John Trevor Boon, publisher of romantic fiction, born Norfolk, December 21, 1916, died July 12, 1996

WOMEN have much to thank John Boon for - at least, those women who enjoy romantic fiction. Whether feminists have quite the same admiration for the man behind Mills & Boon, publishers of love stories for ladies, is another matter.

John Boon was born in King's Lynn, Norfolk. His father Charles had set up the publishing firm of Mills & Boon with Gerald Miles, a former colleague at Methuen's, in 1908. It was Charles Boon, after his partner's death, who focused its output on romantic fiction.

The thirties was the hey-day of lending libraries run by W H Smith and Boots, and the firm prospered. Under his Charles's, John and Alan, the firm was to become the most sucessful publisher of romantic fiction in the world, with some 156 novels a month.

John Boon had at first no intention of joining the family firm. Educated at Felsted School, he went on to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he got a first in history and a half Blue in athletics. In the the Second World War he served in the infantry during the campaign in the Western Desert and on D Day. He ended up a major in the South Wales Borderers and was mentioned in dispatches.

Before being demobbed, he spent a year working in the historical section of the Office of the War Cabinet, and then, after his father died, returned to the family firm, then run by his eldest brother, Carol.

In 1943 he married Felicity Logan, a linguist, by whom he had four sons. John and Alan saw that the days of the lending libraries were over, that the hardback market was in decline, and the future lay with paperbacks.

They moved the firm in that direction. In 1963 John became managing director. It was supplying titles to the Canadian family, Bonnycastle, who owned Harlequin Books, that led to the firm's expansion. Harlequin soon realised it would do better if it owned Mills & Boon, and in due course John sold the firm to the Canadians on terms which made the Boon family very rich. The brothers remained working for the new owners, and when Harlequin in turn was bought out by the Torstar Group of Toronto, John Boon joined its board.

He was also active in various publishing organisations, and served as President of both the Publishers' Association and the International Publishers' Association, as chairman of the publishers' advisory panel of the British Council, and as president of the Society of Bookmen and director of Book Tokens. In 1968 he was appointed CBE.

On one thing he remained adamant. Mills & Boon heroines have been allowed sex before marriage since the mid eighties, and in 1994 one of them was given a career of her own rather than living through her man, but the hero was always a ``real'' chap. He once said in an interview: ``I believe in what we call the Alpha man, the dominant male. That's what women read our books for, you know, to find the Alpha man. And he is created by women authors.''

He was considered a Alpha man to the life, although there are some who doubt whether he read any of the novels on which the family fortunes were based from cover to cover.