The Berkshire bombshell
PUBLISHED: 13:37 12 October 2020
Few of Berkshire’s celebrity residents have had such an explosive reputation as Diana Dors
Diana Dors, the actress and writer, exuded glamour, confidence and a touch of danger. With shoulder-length platinum hair, a stunning figure and form-fitting clothes that accentuated glorious curves, Diana caused a sensation wherever she went.
Dennis Hamilton, Diana’s first husband who she married at the age of 19, insisted they move from London, purchasing a five-bedroom house in Bray for £7,000 in 1954.
Having lived in London since the age of 14, where she studied acting at LAMDA, Diana was not keen on the idea of moving; she despaired of being !buried in the country with no theatres or cinemas...” and was especially dismayed at the idea of no parties!
It was a surprise for her to find how much she loved living in Bray and was to declare it the happiest time of her marriage to Dennis.
They had moved while Diana was filming A Kid for Two Farthings and she settled quickly into the local community; the locals loved the glamour and sparkle she brought to the area.
Diana’s marriage to Dennis was tumultuous and, on occasion, violent. Dennis was firmly in control of both his wife’s career and her money.
While Diana was filming An Alligator Named Daisy at Pinewood Studios Dennis found a new project, a coffee bar in Maidenhead High Street, which he named the El Toucan, furnishing it with two living toucans in a bamboo cage. Diana felt a great affinity with these exotic trapped creatures.
With the success of El Toucan, Dennis moved on to his next adventure with Diana’s money: Woodhurst, a large Victorian Mansion in Maidenhead, sitting by the river Thames, and was on the market at £12,000 for a quick sale. Dennis couldn’t resist, although Diana had a sense of foreboding, possibly due to the previous owner having recently died in a car accident.
As usual, she accepted Dennis’s decision and made the best of it, throwing extravagant parties at Woodhurst, with guests such as Rex Harrison, Kim Novak and Roger Moore attending. However, the couple had little time to enjoy their new home as Diana was about to fulfil her lifetime ambition of travelling to Hollywood to begin a contract with RKO studios in the summer of 1956.
Later that year, with filming finished in Hollywood and her marriage all but over, not helped by a blaze of bad publicity after an incident at a pool party, Diana returned to England, saying she felt like: “Just a blonde from Britain who made a bid for Monroe’s title and lost the fight.”
Attempts to reconcile their marriage failed and it was with great shock that Diana learned in January 1959 that Dennis had died of a heart attack, leaving her a widow. The next big shock came in the solicitor’s office when Diana learned Dennis had disposed of their property and money, leaving Diana at the age of 27 inheriting nothing but her dead husband’s considerable debts.
But Diana didn’t let anything faze her; on 12 April 1959 she married the comedian and actor Richard ‘Dickie’ Dawson. The couple eventually set up home in America with their two sons, Mark and Gary.
Sadly for all involved, the marriage faltered and in 1966 Diana returned to England alone. She decided to buy a home of her own, so that her sons could visit and she needed a property that was close to London.
In 1967, Diana returned to Berkshire, where she purchased Orchard Manor in Shrubbs Hill Lane, Sunningdale, for £20,000. It was a stunning mock-Tudor house and she fell in love with it.
By 1968 she was sharing Orchard Manor with her new husband, the actor Alan Lake. Alan told the press that he and Diana would be moving to Dorset to buy a farm and keep horses. Instead, in 1969, Diana gave birth to their son, Jason, and the family stayed at Orchard Manor for the next 16 years.
Although Diana gained weight from the 1970s onwards, she continued to cut a glamorous sight with her striking white hair, either walking or driving her Rolls-Royce around Sunningdale, and she was known for being down to earth, warm and friendly and less for the racy reputation of her youth.
Sadly, Diana was diagnosed with cancer in 1982. On 4 May 1984 at the Princess Margaret Hospital, Windsor, Britain’s first Bombshell, the legend that was Diana Dors, died aged 52.
Alan was devastated and on 10 October 1984, five months after his wife’s death and 16 years to the day they met, Alan shot himself in their home. He was just 43.
The love story does not end there, it continues in the tranquil and peaceful setting of Kiln Lane Cemetery, Sunningdale, where Diana and Alan rest side by side, only a whisper away.
Editor Sarah’s review
I read Shar Daws’ debut, Bombshells - Five Women Who Set the Fifties on Fire, over the course of a week. It’s a thick, text-heavy book and at first I wondered how I’d get on with it with my busy family schedule, but once I started it, I was hooked.
The term ‘blonde bombshell’ became prominent in the 1930s-1950s and the biography profiles five iconic women who were among the first to be defined by this title: Jean Harlow, Ruth Ellis, Marilyn Monroe, Diana Dors and Jayne Mansfield. Of course, ‘bombshell’ also has another meaning - it is also a devastating thing or event - and all of these women experienced both success and tragedy, which makes this book such a compelling read.
It’s extremely well-researched and written and I loved learning more about the glamorous lifestyles of these women in the 1950s and how strong they really were.
I was especially interested in Part 4, which devotes many pages to former Sunningdale resident Diana Dors. I enjoyed learning about her time spent living in our county, her path to stardom and her complicated love life. My heart went out to her when I discovered that due to some of her choices, at one point she had to abandon her sons and her Hollywood dream to return home to Berkshire alone. I was fascinated by her relationship with society and the media, and how she dealt with criticism of her image, keeping her integrity at all times.
As Shar says, each of these women smashed through the barriers of their era and left a legacy and I’m so glad I was reminded of this by reading her wonderful book. She writes with passion on her subject and I look forward to reading what she produces next.