TOM UTLEY: Mrs U’s been glued to TV’s The Split. I just pray she doesn’t now think divorce is a happy ending

Well, thank goodness that’s all over! For the past six weeks, my wife has been riveted by the third and final series of the BBC TV drama, The Split, which has now drawn mercifully to its close.

Has she been trying to tell me something?

I ask because The Split is a series about marriage breakdown, set in a Richard Curtis-style world of opulent middle-class lawyers, living in beautiful houses and sharing an impeccably metropolitan-liberal outlook on life.

(It was not actually written by Curtis, the man who gave us Notting Hill and Four Weddings And A Funeral, but you know the sort of milieu I mean. In fact, it was created by Welsh playwright Abi Morgan, whose credits include films such as The Iron Lady, Shame and Suffragette.)

Before I go an inch further, I must register a spoiler alert: if you’re planning to watch the final episode on catch-up, stop reading now.

What follows is strictly for those who have already seen it, and those who never will.

Tom Utley: Amicable divorces are extremely rare — and you don’t have to be following the vitriolic courtroom spat between Johnny Depp and his ex, Amber Heard, to know what I mean

As we’ve come to expect from dramas commissioned by the BBC, or indeed by any other mainstream broadcaster or filmmaker, The Split featured powerful women, with a smattering of gay and ethnic minority characters (no doubt as the result of the BBC’s self-imposed quotas to increase diversity).

But it wasn’t the achingly PC approach that bothered me. By now we’re all used to being preached at by TV dramas — though some of us may find it a little patronising of the programme-makers to assume that we need to be constantly lectured on the importance of being fair to everyone, no matter what their ethnicity or sexuality.

In my view, Britain has long been one of the most tolerant and fair-minded countries on earth, and long may it remain so.

Tom Utley: The Split featured powerful women, with a smattering of gay and ethnic minority characters (no doubt as the result of the BBC’s self-imposed quotas to increase diversity) But in defence of The Split, I should add that it wasn’t nearly as preachy as many other productions

In defence of The Split, I should add that it wasn’t nearly as preachy as many other productions I’ve seen. I’m thinking of dramas such as Butterfly, shown on ITV, which told of a young boy who longed for gender-reassignment surgery because he identified as a girl.

In the end, he got his way — and clearly we were all meant to think: ‘How wonderful!’

I didn’t. I thought it was a deeply sinister programme to air when impressionable youngsters, not necessarily cognisant of how massive such a decision is, might be watching.

Or take the more recent BBC series Ridley Road, which wildly exaggerated the strength and popularity of British fascism in the 1960s — and ended with a warning that fascists are all over the place in this country today. Utter rot! (if you’ll excuse me for sounding like Boris).

No, my chief objection to The Split was my fear from the very beginning that it would end with the message that divorce can be a beautiful and cathartic step to take, if the people involved have the wisdom to behave in a grown-up, liberal-minded way.

This was most unhealthy viewing, I thought, for wives married to husbands who want to keep them.

Sure enough, this week’s denouement showed an amicable divorce between Nathan Stern, the unfaithful barrister played by Stephen Mangan, and his unfaithful wife Hannah (Nicola Walker).

Nathan’s mistress is seen giving a peace-offering to Hannah and everyone seems more or less happily reconciled to The Split.

Now, I must confess that I didn’t follow every twist and turn of the plot. As a protest against Mrs U’s love of the series, the moment it came on I would dive into my latest volume of Charles Dickens, only occasionally looking up at the telly.

(As long-suffering readers may remember, I’ve set myself the retirement task of reading the complete works of Dickens, which I never got round to during my full-time working life. I admit I’m wilting a bit after the first six doorstopper tomes, and I’m now giving myself a break by reading the autobiography of Keith Richards, the Rolling Stone, which has been strongly recommended to me by my wife.)

I should also say that friends who watched The Split have given it rave reviews. As even I could see, it was beautifully acted and intelligently written, examining relationships in all their complexity.

It was certainly much more ambitious and profound in its scope than Curtis’s formulaic rom-coms, though its cast of characters was drawn from much the same circle.

I know, too, that some divorces can be amicable, as The Split suggests. I have friends who get on well with their exes — far better, indeed, than when they were married.

Tom Utley: My chief objection to The Split was my fear from the very beginning that it would end with the message that divorce can be a beautiful and cathartic step to take, if the people involved have the wisdom to behave in a grown-up, liberal-minded way

I even know the offspring of some divorcees, who bless the day their parents parted. Though the divorce itself was hell, they say, it was more hellish still to see Mum and Dad constantly at each other’s throats when they were together.

All I’m saying is that amicable divorces are extremely rare — and you don’t have to be following the vitriolic courtroom spat between Johnny Depp and his ex, Amber Heard, to know what I mean.

As a general rule, the process is utterly miserable for everyone concerned — particularly, of course, for the children.

Indeed, I know divorced couples who can’t bear to be in the same room as each other, ten and 20 years on, with the abandoned partner burning with resentment for the rest of his or her days. Not for them the rebirth of happiness enjoyed by some of the characters in The Split.

Tom Utley: Is it any wonder if couples are quicker to call it quits, now that our legislators have made it so much easier than before to wriggle out of that ancient promise, laid out in the Book Of Common Prayer, to stay together ‘till death us do part’?

Now, you may well say that it would probably have been the same for these couples if they had stayed together.

But I wonder. Isn’t it just as possible that many more couples would get over their rough patches and stick together, if only divorce hadn’t become such a deceptively easy option over recent decades?

All I know for certain is that last month’s change in the divorce laws, abolishing the requirement to allocate blame in the case of couples who have been separated for less than two years, was only the latest piece of liberalising legislation in the field.

Is it any wonder if couples are quicker to call it quits, now that our legislators have made it so much easier than before to wriggle out of that ancient promise, laid out in the Book Of Common Prayer, to stay together ‘till death us do part’?

It surely doesn’t help, either, when TV dramas such as The Split spread the message that divorce can open up new and wonderful opportunities for fulfilment and fun.

Tom Utley: I just pray that The Split hasn’t given my wife unhealthy ideas. Whatever the truth, I draw comfort from her remark at the end of the programme, when Hannah was shown on the best of terms with the ex-husband and the woman for whom he left her

What is undeniable, I reckon, is that family breakdown can be held responsible for many of the worst social evils afflicting the UK, from housing and social care crises to juvenile crime, educational under-achievement and the huge extra burdens placed on the welfare state.

Yes, I know you’ll tell me it’s all very well for me to write in praise of marriage, since Mrs U and I have never suffered the agony of irretrievable breakdown. To that, I can answer only that our 42-year marriage, like those of all but an extremely lucky few, has had easily its share of downs among the ups.

Indeed, there were times when one or the other of us might even have been tempted to part, if only we’d been as rich as Nathan and Hannah, in their £7 million house. As it is, I count myself hugely blessed that she has stood by me through the thin as well as the thick.

I just pray that The Split hasn’t given her unhealthy ideas. Whatever the truth, I draw comfort from her remark at the end of the programme, when Hannah was shown on the best of terms with the ex-husband and the woman for whom he left her.

‘That’s just ridiculous,’ she said.

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