Unable to have children of her own, she believed herself to be no catch at all. "She had such low self-esteem." Stella matched her to a local man who was seen as something of a confirmed bachelor when he joined the bureau. The couple were so enamoured of her matchmaking abilities that just a few years ago, they sent their nephew to see her.

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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.

"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.

"The fact that my friend had gone to a marriage bureau all those years ago had really stuck in my head," she recalls. "I couldn't help thinking that I could make a success of my own matchmaking service.

I thought at least given my experience, I might be able to help other people."And so on a hot July afternoon in 1962, Stella travelled by train to London to register the name of the Kathleen Kent Marriage Bureau with Companies House.

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.

By then working as a journalist on her local newspaper in Sheffield, where the couple had settled, Stella knew she would be unable to continue with her career but, with a stultifying marriage, was aware she needed something else to distract her.

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.

She matched her very first client, a shy widow in her early 40s who was looking for a new partner to help with the upbringing of her young children.