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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jilly Cooper

Cooper in 1974 (by Allan Warren)
Cooper in 1974
(by Allan Warren)
BornJilly Sallitt
(1937-02-21) 21 February 1937 (age 84)
Hornchurch, Essex, England
GenreErotic, romance
Notable worksRutshire Chronicles
SpouseLeo Cooper (1961–2013; his death)[1]

Jilly Cooper, CBE (born 21 February 1937), is an English author. She began her career as a journalist and wrote numerous works of non-fiction before writing several romance novels, the first of which appeared in 1975. She is most famous for writing the Rutshire Chronicles.

Early life

Jilly Sallitt was born in Hornchurch, Essex, England, to Mary Elaine (née Whincup) and Brigadier W. B. Sallitt, OBE.[2] She grew up in Ilkley and Surrey, and was educated at the Moorfield School in Ilkley and the Godolphin School in Salisbury.[2]

Journalism and non-fiction

After unsuccessfully trying to begin a career in the British national press, Cooper became a junior reporter for The Middlesex Independent, based in Brentford. She worked for the paper from 1957 to 1959. Subsequently, she worked as an account executive, copywriter, publisher's reader and receptionist.

Her break came with a chance meeting at a dinner party. The editor of The Sunday Times Magazine asked her to write a feature about her experiences.[citation needed] This led to a column in which Cooper wrote about marriage, sex and housework. That column ran from 1969 to 1982, when she moved to The Mail on Sunday, where she worked for another five years.

Cooper’s first column led to the publication of her first book, How to Stay Married, in 1969, and which was quickly followed by a guide to working life, How to Survive from Nine to Five, in 1970. Some of her journalism was collected into a single volume, Jolly Super, in 1971.

The theme of class dominates much of her writing and her non-fiction (including Class itself), which is written from an explicitly upper-middle-class British perspective, with emphasis on the relationships between men and women, and matters of social class in contemporary Britain.

She was in favour of the Iraq War.[3]


As with her non-fiction works, Cooper draws heavily on her own point of view and experiences. For example, her own house is the model for Rupert Campbell-Black's. Both houses are very old, although his is larger;[4] her house overlooks a valley called Toadsmoor, while his overlooks a valley called the Frogsmore. She also draws on her love of animals:[5] dogs and horses feature heavily in her books. Woods, hills, fields, pastures and rivers feature frequently.


In 1975, Cooper published her first work of romantic fiction, Emily. It was based on a short story she wrote for a teenage magazine, as were the subsequent romances, all titled with female names: Bella, Imogen, Prudence, Harriet and Octavia.


Octavia is one of Cooper's "name" books, which each bear a female character's name, and has been made into a television adaptation. It is set in Britain during the 1970s.[6] The broadcast ITV adaptation was produced with a screenplay which was written by Jonathan Harvey.[7]

One character was modelled on George Humphreys, a Welshman with whom Cooper had an affair in the late 1950s.[8]

The Times noted that Cooper avoids the traditional romantic convention in which the heroine remains a virgin until the last page. Elizabeth Grey found the jokes annoying but still funny, and confessed to falling in love with the character of Octavia.[9]

An excerpt was included in The Dirty Bits For Girls (ed. India Knight, Virago, 2008), a collection of favourite "dirty bits" from novels Knight read as a teenager.[10]

Plot summary

Octavia Brennan is a beautiful yet flawed young woman, living the high life in 1970s London. Though she is deeply flirtatious and has - by her own admission - slept with many men, she has never found happiness with any of them.

After bumping into an old school friend, Gussie, and falling for her fiancé, Jeremy, Octavia is invited to spend the weekend with them on their canal boat. Characteristically, she convinces herself that Jeremy cannot possibly have real affection for the overweight and clumsy Gussie, and she is determined to win Jeremy by the end of the weekend. But when Jeremy invites Welsh firebrand Gareth Llewellyn along for the ride, Octavia finds her plans disrupted in more ways than one.

TV production

Production began on 17 September 2007, in London.[11] Cooper was invited to make a cameo appearance as a guest at a party.[12] Its broadcast was delayed according to a Broadcast Now article in early 2009 as a consequence of the recession - ITV put many of their dramas 'on ice'; postponing single dramas until later that year.[13] The Guardian reported early in 2009 Octavia had no transmission slots for the forthcoming year and said, for accountancy purposes, its cost would not counted until the show was broadcast.[14] Octavia had its first UK screening in 2009 with Tamsin Egerton taking the title role.

