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.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor