30 heart-stopping heroes

1 Oliver Mellors
(Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence)

The universities of Leeds, Newcastle and York, so beloved of well-spoken Home Counties girls, have much to thank D. H. Lawrence for. Generations of Cordelias and Lucindas have whizzed up the M1 after leaving school in the hope of bagging themselves a strong-and-silent local. Glowering and frequently half-naked, Mellors is the ultimate bit of rough, but his military background means he’d scrub up nicely to meet your parents. He even comes with his own pheasants. Talk about magnetic North.

2 Ratty
(The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame)

When a girl gets tired of loud men who drive too fast and flirt with her friends, her mind turns to Ratty. Dependable and thoroughly decent, with a fondness for impromptu picnics and impeccable taste in clothes, this twinkly-eyed country gentleman would take you out for a glorious day on the
river before asking you, as the sun began to set and he draped his jacket over your shoulders, whether you’d care to have dinner with him next week. Think David Niven with whiskers.

3 Flashman
(Flashman and others, George MacDonald Fraser)

About halfway through his life, Harry Paget Flashman tots up his conquests to date while languishing in a dungeon, eventually reaching an eye-watering total of 478-not counting ‘return engagements’. The self-confessed liar, cheat and all-round scoundrel is a little taken aback by the magnitude of his success with the opposite sex, but spending an evening with Flashman would be like wolfing an entire box of boozy chocolates in a single sitting-terrifically bad for you, but tremendous fun.

4 James Bond
(Casino Royale and others, Ian Fleming)

To be clear, we’re not talking about Roger Moore camping it up in karate kit on a speedboat. No, the Bond Ian Fleming conceived of when he sat down at his writing desk is a very different beast, who dresses like a dream in Turnbull & Asser and buys his groceries at Fortnums. There’s a fair chance you’ll end up being shot, strangled or fatally spray-painted if you throw your lot in with 007, but hey-you only live twice.

5 Heathcliff
(Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë)

On paper, it doesn’t look great. When this wild-eyed wanderer isn’t breaking windows or bashing his head against trees, he’s kidnapping teenage girls and leaping into open graves. And boy, does he hold a grudge. But, as any Mills & Boon reader will tell you, you simply can’t beat a big,bad-tempered brute in breeches. There’ll certainly never be a dull moment up at Wuthering Heights. All together now: ‘Out on the wiley, windy moors…’

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6 Rupert Campbell-Black
 (Riders and others, Jilly Cooper)

Ever since the bed-hopping pin-up of Penscombe swaggered onto the scene in Riders, Jilly Cooper fans have dreamt of being ambushed in front of the Aga by a man in muddy riding boots. Blond-haired, blue-eyed and possessed of truly staggering stamina, this Olympic gold medallist bestrode the showjumping world like a randy Rupert Brooke. He’s happily married these days, but there’s still an unmistakable twinkle in his eye. Anyone for naked tennis?

7 Mr Darcy
(Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of multiple suitors must be in want of a challenge. Attracting the puppyish attentions of your average Regency fop is easy-how much more satisfying to win over a terminally grouchy bachelor who stands in the corner at parties and refuses to dance with you. Persevere with Fitzwilliam Darcy. It’ll all be worth it when he confesses, in a voice choked with emotion, how ardently he admires and loves you.

8 Inspector Morse
(Last Bus to Woodstock and others, Colin Dexter)

With his Classical education and fondness for vintage cars, Morse is the last of the gentlemen detectives. Yes, he has some intimacy issues (when asked what his first name is, he invariably replies ‘Inspector’), but inside this nicotine-dependent curmudgeon is an opera-loving romantic
just waiting to be coaxed out. If you want to catch his eye, your best bet is to feign an interest in cryptic crosswords. Or bump off an Oxford don.

9 Horatio Hornblower
(The Happy Return and others, C. S. Forester)

He’s tone-deaf, suffers from seasickness and is as happy solving equations as he is splicing the main brace-but we wouldn’t have him any other way. If you like your naval heroes eternally
modest, with a seriously high IQ, Horatio Hornblower is your man. However, he’s terribly shy and unlikely to make the first move, so you’ll need to head for Portsmouth, sneak onboard HMS Hotspur and challenge him to a game of whist.

10 Sir Percy Blakeney
(The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy)

If the thought of forsaking all others holds no appeal, this Society high-flyer could be just the man for you. By day, he’s a charming confidant of the Prince of Wales and the best-dressed baronet in London. But by night, he’s the elusive Pimpernel, a dandified daredevil who risks his life to rescue
French nobles from Madame la Guillotine. Monogamy has never been so thrilling-the only difficulty will be working out to whom you should address the Valentine’s Day card.

11 Macbeth (Macbeth, William Shakespeare)
Big, brawny and surprisingly biddable. Would make an ideal house-husband.

12 Richard Hannay
(The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan)

A much-decorated adventurer with the stiffest upper lip you can possibly imagine.

13 Sherlock Holmes (A Study in Scarlet and others, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
Brilliant, but unbelievably hard to impress. Keep him interested by hiding his things and claiming you have no idea where they are.

14 Tom Jones (The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, Henry Fielding)
Hugh Grant in a hayloft-floppy haired and charmingly inept.

15 Soapy Sponge (Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour, R. S. Surtees)

An expert hunter of foxes and fortunes, with a nice line in snazzy tie-pins.

16 Carver Doone (Lorna Doone, R. D. Blackmore)
A wild man of the moors who shoots first and asks questions later. Definitely not one for the commitment-phobic.

17 Sir Lancelot (Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart and others, Chrétien de Troyes)
Tremendously knowledegable about silver-ware. Unfortunately, he has a bit of a thing for married women.

18 Charles Ryder (Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh)
The archetypal tortured artist. May not be terribly keen on a church wedding.

19 Rumpole (Rumpole of the Bailey and others, John Mortimer)
Would wine and dine you with steak-and-kidney pudding and several bottles of Château Thames Embankment. They don’t make them like this anymore.

20 Sirius Black (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and others, J. K. Rowling)
Unless you want muddy paw-prints all over your duvet cover, it might be best to keep this one out of the bedroom.

21 Edward Rochester (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë)

Oh so Byronic, and owns an enormous house. But if he asks you to pop up to the attic with him, run a mile.

22 Jean-Benoit Aubery (Frenchman’s Creek, Daphne du Maurier)

A dashing French pirate who reads poetry in bed? C’est magnifique!

23 Raffles (Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman and others, E. W. Hornung)
Every girl’s dream-a man with an eye for expensive jewellery.

24 Henry Higgins (Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw)

Expect perfectly enunciated pillow talk. Who cares if he only loves you for your vowels?

25 Rawdon Crawley (Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray)
Not, perhaps, the sharpest tool in the shed. But who can resist a man who duels?

26 Phileas Fogg (Around The World In Eighty Days, Jules Verne)

Bound to plan the most spectacular honeymoon.

27 Logan Mountstuart (Any Human Heart, William Boyd)
War reporter, gallery owner, part-time revolutionary and full-time ladies man.

28 Biggles
(The Camels are Coming and others, W. E. Johns)
Up, up and away! Life with this gung-ho airman will be one long mini-break.

29 Robinson Crusoe (Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe)
The original DIY enthusiast. Jolly useful.

30 John Willoughby (Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen)
An absolute rotter. But oh, the size of his inheritance!