Bbc online dating is changing how we flirt

She cites the machinations of characters in Jane Austen novels, desperate to fix up relatives with "suitable" suitors.

In the 1930s, marriage agencies sprang up to send out English wives to colonials, starved of the company of their female compatriots in far flung outposts of empire.

"When people think of internet dating, we want them to think of Dating Direct," he says. Mr Richards has clocked the runaway success of big dating agencies on the Continent and predicts that "there are some European dating agencies that have similar turnover, similar profit, who are worth in the region of about 250 million.

It isn't beyond the realms of possibility that in 18 months time we could be in a very similar situation".

That is a figure which has grown dramatically in the last few decades.

Divorce rates have rocketed and, with today's busy working lives, there is little time left to search for a soul-mate.

"The sites give people an opportunity to see a lot of other singles in an environment that's very comfortable for them.

"There's not a lot of risk and there's not a lot of stress involved in browsing profiles from home." Common method In total, 3.5 million people have posted their profiles on Richards' site since the company was founded in 1999.

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Ms Mooney started up her agency, Sara Eden, in the 1980s, when many were too busy making dosh to make love.

They can choose and be chosen from a selection of literally millions of other singletons.

Darren Richards is the founder of the UK's most popular online dating service Dating Direct.

Since the 1960s, the number of people with no-one to go home to has quadrupled.

But where there is a problem, there is always a business to sell you a solution.

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