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Jilly Cooper

Jilly Cooper
Cooper in 1974
(by Allan Warren)
Born Jilly Sallitt
(1937-02-21) 21 February 1937
Essex, England
Occupation Author
Nationality British
Period Modern-day
Genre Erotic, romance
Notable works Rutshire Chronicles
Spouse Leo Cooper (1961-2013, his death)[1]
Children 2

Jilly Cooper OBE (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 1
  • Journalism and non-fiction 2
  • Fiction 3
    • Emily 3.1
    • Octavia 3.2
      • Plot summary 3.2.1
      • TV production 3.2.2
    • Riders and the Rutshire Chronicles 3.3
    • Pandora 3.4
    • Jump 3.5
  • Children's books 4
  • Private life 5
  • Awards and honours 6
  • List of works 7
    • Non-fiction 7.1
    • Fiction 7.2
  • Film, TV, or theatrical adaptations 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

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 start 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. 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, an early compilation of her articles.

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, focusing on the relationships between men and women, and matters of social class in contemporary Britain.


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 are very old (although his is larger); her house overlooks a valley called Toadsmoor. His overlooks a valley called the Frogsmore. She also draws on her love of animals: 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.[3] The broadcast ITV adaptation was produced with a screenplay was written by Jonathan Harvey.[4]

One character was modeled on George Humphreys, a Welshman with whom Cooper had an affair in the late 1950s.[5]

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.[6]

An excerpt was included in The Dirty Bits For Girls ed India Knight (Virago, 2008), a collection of favorite "dirty bits" from novels Knight read as a teenager.[7]

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 Llewllyn along for the ride, Octavia finds her plans disrupted in more ways than one.

TV production

Production began on 17 September 2007, in London.[8] Jilly Cooper was invited to make a cameo appearance as a guest at a party.[9] 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.[10] The Guardian reported that Octavia had no transmission slots for 2009 and noted that for accountancy purposes its cost was not counted until the show was broadcast.[11]

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 milieu that can be considered glamorous and wealthy, such as show jumping 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.[12] It features characters from Rutshire Chronicles in the world of jump racing and tells the transformation of a mutilated horse (Mrs Wilkinson) into a successful racehorse. Since publishing Jilly Cooper caused controversy around the naming of a goat (Chisholm) to hit back at a critic and acclaimed Dr Melanie Bottrill for equine veterinary knowledge.[13]

Children's books

She also wrote a series of children’s books featuring the heroine Little Mabel.

Private life

In 1961, Jilly 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, Emily and Felix.[14] They also have four grandchildren, Jago, Lysander, Acer and Scarlett, as well as a rescued cat, Feral, and a rescued greyhound, Feather. Leo Cooper was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 2002. In October 2010 Jilly Cooper suffered a minor stroke.[15] Her husband died on 29 November 2013.[1]

In the 1980s, the couple left Putney, London for The Chantry, an old manor house in Gloucestershire.[1] Cooper is a supporter of the British Conservative Party. She was a passenger in one of the derailed carriages in the Ladbroke Grove rail crash of 1999.[14] She had to crawl 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.

Awards and honours

Cooper was awarded an OBE for services to literature in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in 2004.

On 13 November 2009 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of Gloucestershire at a ceremony in Gloucester Cathedral.[16]

List of works


  1. How to Stay Married (1969)
  2. How to Survive from Nine to Five (1970)
  3. Jolly Super (1971)
  4. Men and Super Men (1972)
  5. Jolly Super Too (1973)
  6. Women and Super Women (1974)
  7. Jolly Superlative (1975)
  8. Supermen and Superwomen (1976)
  9. Work and Wedlock (1977)
  10. Superjilly (1977)
  11. The British in Love (1979)
  12. Class: A View from Middle England (1979)
  13. Supercooper (1980)
  14. Violets and Vinegar: An Anthology of Women's Wrirings and Sayings (1980)
  15. Intelligent and Loyal (1981)
  16. Jolly Marsupial (1982)
  17. Animals in War (1983)
  18. The Common Years (1984)
  19. On Rugby (1984; with Leo Cooper)
  20. On Cricket (1985; with Leo Cooper)
  21. Hotfoot to Zabriskie Point (1985)
  22. Horse Mania! (1986)
  23. How to Survive Christmas (1986)
  24. Turn Right at the Spotted Dog (1987)
  25. Angels Rush In (1990)


  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)

Film, TV, or theatrical adaptations

In 1971, Cooper created the comedy series It's Awfully Bad For Your Eyes, Darling, which featured Joanna Lumley, and ran for one series.[17]

Television adaptations of Cooper's novels are relatively few but have been accepted by national network ITV. Octavia had its first UK screening in 2009 with Tamsin Egerton taking the title role.

Other productions include the TV mini-series The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous, starring Hugh Bonneville, produced by Sarah Lawson.


  1. ^ a b c d Obituary: Leo Cooper,, 2 December 2013
  2. ^ a b Biography with magazine quotations at the Wayback Machine (archived February 21, 2008)
  3. ^ Conlan, Tara ITV rides high with Cooper, The Guardian (19 July 2007)
  4. ^ Coming Up
  5. ^ Hanks, Robert, "First Lady of Rutshire", The Guardian (1959–2003); 18 Mar 1996; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian (1821–2003) and The Observer (1791–2003) pg. A4
  6. ^ "Not a simper in sight". Elizabeth Grey. The Times (london, England), Saturday, 3 Jun 1978; pg. 9; Issue 60318.
  7. ^ Shoard, Catherine, "Paperbacks", The Evening Standard (London), 4 February 2008, pg 41
  9. ^ Jilly Cooper official webpage (December 2007)
  10. ^ Broadcast Now"ITV Vows iced dramas will go out this year" (February 2009)
  11. ^ Dowell, Ben (12 February 2009). "ITV delays single dramas in downturn". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 18 January 2013. 
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^ "Life's not so Jolly Super any more: Jilly Cooper has suffered a stroke, coped with her husband's serious illness and even admits that her famously raunchy image is a myth". Daily Mail (London). 
  16. ^ University Announces Honorary Awards University of Gloucestershire
  17. ^

External links

  • Jilly Cooper The official books website
  • Jilly Cooper's Video Newsletter for May 2008
  • Jilly Cooper's Video Newsletter for December 2007
  • Biography with magazine quotations at the Wayback Machine (archived February 21, 2008) at ''
  • The queen of chick lit The Guardian, 15 June 2004 - Article about Cooper's writing
  • Jilly Cooper An interview with Jilly recorded in 2000 by
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