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
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • 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.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence