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Miranda: What I call reticence

19 December 2014

I WAS devastated to discover last weekend that Miranda Hart is killing off her TV comedy show Miranda. There are now only two episodes left of this anarchic gem. Hart's reasoning for bringing the party to an end is unexpected: she does not want her Miranda persona to attract pity. As she gets older (the real Miranda has just had her 42nd birthday), the fictional Miranda becomes less of a gawky young thing who just might be transformed into a swan (if only Gary got round to declaring himself properly), and more of an irredeemably pathetic aunt. The feminist Hart does not want to condemn the screen Miranda to this fate.

I wonder if she is being disingenuous. It is, after all, always better to end with the audience wanting more. And, besides, the real Hart is an accomplished actress, as we have seen from her portrayals of Chummy in Call the Midwife and the fag-smoking char in Not Going Out. But, whatever new opportunities Hart is seeking, I suspect that the killing off of Miranda is more than a career move. It is more likely that she feels the need to detach from her greatest success before she is swallowed up by the character she has invented.

There has always been a reticence about Hart which is unusual in today's screen stars. She does not communicate with her fans through social media. She refuses to say much about her personal life at all (even in her autobiography). You get the impression that she does not want to be too well known; that her comic inventiveness requires a life apart from the character she plays.

Many stars attempt this, but then, given the chance of a publicity interview, they fall into role, gush too much, and let their vanities and anxieties be known too openly. Once the fires of public curiosity are stoked there is no way back. It is, alas, but a short step to the indignity of appearing on Strictly or, worse, I'm a Celebrity . . .

Those in public life could learn from Hart's example. Reticence is an underrated virtue. It is not quite the same as privacy, because it does not mean hiding from people, but, rather, cultivating a reflective aspect of the self so that there is a difference between the publicly available persona and the real person. Comics burn out quickly. There is medical evidence that they die earlier than their comic foils (think of Eric Morecambe and Ronnie Barker).

Hart is right to have a place in herself which is incommunicable; which gives her a chance to produce something new out of silence rather than be reduced to an endless repeat and parody of what she is now.

The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.

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