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Naughty notebook reveals Mills & Boon editors' favourite phrases – University of Reading

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Naughty notebook reveals Mills & Boon editors' favourite phrases

Release Date 14 February 2014

So Sweet a Fool dust cover

‘Anything you desire- I'm ready, willing and able, as the hosepipe said to the fire'.  Perhaps not ‘Fifty Shades' but this is one of many risqué lines penned by Mills & Boon (M&B) authors collated in a naughty notebook by some of the firm's more mischievous editors.

The A5 ‘Anthology of Artless Extracts' housed in the University of Reading's M&B Archive contains a selection of steamy sentences, most of which were published. These were collected by Mills & Boon editors with self-confessed ‘mean minds' some 40 -50 years ago. However little else is known about the notebook.

Other lines that tickled the editors' fancy include:

-          ‘Grant sat down on the edge of the bed, a man with a firm grip on himself'

-          ‘out of the bedroom, like an avenging sitting hen'

-          ‘she looked up at him and bit into a sandwich before answering, that would show him how much she was afraid of him, she thought'

The notebook is one of many treasures housed in the Mills & Boon Archive¹ acquired by the University of Reading in 2011. The Collection offers a unique glimpse into the history and success of one of the most-loved and successful series of romantic fiction books, charting the publisher's beginnings and the evolution of language through the decades. It also offers a fascinating insight into the author/publisher relationship.

A 1973 heart-to-heart letter and questionnaire from Violet Winspear² to M&B is an intriguing look into the pressures and frustrations an author can feel to keep their writing relevant and successful.

Violet ask: Are the heroines better liked if single? Are authors to suppose that sex is the new name for romance? Are backgrounds more popular if foreign?

In the accompanying letter Violet says: ‘I don't think even publishers realise how far removed from public opinion an author often feels....if you..can spare the time to run through my questionnaire and give me a sort of guide to M&B's present-day requirements, then it will be of great help to me in guiding my romances along the sticky road to good sales or that remainder shelf we all dread.'

Judith Watts, a PhD researcher in the University of Reading's Mills & Boon archive and a published author of erotic fiction, said: "As a collection the letters testify to the importance of the relationship between authors, their readers and the publisher - from the importance of women writers earning their living, to the desire of the reader to get their next romantic fix, and the publisher's need to stay in business.

"Through decades of charming correspondence M&B authors and the publisher discuss the changing nature of the romantic novel, and the desire to satisfy readers' needs. Though the language of love evolved to reflect each era, the genre's role in providing pleasure and escape was constant."

M&B themes in the 1920s focused on class and wealth, switching to wartime living in the 30s and 40s. In the 1950s the woman was often a widow and a mother, contrasting with the new breed of glamorous career women that were emerging. In the 1960s the books were often set abroad and became more passionate and sexual. By the 1980s the introduction of themes such as drug taking gave the books a harder edge. However the overwhelming nature of the books continues to be romance.

Judith Watts continued: "In classic romance novels the hero and heroine come to realise how much they love one another, a process usually brought about by the woman. Fifty Shades is the same story, but with added eroticism. Anastasia ‘cures' her man and they find their happy ever after. Past heroes may not have had a ‘red room of pain' but sexual desire has always been used to build plot tension.

"Although the moral compass of M&B shaped its earlier editorial policy there were daring and satisfying erotic encounters. In the 1970s Violet Winspear wrote that she thought the British house wife might be hooked on mental sex. Perhaps she knew what 21st century publishers didn't, that erotic romance would be the next reading addiction."

Joanne Grant, Executive Editor for Mills & Boon at Harlequin UK, added: "Our stories reflect the 21st century woman - they can be as equally strong and career-driven as any of our alpha heroes and they can enjoy sex just as much. Whereas we still do publish romances where the bedroom door is very much closed, we also publish stories where the promise to the reader is very much about passion and sex. This is because we cater to all women with the variety of books we publish.

"We may have evolved our editorial content over the years but one thing remains ever constant: you can always be safe in the knowledge that with a Mills & Boon novel we always deliver a happy ever after, guaranteed."


Notes for Editors

Photos Please credit: Harlequin Mills & Boon Archive, University of Reading Special Collections

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The quality and diversity of the University's research is recognised nationally and internationally, with a number of researchers receiving awards for their work. It is home to several centres of excellence and conducts world-class research across a broad range of disciplines.

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¹The Mills & Boon archive at the University of Reading records one of the most successful commercial enterprises in twentieth-century Britain. Along with Penguin, Mills & Boon is probably the most widely-known publishing imprint in the world. The name is so synonymous with romance fiction that it has even been given an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. The archive is a fabulously rich source of information for anybody interested in the history of books and publishing and, more widely, in the social history of Britain in the twentieth century.

The archive actually into two parts:

  • The paper archive contains the publishers' correspondence with its authors, literary agents and magazine editors, along with marketing material, and financial and business records.
  • The collection also contains file copies of a large number of the books published by the firm. These are especially interesting because they contain the original dust-wrappers, so researchers are able to combine an investigation into the making of the books with the finished products themselves.

²  Violet Winspear began writing for M&B in 1961, introducing readers to a more passionate romance novel, sometimes shocking the more traditional Mills & Boon audience. Unmarried and living with her mother her life was far removed from the characters of her novels. While her novels would transport her readers to far away exotic climes with tough, tanned foreign men as her heroes, Violet herself had never ventured further than Cornwall.




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