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Happy times are over for Rupert and Wendi

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It might go down as the West's last economic stand against the irresistible rise of China. Rupert Murdoch, the last tycoon, has filed for divorce from his third wife Wendi Deng, best known in Britain for her impressive fighting skills when Murdoch was attacked by a custard pie while giving evidence to MPs.

Murdoch's media empire is still suffering seismic repercussions from the phone-hacking scandal that forced the closure of the News Of The World and has damaged his US print and TV empire. The divorce petition though has surprised even seasoned Murdoch-watchers.

Michael Wolff, Murdoch's biographer, told the Telegraph that he was "gobsmacked". "But Wendi once told me that this is his reaction when things go wrong in business or his personal life," Wolff said. "He makes a decision and it’s over. He feels bad for a day and then forgets about it".

The divorce petition cites an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and requests shared custody of the couple's daughters Grace and Chloe. A pre-nuptial agreement should limit how much of Murdoch's £7 billion she can claim, although nobody will be surprised if the combative Deng contests the sum offered.

Murdoch's marriage to Deng, 38 years younger than him, provoked plenty of ridicule in those papers that he doesn't own. particularly when Deng occasionally offered tantalising indiscretions like "Rupert takes Viagra — but he doesn’t really need it."

Although Deng's support during the phone-hacking scandal was conspicuous, the couple had moved in different circles recently, as Deng became close friends with the likes of Tony Blair, Nicole Kidman and Bono. Murdoch, understandably, was less keen on this kind of society. Deng's image is somewhat intimidating. One former employee was succinct: "Everyone who works for her hates her and is scared of her".

Meanwhile Robert Peston, the BBC's business editor, seemed to betray a desire to deal in tabloid tittle-tattle by tweeting: "Undisclosed reasons for Murdoch divorcing Deng are jaw-dropping." The readership of Private Eye might enjoy a surge in the next few weeks as the Murdoch-Deng marriage is dissected.

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