Marjorie Proops and the bodice-ripper scandal

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The Independent Online
'IN PURE bodice-ripper terms it is a story of sex and scandal,' I read. Yes please, I thought, give me more - for who does not love to read about other people's sex lives?

But then, oh dear, I realised I was reading about that icon of common sense in affairs of the heart: Marje Proops. This was an article describing the sexual and emotional turmoil caused by the double life of the woman who has made a career out of dispensing good advice. For 30 years of her loveless marriage she was having a 'secret passionate' affair with a colleague at the Daily Mirror. The first question is whether someone who sets themselves up to sort out other people's problems has to be consistent. Do you have to live the kind of uncomplicated life that your correspondents find so difficult to achieve? On balance, I decided a bit of inconsistency is excusable. Marje Proops is not an ordinary woman, so it is no more surprising that such a high achiever has not gone through life on a rosy cloud of happiness than it is that a successful actress has affairs. Her personal predicament is both modern and dated at the same time. The modern aspect of it is that most career women I know, who perform difficult jobs in high- profile areas, seem to have problems in leading normal emotional lives. I would put Marje Proops firmly in this category.

She may be approaching 80 - she has grandchildren aged 23 and 24 - but her experience of falling in love with a man she met at work, while being tied into an unsatisfactory marriage, seems to correspond with the experiences of many of my younger friends. One of them described to me recently an almost identical situation. The man to whom she is not married, but whom she loves deeply, meets her for the same kind of drinks and lunches and snatched afternoons in hotels that Marje appears to have indulged in during the Seventies.

The dated aspect of it - and it is here that I have a problem with Marje's story and, I fear, with her advice in future - is this. She explains that she stayed with the husband she found repulsive because she felt frightened she might lose her child. No modern woman I know would stay in those circumstances: we all know about joint custody rights.

This is why I suspect I will no longer be reading Marje Proops with as much interest as I have in the past. I had thought of her as being fairly mainstream, offering comments on everyday problems, rather than the overheated sexual fantasies you find aired in rival tabloid newspapers. Suddenly she seems old, bracketed with my mother's and even my grandmother's generations. And frankly I do not trust their advice on today's problems. Further, and call this blind prejudice, I simply do not want to know explicit details about the private life of someone whose image is so motherly. It is as if your own parents are baring their souls, when all you really need to know as a child about their sexual life is that they produced you.

However, there is a rather cheering, even uplifting, side to Marje Proops's candour. Like a lot of people, I have been asking myself why on earth she came clean. I think the reason is that she still obviously burns with an ageless ambition. A professional to her fingertips, she knows she has a good story and tells it to the utmost of her ability. In so doing she has attracted the limelight. At a time of life when most of us would be happy dozing in front of the fire, she is expanding her advice empire from the Daily Mirror to the Sunday Mirror.

There is another reason to be thankful. Since Marje can no longer can be an icon, infallible to her fingertips, it rather frees everybody else to dispense good advice. It does not matter if, in reality, you live your own life in the muddle that seems to surround almost every human being.

Personally, Marje, there is one more thing that bothers me. Since you had such a cracking story on your hands, why didn't you turn it into proper bodice-ripping fiction? Or if that was not good enough, couldn't you have left our illusions intact and simply confessed to

your diary? The passionate details could have been released in the future, if some nosy biographer turned up after your death.

Perhaps, and I am trying to be as understanding as you would be in the situation, you have simply been exposed to so much emotional outpouring and confession from other people that it has finally become catching.

Whatever it is, you have at least shown us, at the start of 1993, that some old truths remain untarnished. When it comes to the behaviour of real people, they can always be counted on to show that there's nowt so queer as folk.

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