The cast was:

Riders and the Rutshire Chronicles

However, Cooper's best-known works are her long novels. The first of these was Riders (1985), an international bestseller, and the first volume of Rutshire Chronicles. The first version of Riders was written by 1970, but shortly after Cooper had finished it, she took it with her into the West End of London and left the manuscript on a bus. The London Evening Standard put out an appeal, but it was never found. She was, she says, "devastated", and it took her more than a decade to start it again.

Riders and the following books are characterised by intricate plots, featuring multiple story lines and a large number of characters. (To help the reader keep track, each book begins with a list and brief description of the characters) Although the books do not always follow each other sequentially - Rivals and Polo chronologically overlap, for example - they are linked by recurring characters (chiefly Rupert Campbell-Black, Roberto Rannaldini, and their families) and later books make reference to events of previous books.

The stories heavily feature adultery/(sexual) infidelity and general betrayal, melodramatic misunderstandings and emotions, money worries and domestic upheavals.

Each book of the Rutshire Chronicles is set in a glamorous and wealthy milieu, such as show jumping[15] or classical music. These aspects are contrasted with details of the characters' domestic lives, which are often far from glamorous.


Her novel Pandora is not one of the Rutshire Chronicles, but does feature a few characters from the series, and is very similar in style and content. Wicked! follows the same approach, including characters from previous novels and introducing new characters who are relatives, friends or rivals of existing characters. It is set in the fictional county of Larkshire, which borders her other fictional county, Rutshire.


Her novel Jump! was released in 2010.[16] It features characters from the Rutshire Chronicles in the world of National Hunt steeplechase racing, and tells the transformation of a mutilated horse (Mrs Wilkinson) into a successful racehorse.[16] After publication, it was revealed that Cooper had named a goat in the book (Chisolm) in order to hit back at the critic Anne Chisholm.[17]

Children's books

Cooper also wrote a series of children’s books featuring the heroine Little Mabel.[18]

Personal life

In 1961, she married Leo Cooper, a publisher of military history books.[1] The couple had known each other since 1945 (when Jilly Sallitt was about eight), although they did not marry until she was 24 and he was 27. The couple were unable to have children naturally, so adopted two children.[19] They also have five grandchildren.[20] The Coopers' marriage was greatly disrupted in 1990 when publisher Sarah Johnson revealed she and Leo had had an affair for several years, though Jilly and Leo got back together later.[21][22] In the 1980s the couple left Putney, southwest London, for The Chantry, an old manor house in Gloucestershire.[1]

Jilly was a passenger in one of the derailed carriages in the Ladbroke Grove rail crash of 1999, in which 31 people died,[19] and crawled through a window to escape. She later spoke of feeling that her "number was up" and of being absurdly concerned, due to shock, about a manuscript she had been carrying.

Leo was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2002. He died on 29 November 2013.[1] In 2010, Jilly suffered a minor stroke.[23]

Cooper has stated that she is a football fan, and supported Leeds United when she lived in Yorkshire.[24] She is also a supporter of the UK Conservative Party.[25]

Awards and honours

Cooper was awarded the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2004 Birthday Honours for services to literature and the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2018 New Year Honours for services to literature and charity.

On 13 November 2009 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of Gloucestershire at a ceremony in Gloucester Cathedral.[26]

Film and TV productions

In 1971, Cooper created the comedy series It's Awfully Bad For Your Eyes, Darling, which featured Joanna Lumley, and ran for one series.[27]

Television adaptations of Cooper's novels are relatively few but have been accepted by national network ITV.

