The true story behind the world's greatest lover

THE makers of The Real... series usually take delight in demolishing the subject's reputation. Giovanni Jacopo Casanova was treated more kindly. Not only did the programme confirm his position as the world's greatest lover, but also reckoned he was more than a randy chap with a love 'em and leave 'em attitude.

Far from being a selfish womaniser, he was a "vulnerable and open man who liked women". He wasn't just a four, five, six times a night lover of the wham, bam, thank you, mam variety. The narrator suggested that "he didn't just have sex, he made love." He treated women as equals, while believing that love was fleeting, lasting no more than a few months.

This didn't prevent the makers illustrating Casanova's story with many scenes of him romping with semi-clad women as excerpts from his memoirs were read out.

He certainly enjoyed himself. "There were countesses, lace sellers, silk makers, pregnant damsels in distress, nuns, and even a threesome with a hunchback," we learnt.

There was much more to this 18th century man who described himself as "a victim of my senses". This sickly child's amorous adventures began when, at the age of nine, he took a fancy to the sister of the priest who schooled him.

Then, armed with a law degree, this actress's son was caught cavorting with his rich patron's young sweetheart. He became a priest, but his new calling didn't suppress his natural urges. Working as a cardinal's secretary, Casanova used an audience with the Pope to seek not spiritual advice, but ask permission to read erotic books.

An affair with an older, married woman ended his career in the church, leaving him alone and penniless in Venice. This was typical of a life that lurched between highs to lows. He was jailed for 15 months, escaped and fled to Paris which, as "Europe's city of sin", was the perfect place to enjoy himself.

He made and squandered a fortune as a professional gambler. He fell properly in love, but she was married and on the run from a French aristocrat. Casanova himself was restless, never settling in one place for long.

His memoirs provided us with much of this information. The programme also produced various experts, including a man describing himself as a Casanovist with the appropriate name of Aron Paramor.