Born in Farnborough, Kent, in 1924, Stella Flanders, as she was then, initially trained as a nurse.Then, aged 24, she married Ernest Groschel, a Czech engineer 13 years older who had come to Britain to escape the war.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.In order to surmount this opposition, Stella had to get personal references from her local MP and the Bishop of Lincoln."Old men always want a young dolly bird, and the plainest girls still like to think they can get themselves a millionaire," says Stella waspishly.Today, she still sports the steely, scrutinising gaze that has been her principal professional tool during her 50-year career - a career she fell into by accident to distract herself from an unhappy marriage of her own (the irony of that inconvenient fact does not, of course, escape her)."I didn't really have the foggiest idea what I was doing," she says now."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.
20,000 lonely hearts later (including her own) her views on the changing mores of romance make fascinating reading.
When a young Stella Groschel heard of her friend's plans to join a marriage bureau in her search for a husband, she was shocked to the core. I thought it was rather on the dangerous side and something that only really desperate, peculiar people would consider." Since then, however, Stella has learned to see matters from the other side.