Amid recent scholarly biographies of The Bard of Avon, we are now favored with the inside scoop on another pride of English letters, Barbara Taylor Bradford.
She is not to be confused, despite their beloved little doggies, with the late Dame Barbara Cartland (or, despite the evident grandeur and charm as depicted by biographer Dudgeon, with Dame Edna). Bradford is the manufacturer of popular novels reaching, purportedly, 75 million copies sold, in 40 languages. Since her 1979 breakout book, A Woman of Substance, there have been scores more, plus a wave of TV spin-offs, and still, bless her, she soldiers on. The canon, as seen by Dudgeon, is not wholly fictional. He traces Barbara’s history from her birth more than 70 years ago, in Armley, Yorkshire. He visits the settings of her stories, “up the ginnel towards the moor where she would often play,” and bares the models for her engaging characters. Some speculative true-life parallels are drawn to her fiction with support from the novelist herself. He climbs her family tree and shakes loose, on her mother’s side, some workhouse history and illegitimacy (involving, perhaps, a titled gentleman). Thus the “secret life” of the subtitle. He follows Bradford’s rise from teenage cub reporter in Yorkshire through glamorous, bibulous Mayfair in the ’60s as tasteful fashion editor. Then came marriage to movie producer Bob Bradford and residence in New York. The Emma Harte family saga and other books about substantial women followed, with Bob successfully building the brand and producing the films. Not omitting well-dressed movie stars, much heather, crisp napery, candlelight, crenellated castle keeps, strong heroines and pretty heroes, we are given pertinent extracts in extenso from the Bradford oeuvre.
Aimed, of course, at fans, who will love it. To those unmoved by the Barbara Taylor Bradford mystique, all this will, naturally, be of supreme unimportance.