Marje Proops bares her soul over the agony of a love affair: David Lister hears the long-serving Mirror advice columnist confess all

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MARJE PROOPS, agony aunt in need of an agony aunt, yesterday received some pert and straightforward advice from a woman who could have been born to the job had she not decided on higher things.

Addressing a Foyle's Literary Luncheon in her honour, Mrs Proops, the Daily Mirror's long-time columnist, said she had never imagined that other journalists would be interested in her 20-year adulterous love affair during a sexless marriage, revealed in her recent authorised biography.

However, Baroness Castle, the redoubtable former Labour Cabinet minister, sitting immediately next to her, interjected anything but sotto voce: 'Grow up, then.'

Perhaps spurred on by this novel form of counselling, Mrs Proops, staying within the parameters prescribed to her some decades ago by her then editor, Hugh Cudlipp, never to use three syllables where two would do, proceeded to bare her soul.

Having discarded her prepared speech, she faced the gathering. The audience consisted largely of ladies from the shires who were past the first flush when Marje started her 'Soul Surgery' in 1956. (It sounds like a compilation of Tamla Motown hits, but was the name of her first Daily Mirror page).

On the top table was a snapshot of the British left circa 1959 - Michael Foot, Baroness Castle, Lord Wyatt and Lord Cudlipp.

'The book has caused me quite a lot of pain and suffering,' Mrs Proops said. 'Gradually it gets to be worse and worse, more and more painful, peeling off layers of your life like peeling an onion . . . it gets to be agony. You get to know what agony means. You're forced to recognise yourself and confront yourself. I found it very difficult to cope with.

'Talking about my marriage was extremely painful, reliving the agony of that, then finally the meeting with the man that I loved, that gave me something to live for.'

She added: 'I have grown up since the book was published,' and then, showing that a circulation war can inspire one to a passion as extreme as any love affair, declaimed: 'When it was published, it never occurred to me for one minute that the other newspapers would focus only on my love affair as the only thing in a long and interesting life.

'It seemed like the other papers were only interested in the destruction of Marje Proops and via that the Daily Mirror and I was a very useful tool in that exercise.

'But we are all survivors, and survive we will, despite efforts by the other newspapers to destroy us - and we will teach them a bloody good lesson.'

Such excesses of emotion that even the 'Dear Marje' page cannot always aspire to were dampened by Lord Cudlipp's more earthy observation. As the employer of both Mrs Proops and her late lover, the then Daily Mirror lawyer, Phillip Levy, he said: 'What lifts the book is its insight into the arid marriage . . . and the passionate affair with the head of our legal department. I for one had no idea that Phillip Levy was working for the Mirror by night as well as by day.'

Angela Patmore, author of Marje Proops, The Guilt and the Gingerbread, said after the lunch that Marje spent two years working with her on the book and had a serious health problem which made her decide to come clean over her private life, which she did after talking it over with her 52-year-old son.

But the ultimate challenge to Marje Proops came from a fellow lunch guest on the top table. Michael Grade, head of Channel 4, had read in his local newspaper, the Hampstead and Highgate Express, an agony column which began: 'I make no apologies for returning to the subject of premature ejaculation because my postbag is full of it.'

(Photograph omitted)