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27-Aug-2017 05:02

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In almost half a century of romantic busybodying, nearly 20,000 people have passed through her books - from Bluebell girls and businessmen to beauty queens and barristers.There have been hundreds of weddings and, today, in a world of speeddating and internet romance, she still has around 400 clients of all ages hoping Stella's personal touch can help find them their Mr or Miss Right.In the process, her work has become a fascinating barometer of social change: when Stella first started her agency in the early Sixties, newspapers refused to carry her adverts for fear of causing a scandal.But some things remain comfortingly constant, among them people's expectations - which are, she says, on the whole, generally unrealistic.Like the one from the widow with three children who came to see her despairing that she would find love again."She had watched her husband being swept out to sea and drowned, and had been devastated by it," Stella recalls. "I put her together with a local widower who had five children of his own and feared no woman would want to take him on.Marriage bureaux were still in their infancy and, bound by the sexually conservative mores of the time, Stella found it difficult to gain publicity: in the early Sixties, few newspapers were willing to publish her ads, fearful they were linked with the sex industry.

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"I just got on with it and decided I would deal with problems as they arose." Such was her determination that her first matchmaking attempts took place in the maternity wing of her hospital, where she had just given birth to her daughter.

"I was fortunate that I had encountered them during my work as a journalist. Stella relied on word of mouth to get her business off the ground and by the end of 1962 she had amassed her first clients, who paid 15 guineas each (£15.75) for a year's membership.

Each came for a personal interview, with Stella carefully jotting down their age, hobbies and preferences into a notebook.

Fifty years ago, this woman set up Britain's first modern dating agency and created a giant industry.

20,000 lonely hearts later (including her own) her views on the changing mores of romance make fascinating reading.

In fact, despite Stella's unhappiness, the couple remained married for 14 years, during which time Stella fell pregnant, aged 38, with the couple's daughter, Emma.

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In almost half a century of romantic busybodying, nearly 20,000 people have passed through her books - from Bluebell girls and businessmen to beauty queens and barristers.… continue reading »

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