In 2008 I planted mine on 19 March and lifted them on 27 July. This year I started them off in the cold frame on 19 February planted them out on 11 March, then lifted them at the beginning of July. On balance, I got a better crop in 2008 but it could have been more to do with the weather than the planting dates.
I didn't make a note of which varieties they were, except that some were red, but I have just ordered a pack of Golden Gourmet from Suttons. They have a RHS Award of Garden Merit and it also says 'great beginner variety - this superb variety will consistently produce heavy crops of good flavoured shallots that keep well for several months. Plant from February onwards'. A 400g pack costs £3.65.
I rejoined our local horticultural society this year after a friend told me that you can get substantial savings on your seed order. Apparently, it is about 40% on seets and at least 10% on onion sets, garlic, potatoes and sundries. As you also get free entry to local shows - amazing value for £10 membership fee