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Cads, clipped accents and Cadbury the Labrador

Cooper in 1978. Arthur Sidey/Mirrorpix/Getty

Jilly Cooper’s novels are the sort of thing “literary London” usually sneers at, says The Economist. They have titles like Mount! and Score! and – her latest – Tackle! Their characters include scoundrels like Rupert Campbell-Black (“nirvana for most women”), a nymphomaniac called Bethany, and Cadbury the Labrador. They contain far too many uses of the word “wet”, and a “frankly distressing” number of “thrusts”. Yet the 86-year-old novelist has built up a “congregation” of devoted fans, from Rishi Sunak to Helen Fielding. Her popularity baffles non-readers, particularly the young – for Cooper is not what you’d call woke. The feminists in her novels can usually be spotted by their “hairy legs and their fondness for the New Statesman”. In one book, a boy asks his father who Florence Nightingale was. His brisk reply: “A lesbian.”

Cooper’s secret, of course, is that her novels don’t take themselves too seriously. The “lashings of sex” are there to entertain, not titillate. And in her fictional county of “Rutshire”, true darkness rarely breaks through. The only villains you’ll find are socialists, and all they do is “wear sandals, drink your champagne and complain about things”. Evelyn Waugh once said the literary world of PG Wodehouse was one where there “has been no Fall”. So it is with Cooper’s novels. Like Dickens’s London or the Brontës’ Yorkshire, Rutshire is “a place you know the moment you open the page, where people have clipped accents, rambling houses and, most important, fun”.

Tackle! by Jilly Cooper is available to buy here.