Mills & Boon joins the 21st century

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The Independent Culture

The book jackets traditionally featured a blond woman, hair flowing in the wind, being clasped to the manly chest of a granite-jawed hero under a title like Wife on Approval.

The book jackets traditionally featured a blond woman, hair flowing in the wind, being clasped to the manly chest of a granite-jawed hero under a title like Wife on Approval.

But Mills & Boon, purveyor of romantic fiction to the masses for 70 years, is to update its image for the 21st century. The pastel paintings are being swept aside in the name of modernity and the novels will now feature cover photographs of models posing as the protagonists.

The company's "new look for the millennium" will show girls in modern clothes in more modern settings. "They won't be wearing combat trousers but we do have pictures of girls in vest tops - with jeans," gasped a Mills & Boon spokeswoman.

"It won't necessarily be high fashion but the books will now look like a catalogue shoot for Marks & Spencer. There's one of a woman lying in bed being fed croissants by a man who's naked from the waist up. We're not going smutty but we want to give the books a new and fresh image."

The "radical departure" follows research involving thousands of women aged 25 to 60, which revealed that readers "unanimously wanted modern imagery which shows empowered women and leaves more to the imagination", the spokeswoman said. This means the women are no longer pictured swooning in Rock's, or Stone's or Granite's arms but might be walking beside him, sheltering from the rain under a jacket and smiling into his eyes.

"There is one cover which shows a man pushing a pram, which is a lot more egalitarian than the old days and there won't be so many ripped bod-ices and fainting ladies."

Mills & Boon, which sells nearly six books every second throughout the world, was founded in London in 1908 as a general fiction publisher and began issuing purely romantic fiction in the 1930s.

Although the characters have remained firmly traditional, they have altered slightly to reflect changing times. Young women were making their own decisions without deferring to their parents by the 1960s, and 10 years later women had their own careers. But there was still no sex, although a passionate kiss was usually allowed by page 88.

Sexual awareness began to creep in during the 1980s and by the end of the Nineties the novels had become "sensual, racy books where heroes and heroines face dilemmas of modern life".

One of the new titles to benefit from the photographic treatment is called Four men and a Lady. A very modern dilemma indeed.

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