Last Night's TV: True Stories: Guilty Pleasures, More4
Britain’s Next Big Thing, BBC2

They're getting hot between the covers

The successful author Gill Sanderson has published just under 50 titles to date, which have been translated into 15 languages including Icelandic. You may be a little surprised not to have heard of her before now, given that track record, but you'd be more surprised if you met her since Gill turns out to be a trim, balding Yorkshireman who produces his books from a static caravan somewhere in the Lake District. I won't say "churns out" – the canonical verb for the production of Mills & Boon romances – because it makes "Gill" a bit testy to have his craft discussed in such a manner, and he's a man of sturdy clarity of mind. "I could never have a hero called Roger," he explained in Julie Moggan's True Stories film
Guilty Pleasures, and he turned out to be equally dogmatic when it came to hair colour. Would he ever write a red-headed hero, Moggan asked from off camera: "Never have done, never will," Gill replied.

We all understand how a Mills & Boon documentary is supposed to go. On the one hand, you have the consumers – all mundane discontent and hopeless dreams – and on the other you have the synthetic tribulation and bliss of the books, cruelly exposing what's missing from their readers' lives. The prevailing tone will be one of amused condescension at best. And the tricky thing is that there's no getting round some degree of truth to this stereotype. Moggan's achievement was to give her film real emotional depth, without entirely depriving you of the pleasures of the mismatch between dream and reality.

Phil and Shirley – a Lancashire couple who initially appeared to exemplify the yawning gap between real relationships and fantasy ones – were enormously helpful in this respect. We first encountered Shirley reclining on her sofa with a Mills & Boon, box of chocolates and glass of rosé at hand (one of a couple of moments when I wondered whether Moggan had Photoshopped reality just a touch). Phil was in the kitchen, detailing the steady education of the senses he'd been engaged in. "When Shirley started off she would just about manage a korma," he said, "she thought they were furrly spicy... I've got her up now over the years where she'll do a madras, which is furrly hot, but she won't as yet do a vindaloo." Shirley, for her part, appeared to have a comically low threshold for romantic excitement. Phil was an impulsive type, she said, and when you got in a car with him you never knew where you might end up. "I mean to say Ikea! I'd never been to Ikea in me life before I met Phil, and I think that's the adventure of it." Whisked away to Blackpool for the day, Shirley was wooed with candyfloss: "Stuff yer face with a bag of that!" said Phil, suavely.

There was more here than met the eye though, as there was with Stephen, an American model who frequently poses for the covers of Mills & Boon books and turned out to be just as hopelessly lovelorn as the millions of women who fantasise about melting into his arms (a Mills & Boon novel is sold every four seconds, somewhere in the world). Stephen was hoping to encounter his "twin flame" or perfect partner, a concept he appeared to have gleaned from the giant stack of new age, self-help books piled by his bedside. But despite his beefcake good looks, he was lonely, reduced to chanting, "You are lovable, you are worth it" into his mirror to keep his spirits up. When he did finally hook up with a gorgeous woman he revealed an obsession with the cleanliness of his kitchen surfaces that did not bode well. We also met Hiroko, a disgruntled Japanese housewife whose romantic fantasies centred on ballroom dancing, and Shumita, an India woman haplessly waiting for her misbehaving husband, Sanjay, to return to her, and consoling herself in the meantime with books such as The Italian Billionaire's Pregnant Bride.

What Moggan showed you wasn't a revelation exactly – that real love will always depart from the Mills & Boon boilerplate that "Gill" was committed to. But it was very touching and it did supply some unexpected uplift. Hiroko's husband overcame his defects as a dance partner to waltz her to a victory in a local competition – a distinctly underwhelming romantic hero by Mills & Boon standards, but a real one nonetheless. And Phil, we learned, suffered from crippling depressions and had effectively been saved from suicide by Shirley's tender understanding that perfection only exists between the covers of a cheap paperback. Moggan supplied them with a classic "in-love" montage at the end, larking on the beach at Blackpool as The Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun" played on the soundtrack (Phil's choice). In a lesser film it would have been a sarcastic moment. Here, it was uncloyingly sweet – a happy ending that wasn't in denial about how fragile happiness can be.

Dreams were coming true in Britain's Next Big Thing too, a sort of Dragons' Den spin-off in which hopeful designers and entrepreneurs pitch their products to three big retailers. "For a lucky few, lives will never be the same again," said Theo Paphitis, supplying the kind of Mills & Boon copy line that is now obligatory in this kind of thing. Last night's episode began with Liberty in London and provided several "love- at-first-sight" moments, as buyers fell for novel accessories and high-end bits of bric-à-brac. If you can't afford real shopping, it does very well as a fantasy substitute.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'