Apart from Octavia, other productions include the TV mini-series The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous, starring Hugh Bonneville, produced by Sarah Lawson, and Riders.[28]

List of works


  • How to Stay Married (1969)
  • How to Survive from Nine to Five (1970)
  • Jolly Super (1971)
  • Men and Super Men (1972)
  • Jolly Super Too (1973)
  • Women and Super Women (1974)
  • Jolly Superlative (1975)
  • Supermen and Superwomen (1976)
  • Work and Wedlock (1977)
  • Superjilly (1977)
  • The British in Love (1979)
  • Class: A View from Middle England (1979)
  • Supercooper (1980)
  • Violets and Vinegar: An Anthology of Women's Writings and Sayings (1980)
  • Intelligent and Loyal (1981)
  • Jolly Marsupial (1982)
  • Animals in War (1983)
  • The Common Years (1984)
  • On Rugby (1984; with Leo Cooper)
  • On Cricket (1985; with Leo Cooper)
  • Hotfoot to Zabriskie Point (1985; with Patrick Lichfield)
  • Horse Mania! (1986)
  • How to Survive Christmas (1986)
  • Turn Right at the Spotted Dog (1987)
  • Angels Rush In (1990)
  • Between the Covers (2020)[29]


  1. Emily (1975)
  2. Bella (1976)
  3. Harriet (1976)
  4. Octavia (1977)
  5. Imogen (1978)
  6. Prudence (1978)
  7. Lisa and Co. (1981; also known as Love and Other Heartaches)

'Little Mabel' series:

  1. Little Mabel (1980)
  2. Little Mabel's Great Escape (1981)
  3. Little Mabel Wins (1982)
  4. Little Mabel Saves the Day (1985)

The Rutshire Chronicles:

  1. Riders (1985)
  2. Rivals (1988; also known as Players)
  3. Polo (1991)
  4. The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous (1993)
  5. Appassionata (1996)
  6. Score! (1999)
  7. Pandora (2002)
  8. Wicked! (2006)
  9. Jump! (2010)
  10. Mount! (2016)


  1. ^ a b c d Obituary: Leo Cooper, The Daily Telegraph, 2 December 2013
  2. ^ a b "Biography with magazine quotations". Archived from the original on 21 February 2008. Retrieved 27 August 2004.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  3. ^ Cooper, Jilly (16 February 2003). "Cover story: The voices for and against war". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  4. ^ "Jilly the filly buster".
  5. ^ "Jilly Cooper loved Hay so much she wants to base her next novel in Wales".
  6. ^ Conlan, Tara ITV rides high with Cooper, The Guardian (19 July 2007)
  7. ^ Coming Up Archived 28 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Hanks, Robert, "First Lady of Rutshire", The Guardian (1959–2003); 18 March 1996; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian (1821–2003) and The Observer (1791–2003) pg. A4
  9. ^ "Not a simper in sight". Elizabeth Grey. The Times, 3 June 1978; p. 9; Issue 60318.
  10. ^ Shoard, Catherine, "Paperbacks", Evening Standard (London), 4 February 2008, p. 41
  12. ^ Jilly Cooper official webpage Archived 21 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine (December 2007)
  13. ^ "ITV Vows iced dramas will go out this year" Broadcast Now (February 2009)
  14. ^ Dowell, Ben (12 February 2009). "ITV delays single dramas in downturn". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
  15. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Radio 4 in Four - Why we all adore Jilly Cooper".
  16. ^ a b Laing, Olivia (12 September 2010). "Jump! by Jilly Cooper". The Observer. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  17. ^ "Jilly Cooper takes revenge on critic by naming goat after her". The Daily Telegraph. 11 October 2010.
  18. ^ "Jilly's Biography".
  19. ^ a b Grice, Elizabeth (17 September 2010). "Jilly Cooper interview". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  20. ^ Barber, Richard (7 April 2017). "Jilly Cooper: 'My books are my babies'". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 March 2019.
  21. ^ Barber, Michael (3 December 2013). "Leo Cooper obituary: Publisher of military history books and husband of Jilly Cooper". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  22. ^ "Fiction into fact".
  23. ^ "Jilly Cooper is still riding high".
  24. ^ "Fibre Broadband, TV Packages, BT Sport & Mobile Deals | BT".
  25. ^ "Women and gender in the Conservative party archive". 24 November 2015.
  26. ^ University Announces Honorary Awards Archived 19 November 2009 at the Wayback Machine University of Gloucestershire
  27. ^ "Jilly Cooper - About - Biography".
  28. ^ "Riders (1993)".
  29. ^ "Between the Covers by Jilly Cooper review – as fresh as ever". The Guardian. 27 October 2020. Retrieved 7 August 2021.

External links

This page was last edited on 22 August 2021, at 21:27
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