Mills & Boon becomes totally 'Shameless'

Its romantic fiction sells around the globe but is scorned by the literati. Now the BBC is to celebrate its centenary

Its published authors include such greats as P G Wodehouse and Jack London. Helen Fielding, author of the hugely successful Bridget Jones novels, was rejected for not being good enough. Now, in celebration of its 100th anniversary, the Mills & Boon imprint is launching itself on the television-viewing public.

Much loved by fans of romantic fiction, the books are a publishing phenomenon. A Mills & Boon paperback is sold in a UK bookshop, on average, once every five seconds and is translated into 25 languages. Mills & Boon has a stable of 1,300 authors, many of whom make millions from their work. As a whole, the publisher sells 35 million titles across the globe.

Mills & Boon has in recent years shifted its focus from virginal heroines and brooding, saturnine heroes to include subjects such as crime and the paranormal. A TV drama in celebration of its centenary will be written by Emma Frost, whose previous credits include the profoundly unromantic Shameless.

Consuming Passion: 100 Years of Mills & Boon is currently being shot in and around London and will air this autumn on BBC4. It promises to be "very raunchy", according to the producers.

"The 90-minute drama will interweave the stories of three very different women, and shed light on the impact and influence the books had on women's lives over the last century," said Ben Stephenson, head of drama commissioning at the BBC.

The drama is based on the lives of the actual people behind the scenes at the publishing house. The first story is set in 1908 and concerns Mary, wife of Charles Boon, Mills & Boon's wheeler-dealer co-founder. While Charles struggled to establish his business in London, he and his wife were fighting another battle – in the bedroom. Its outcome would determine the future of Mills & Boon, which came to specialise in the low-brow, high-romance genre.

Another story in the drama brings the publishing story up to the present day. Kirstie, a university lecturer in literature and feminist studies, is in a failing relationship with her partner. Bored and frustrated, she is lecturing to students on the Mills & Boon phenomenon when a young stranger enters her life.

The BBC has also produced a documentary, How to Write a Mills & Boon, based on the guides the publisher itself produces, offering advice to would-be novelists. The author Stella Duffy will present the programme in the autumn.

Despite the famous names who have written for the imprint, the very mention of Mills & Boon is enough to cause sniggers of derision among most of the literati.

Joanna Bowring at Mills & Boon said: "I think it's partly because the books are cheap. They are considered disposable literature. And they're also almost exclusively read and written by women – and so have never been taken seriously."

While the heroines have evolved since the early days to reflect changes in women's lives, the heroes remain much as they were a century ago. "There's always been a subtle undercurrent of force throughout the books, and that's never changed from the earliest ones," said Ms Bowring. "Even later, when other aspects are influenced by feminism and by the shifting attitudes outside the novel, the men remain masterful and stern."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Cambridge / London - £47,000

£40000 - £47000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing ...

Sauce Recruitment: Sales Executive - Consumer Exhibition - 12 month Fixed Term Con

£20000 - £22000 per annum + up to £22K + commission : Sauce Recruitment: The ...

Sauce Recruitment: Senior Sales Executive - Premium Food and Drink Events

£24000 - £26000 per annum + up to £26K + team commission: Sauce Recruitment: H...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Planning & Analysis Analyst (FP&A)- Entertainment

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A major film studio are looking ...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms