Diana Dors (1931-84) was a British National Treasure. It’s close to forty years from her death and still new material is being published about her, this time by film and TV writer Anna Cale. The author seeks to re-evaluate the career of Diana Dors through her performances rather than the gossip and scandal which surrounded her throughout her professional career.
It could be said that Diana was the first British “celebrity” with the trappings with which we associate that word today. She was certainly aware of the power of the press and played up to their interest but before we discount her as a 1950’s Gemma Collins we have to consider the range and scope of her work and the affection the British public had for her. The notion of celebrity both made her and overshadowed her (there were so many stories made up about the extent of her wealth that tax departments hounded her). Her Hollywood career was pretty much scuppered by what could have been a publicity stunt gone wrong and at the time she was known as much for being “the girl in the mink bikini” (it was actually rabbit); “Britain’s Marilyn Monroe” (a comparison she hated) and for Sunday newspaper “exclusives” on her love life as for her many TV and film appearances.
An all-rounder, Diana would embark on variety tours, released records and was a regular talk show guest (and host) and game show regular when the film roles dried up. A whole generation rediscovered her by her upstaging of Adam Ant in his “Prince Charming” video but whether the public loved her from the film “Yield Into Night” (1956) which established serious acting credentials; her 70’s hit sit-com “Queenie’s Castle”; the TV adaptation of “Just William” or in one of my favourite roles of hers as Mrs Wickens in “The Amazing Mr Blunden”(1972) she always made an impression.
Cale is very factual and does not hang around for too much analysis (she does get fired up by Diana and husband Alan Lake’s need to do low-budget sex comedy films in the late 1970’s as that was all the British film industry could really offer at that time). I would have liked a little more of the author’s voice and opinions in this re-evaluation as to be honest, there wasn’t much in this book that I hadn’t read before. I think I favour a trashier publication from 1987 “Diana Dors: Only A Whisper Away” by Joan Flory and Damien Walne where the whole dichotomy of celebrity/actor is conveyed better. That is a book I have read a couple of times and really enjoyed. I was expecting more from Cale’s book with its greater hindsight expecting it to be the definitive word on the life and career of Diana Dors.
It wasn’t. I’ve also read at least a couple of her autobiographical works and remember them being quite candid showing that Dors was not reluctant in keeping the scandalous side of her alive, knowing that this was what the public wanted and that it would sell books. Amazon suggests three titles I haven’t read David Bret’s “A Hurricane In Mink” (2010): Niemah Ash’s “Connecting Dors” written in conjunction with Diana and Alan Lake’s late son, Jason (2012) and “The Shocking Truth” by Harry Harrison (2020) which shows that the interest in reading about her is without doubt still there. I think Cale’s book may be the most restrained of these but that might not be what those wishing to find out more about this marvellous woman would want.
The Real Diana Dors was published in hardback by Pen and Sword in July 2021.