Saturday, December 20, 2014

Why I love the reserved British hero...

When you think of a British hero, who comes into your mind? For me, it’s Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, definitely, and Daniel Craig as James Bond. Benedict Cumberbatch in Parade’s End; Sean Bean as pretty much anyone from Eddard Stark to Richard Sharpe. These chaps are true heroes, with all the virtues of strength, integrity, and the ability to handle themselves in a crisis. They also have that other quality, once praised, but now often looked down on: British reserve.

In former days, being reserved meant being the “strong, silent type,” able to deal with hardship with stoicism and a stiff upper lip. There’s been lots written about why the British are famous for their reserve. In the second world war, for example, the British government put out a poster urging people to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” At times of stress, there’s a positive to not being overwhelmed by emotion, and British heroes epitomise the stoic approach.

That’s why, when it comes to romance, I love nothing better than a reserved hero who, in a moment of high drama, finally expresses his feelings of deepest love for the heroine. Who could forget Mr Darcy’s impassioned words to Lizzie, “You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love... I love... I love you. And I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.”

His words have so much more impact because at the start of the novel he’s seen as cold and reserved. When we finally get to discover there’s actually a deep well of emotion buried beneath the proud exterior, it’s a revelation.

I fall in love with the reserved hero at the drop of a bowler hat. When it came to writing this type of character, though, I realised just how difficult it is to portray a reserved man in a sympathetic way. There’s a danger that strong, dignified silence can be interpreted as cold and unfeeling. Mr Darcy hardly comes off well at the start of Pride and Prejudice. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s a bit of an arse.

In my case, Paul Farrell, the hero of my novel A Way from Heart to Heart, has a very particular reason for having to repress his emotions over a long period of time. Paul is forced to keep silent, and the heroine, Kate Hemingway, totally mistakes his character at the start of the story and dismisses him as a stuffed shirt: “So full of reserve, you could stuff him and put him in the British Museum.”

It’s hardly surprising Kate misjudges Paul, but underneath the quiet exterior is a very different person to the one she imagines. The day comes when Kate finally discovers what lies beneath Paul’s reserve, and when she does, everything changes in an instant and it’s…well, I won’t spoil the story!

How about you? Do you like the “strong, silent” type of hero? Who’s your favourite British hero of books, film or TV? If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!

A Way from Heart to Heart 
Released by Accent Press on 18th November.

After the death of her husband in Afghanistan, Kate Hemingway’s world collapses around her. Her free time is spent with a charity for teenage girls in London, helping them mend their broken lives - which is ironic, since her own life is fractured beyond repair.

Reserved, upper-class journalist Paul Farrell is everything Kate and her teenage charges aren’t.  But when Paul agrees to help Kate with her charity on a trip to the Yorkshire moors, he makes a stunning revelation that changes everything, and leaves Kate torn.

Can she risk her son’s happiness as well as her own?


Helena Fairfax writes engaging contemporary romances with sympathetic heroines and heroes she’s secretly in love with. Happy endings are her favourite, and when one of her novels won a reader competition for "The Most Romantic Love Scene Ever" it made her day.

Helena was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She's grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in Yorkshire, near the home of the Bront√ęs. After many years working in factories and dark, satanic mills, Helena has turned to writing full-time. She walks the Yorkshire moors every day with her rescue dog, finding this romantic landscape the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

Social links
Twitter: @helenafairfax 


  1. Pierce Brosnan as Remington Steele. I just love that English accent that he has on the show. I watched the show just to find out who is Remington Steele but the show never reveal who is Remington Steel's father is. They basically left us with an impression that he could be a son of an English Lord.


  2. Pierce Brosnan was great in that role! I loved the whole idea behind Remington Steele. Thanks for reminding me of that show. Now I really want to watch it again!

  3. I used to love Pierce Brosnan in Remington Steele too! I do love the strong and reserved type of hero - the kind who doesn't talk much, and who hides his feelings and his doubts. Thank you for a very interesting post, Helena!

  4. I think I tend to write those quiet heroes. My husband was that sort of man and there wasn't a drop of English blood in him. I've always said that still waters run deep. I happen to like that British reserve or whatever you want to call it. I've never cared much for those guys who swagger. But bold and brash is much easier to write than quiet and reserved.

    When it comes to English heroes, the real ones, it's Winston Churchill that comes to mind. Certainly not a handsome man, but he made up for it in brains and wit. My all-time favorite quotes are Churchill's. It's probably been in the last 20 years that I've come to realize that he wasn't just a country's leader during the war but a true inspiration and brilliant military leader.

  5. That's such a great choice of hero, E. Churchill was calm, steadfast and resolute, and an inspiration in time of war. George VI, our King at that time, was a quiet, reserved man, but also inspirational and heroic in his own way. He refused to leave Buckingham Palace during the Blitz, and insisted on visiting the bombed areas and remaining with his fellow Londoners.
    Still waters do run deep. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.


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