on.

Are you with Team Fancy Pants, as Heidi's father Alan christened the haughty Mrs Bourne after her email cataloguing Heidi's perceived ruderies -- lounging about in bed all morning at the family home in Devon; vulgarly booking a castle for the wedding reception; failing to write thank-you letters went viral?

Or do you regard her catty dwelling on the relative poverty of Heidi's parents, and imperious suggestion that Heidi attend a finishing school before being "accepted" into the family, graver crimes against etiquette than the younger woman's allegedly slobby modern impertinences?

Somehow one suspects that the young will side with Heidi, and the more mature with Fancy Pants. For those of us in mid-middle age, beginning to be crustily infuriated by the thoughtless insolence of youth but still resentful of being primly ticked off by our elders and betters, this is a desperately tough call.

Thankfully, there is a third way, which is to wish a plague on both their houses. This path has been helpfully cleared by Alan Withers. Hinting darkly at the lingering effects of the menopause with a reference to her hormones, this talented amateur diplomat described Mrs "To The Manners" Bourne as "so far up her own backside, she really doesn't know whether to speak or fart". If ever a phrase was exquisitely judged to build bridges that's the one.

Yet there is also a fourth way through this minefield of inter-generational culture clashes and deliciously nostalgic class warfare: to thank the whole bunch of them for making us feel warmer and more tolerant towards our own kith and kin, however vexing and troublesome they may be. At our wedding reception, for example, my new father-in-law spent an hour circling the room trying to round up guests and lure them away for dinner at his club. Until now, I had regarded that as verging on poor form. Trying to imagine the full horror of the Bourne-Withers nuptials in October (if it does take place, all the luck in the world to the best man with his speech), it comes to look quixotic and charming.

If Britain ever produced a family worthy of comparison with this lot, it was the Steptoes. At the wake for one of Albert's brothers, a gallery of grotesques moves across the room looking for something to nick. Then Harold -- quite the Mrs Bourne of rag-and-bone men, being a crashing snob with a deep love of horses -- takes a shine to a young cousin. When the dirty old man warns him against chatting her up, on the grounds that the girl might be his own daughter, Harold takes a languid, despairing glance at the monstrous clan, and with horrified disbelief whispers: "What a bleedin' family."

This must be the thought flashing through Freddie's mind as he cowers in no man's land while the missiles whistle overhead. Many men come under bilateral pressure to choose between a maternal authority figure and their romantic partner. It's the oldest cliche in the marriage counsellor's book. Generally, however, the mayhem starts after the wedding.

One would like to wish him every happiness, of course one would. But what on earth would be the point?

With Heidi continually asking him whether he is really such a spineless stepmummy's boy as to yield to the Bourne supremacy, and Fancy Pants demanding to know whether he's Withers or against us, the poor chap is doomed. Elton John's marriage to Renate had more chance of taking than his.

Sunday Independent