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ATV Icon: Diana Dors

40 years on from her death we celebrate the world of Diana Dors…

Had she lived she’d have been Dame Diana Dors, there is little to argue about that, as one of Britain’s most famous women on the silver screen Diana lived in the public spotlight, and therefore much of her life was shared with her millions of fans. And, forty years after her death, she’s still a much-loved showbiz celebrity with thousands of fans celebrating her work and life on social media fan groups and the spotlight still occasionally shines her way on TV – most recently in 2022 when Channel 5 celebrated the woman nicknamed ‘The Blonde Bombshell’.

Diana Dors was born on October 23, 1931 as Diana Mary Fluck in Swindon, Wiltshire, England. She showed an early interest in performing and, with her striking blonde looks, began her journey towards stardom at an early age.

Her mother, Winifred Maud Mary Fluck, née Payne, was married to Albert Edward Sidney Fluck, a railway clerk and even before she was born Diana was the subject of real-life drama when it was revealed Winifred had been having an affair with another man – and she had no idea if Diana’s father was her husband or her lover.

Diana Dors in the film ‘Dance Hall’ where she played a factory worker

From the age of eight, Hollywood actresses Veronica Lake, Lana Turner, and Jean Harlow became her heroines, and she enjoyed going to the cinema to watch her idols on the silver screen, and dreamed of being a starlet in the movies herself. Towards the end of the Second World War Diana, used her attractive figure as a way to become noticed. She entered several beauty contests which led to her becoming a pin-up girl for Soldier Magazine. Other work soon followed as a model in art classes and local theatre productions.

Diana was educated at a small private school but a traditional education wasn’t something Diana was interested in – it was performing that drew her attention and in her teens, Dors’ career in the entertainment industry began. At the age of 15, Dors signed a contract with the Rank Organisation and joined J. Arthur Rank’s “Charm School” for young performers.

She landed her first film role in “The Shop at Sly Corner” in 1947. Her early performances caught the attention of the public and marked the beginning of her journey to become one of Britain’s most iconic film stars. While uncredited in her first three movies within less than a year she was becoming a name and across 1948 featured in six films including Oliver Twist, Good Time Girl and My Sister and I. By 1949 she was starring in leading roles, with her first big billing in the movie Diamond City.

Early moves roles included stints both in American and British film studios with big screen performances and by the 1950s the roles were becoming more front and centre. She also dabbled in TV movies and television series. Her first major TV part was in the Terry Thomas show ‘How Do You View?’ which is noted as the BBC’s first television comedy production. Diana featured across six episodes in its fourth series.

Diana Dors, Johnathan Ashmore and Sid James in ‘A Kid for Two Farthings’

In the early 1950s, Dors attracted attention in Hollywood, starring in films such as Hunted (1952) and The Saint’s Return (1953). She became known for her glamorous and seductive on-screen persona. However, despite her talent and popularity, she faced challenges in maintaining the same level of success in Hollywood as some of her contemporaries with comparisons to Marilyn Monroe – however, this comparison proved to be much more positive for her in the UK. Diana was in much demand attending grand opening ceremonies and making crowd-pleasing public appearances.

Her private life, something she never hid from her fans, was to be a rollercoaster of a time. During WWII, Diana dated Desmond Morris who was from one of the town’s wealthier, more prominent families, he went on to become a zoologist and became famous as the author of The Naked Ape and presenter of the BBC TV series of the same name.

She was married three times, with her first two marriages to Dennis Hamilton and Richard Dawson ending in divorce. Diana had three children: Mark, Gary, and Jason. Her third husband proved to be the love of her life – fellow actor Alan Lake. They became a power couple appearing in theatre and on television together. It was a true romance, which also saw Diana share her joy in several magazine features.

Diana Dors in a photograph for ATV Elstree

Diana Dors returned to Britain following her stateside movie career and found success on the small screen. In the 1960s, she starred in her own ATV television series for ITV in The Diana Dors Show, showcasing her wit and humour. Her television work, combined with occasional film roles, kept her in the public eye. For ATV she also featured on Sunday Night at the London Palladium and became a regular star panellist on Celebrity Squares. A sweetheart of the nation she also hosted her own chat show for Southern Television on ITV and was the lead star in the sitcom Queenie’s Castle from Yorkshire TV.

The real Diana wasn’t confused with her film and TV parts, viewers accepted her as herself and believed in her when she appeared in fictional roles, including having no difficulty being cast in television dramas. Appearances included in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Armchair Theatre, Burke’s Law, Z Cars, Dixon of Dock Green, The Sweeney, Shoestring and Hammer House of Horror to name just a few.

Diana’s comedy-perfect performances were equally as loved as her dramatic qualities. This saw her make a memorable run of appearances with Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in The Two Ronnies for BBC One in the sketches which saw women dominating the world. She featured in a Thames Television remake of classic comedy feature The Plank alongside Eric Sykes, Bernard Cribbins and a host of well known comedians.

There were also several saucy comedy films which Diana popped up in during the 1970s including Keep It Up Downstairs, Adventures of a Taxi Driver and The Amorous Milkman to name just a few. She also recorded an album Swingin’ Dors which was released in 1960.

Diana Dors in Queenie’s Castle, YTV

In the latter part of her career, Diana Dors continued to make appearances in films and on television. Despite facing financial difficulties at times, she remained a beloved figure in British popular culture.

Her ability to send herself up saw her appear on comedy shows such as Lenny and Jerry (BBC), Cannon and Ball (LWT) and as the fairy godmother in Adam Ant’s Prince Charming music video.

She was an endearing presence on television due to her frank conversation. There was no covering over issues that had happened in her life, from failed marriages to health concerns Diana was honest as she felt she needed to be and open and admired for it. This made her a joy for any interviewer and she featured several times on chat shows ranging from daytime offerings such as The One O’Clock Show (TTTV), Lunch Box (ATV) and primetime outings on Des O’Connor Tonight (Thames), Russell Harty (BBC) and Michael Parkinson (BBC).

Diana was also open about her battle with weight. She joined the new breakfast offering TV-am in 1983 to host a weekly weight loss campaign. Years later co-hosts Nick Owen and Anne Diamond revealed it was probably the one area that Diana wasn’t so open and honest about – removing heavy jewellery week after week to make it appear she’d lost a few pounds. Ironically weight loss not long after proved to be the start of Diana’s final battle with cancer, having beaten it twice before.

Diana Dors passed away on May 4, 1984, at the age of 52, after battling ovarian cancer. Her contributions to the entertainment industry and her status as a symbol of 1950s glamour have left a lasting legacy. The Diana Dors Film Festival, established in her hometown of Swindon, commemorates her impact on British cinema. In 1999 she was celebrated with a drama on her life based on her autobiography and there have been several documentaries reflecting on her life and work.

Diana Dors is remembered not only for her on-screen charisma and talent but also for her resilience and the challenges she faced in an industry that often defined actresses by their looks rather than their abilities.

Left to Right: Diana Dors at ATV Elstree in the 60s, Middle: Diana Dors joins Radio 2 as a guest host, Right: Diana appears on an HTV chat show

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