Following Sunday meetings of the boards of NTL Group and Telewest Global, the longwinded and tortuous romance between Britain's two US-owned cable operators is finally to end in a marriage, it was announced Monday.

The possibility of merger between the duopolists has been mooted for over two years, played out against a background of insolvency, infighting and massive debt restructuring on the part of both companies.

Pulling most of the merger strings has been marionettemeister John C Malone, chairman of Liberty Media, who holds substantial stakes in both companies as a result of their respective debt-for-equity restructurings.

The happy couple are both listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market and NTL is expected to pay Telwest shareholders a dowry of around $23 (€19.07; £13.0) a share, valuing the company at around $6 billion.

NTL chief executive Simon Duffy will become ceo of the combined group, while Telewest chief Barry Elson will step down on completion of the deal.

"We are very pleased to recommend this value-enhancing combination with NTL to our shareholders," said Telewest chairman and upmarket financial fixer Anthony 'Cob' Stenham.

Shareholders in both companies owe a debt of thanks to former British prime minister John Major, whose administration in the early 90s cleared the decks for a US duopoly of the fledgling UK cable industry by imposing a ten-year ban on British Telecom's plan to offer TV and VoD via fibre optic telephone lines.

Data sourced from BBC Online and Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff