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?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - London - £40K plus benefits - Salary negotiable

£38000 - £40000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: A leading consu...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£12 - £15 Hourly Rate: Sheridan Maine: Are you an experienced Accounts Assista...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

£21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis