As you might expect of a former stand-up comedian, Ben Elton's timing was perfect. Two days after finishing his ''IVF tragi-comedy'' novel, Inconceivable, his wife found out that she was pregnant. The twins were expected after the shooting of Maybe Baby, the film of the novel, but came right bang in the middle of it - nine weeks premature. You couldn't have planned a better publicity stunt.

Ben met Sophie Gare, an Australian saxophonist, in 1987, and they were married in 1994. After trying for a baby for years they went for IVF treatment, completing five cycles before their children, Charlotte and Albert, were born last year. In the book and film, Sam and Lucy (played in the film by Hugh Laurie and Joely Richardson) are undergoing infertility treatment when Sam decides to write a screenplay about their experiences, but is too scared to tell his wife. In real life Sophie knew about Ben's project and supported him in it. In the past, Ben has joked about how he would name his children Two and Three in the vain hope that he might be able to remain at No 1 in his wife's affections, although now he realises there is no chance of that.

With Maybe Baby, Ben has added the position of film director to his already packed CV. He blames Kenneth Branagh for this. He told the Hull Daily Mail last month: ''I'm going to drop a clunking great name here, but years ago Ken Branagh said to me, 'you should direct, the way you talk and the way you write, it's descriptive and I really think you should do it - and I'll tell you another thing, you'll never want another job after you do it'.'' Ben admits that to a certain extent Branagh was right, although he has no plans to give up writing.

Born May 3, 1959, in Catford, Ben grew up in stockbroker-belt Guildford. The son of a university professor and the nephew of a Tudor historian, he comes from a long line of Jewish academics. His mother was a schoolteacher. He attended Godalming Grammar School, then went on to study drama at Manchester University, where he met Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson. At 21 he was co-writer on The Young Ones, the BBC's youngest-ever scriptwriter. In his early twenties he started to do stand-up in the comedy clubs of London, where he developed his motormouth style. He explains that he didn't dare stop for breath in case it gave a heckler time to shout: ''Get off, you're not funny''. He does not look back fondly on those days, and says he still has nightmares about them.

After The Young Ones he teamed up with Richard Curtis to write the second, third, and fourth series of Blackadder. Next came The Thin Blue Line, which was somewhat disappointing. Other ''flops'' included Filthy, Rich and Catflap and Happy Families.

At the beginning of the eighties, the main target of Elton's jokes was ''Thatch'', but in the grey Major years, the popularity of his brand of humour waned and Elton turned increasingly to writing, focusing on big issues - his favourite being The Environment.

Having made his TV debut on a show called Alfresco, by the time he was 28 he was topping the bill on Friday Night Live, a showcase for stand-up talent.

He has written five novels, including Stark and Gridlock; the most successful was Popcorn, a fierce satire on Tarantino-style movie violence, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He made his West End debut with Gasping and then adapted Popcorn for the stage, where it won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

n Ben Elton guests on Harry Enfield and Chums. (BBC2, 9.00pm)