Diana Mary was born on 23 October 1931 at The Haven Nursing Home, Kent Road, Swindon, Wiltshire to Mary and Albert Fluck. Mary had taken nearly a week to give birth and had almost died as a result. Diana was born black in the face, thrown aside for dead as doctors battled to save her mother, and was revived by a nurse in another room. The result of this near-suffocation as she fought for survival had been life long claustrophobia.
Mary recovering from giving birth so late in life, realised that she at last had her own little girl and that child was going to have everything, and do everything, she herself had dreamed of. ‘Rings on her fingers, bells on her toes, she shall have music wherever she goes’ were only some of the beautiful things she wanted for her precious daughter, Diana.
Diana was always the best dressed tot in the neighbourhood, and nothing she wanted was too much. Birthdays were always celebrated with parties, often at hired halls, dancing classes were a must, and as Mary was a great cinema fan, she took Diana aged 3 to see her first film. There began Diana’s love of films. Sitting there in the dark with her mother, they were transported to a world far away from Swindon; to glamorous Hollywood homes and nightclubs where people wore beautiful clothes, swam in luxurious pools and sang, danced or acted their way across lavish sets.
When it was time for Diana to attend school, at great expense and against her father’s wishes, she was sent to a small private school, Selwood House, run by two prim spinster sisters, Miss Daisy and Miss Ruth. Considering where Diana’s interests lay, it was not surprising that, instead of concentrating on maths – Di’s weak point – she would sit writing the names of film stars down the margin in her text book where she should have been adding up figures. Her father raged over school reports, but Diana was always defended by her mother, who said something one day that would be the understatement of the decade: “what does it matter, just so long as she knows how to count up the few pounds she’ll earn at the end of the week”.
With the approach of D-Day, the allied invasion of Europe 1944, thousands upon thousands of Americans were entering Britain. Diana was ecstatic! she was going to meet real Americans…… The Flucks had a spare bedroom, and with not enough space at barracks and camps, a Californian duly arrived. Diana bombarded him with questions about Hollywood, which he tried to answer, but as his family had an orange farm some hundred miles north of the film capital he was hardly in a position to tell her what Lana Turner ate for breakfast, or who Tyrone Power was dating.
Diana was now twelve years old but already looked and acted far older than her years, she had taken to wearing make-up, her hair was long and fairly honey coloured – with a little help from some lightener- and as she walked about town, cries of ‘It’s Veronica Lake!’ rang out from the passing GI trucks.
“The night I was invited to my first dance, at an American party, was just about the most thrilling thing that had ever happened to me”, Diana had said some years later. Mary Fluck and Diana were returning home from the cinema one evening, when they were met by droves of GIs who begged them to go to a hotel where some big celebration was going on. Mary hesitated, but as her husband was playing the piano somewhere, and likely to be very late home, she finally gave in, much to Diana’s delight. They rushed home and Diana put on her most grown up dress – a red one handed down by a young friend of her mother – and dressed her hair in as glamorous a style as she could manage, donned a pair of real nylons, which a previous American house guest had given her, plus a pair of semi-high-heeled shoes, and off they went.
Cinderella’s evening at the ball could never have been as wonderful as Diana’s that night. She danced and danced and quickly lost count of the GIs with whom she met and danced. Her head was a whirl with sweet nothings and compliments whispered in her ear, and although she only drank Coca-Cola, it might as well have been champagne. Diana pretended to be much older than she really was, casually giving her age as seventeen when asked, and revelling in the fact that they believed her. That evening Diana felt she had grown up, she was now an adult, and not yet at thirteen years old pleaded with her mother to let her go again and again. Diana’s mother did let her go and in fact accompanied her every Sunday, often returning home with a large bag filled with sugar, butter and anything else she could obtain. So life went on in a happy, carefree whirl of dances, dates and parties.
There was nothing to worry about, except what would happen when the war ended and all those exciting Americans went home. By late 1945, the war in Europe was over and coming to a halt in the Pacific. There were VE celebrations, more parties, more dances, and less and less time for her studies. But her burning ambition was still there. To go to this enchanted land called America, and of course become a famous film star.
Toward the end of their stay near Swindon, the Americans opened a large college for servicemen whose studies had been interrupted by the war and who wished to resume them. It was about this time that on holiday in Weston, Diana entered her first beauty contest to find a pin-up girl for Soldier magazine. Having given her age as seventeen and wearing a scarlet and white swim suit to her delight and amazement, Diana came third. Now her father had to be told…Diana’s photograph would be appearing in the Swindon newspaper, and it was with the publication of this photo that an art professor at the American college called and asked Diana if she would pose for his art classes…in a swim suit of course.
Very flattered, she accepted a fee of one guinea an hour, and as she posed on the platform she at last thought she was getting somewhere, especially with the professor comparing her to the powers and Conover models whom she gazed at in the American film magazines given to her by her GI friends.
Before long she was asked to take part in theatre productions there too, for she lost no time in making it known that she would like to be a film actress. She first appeared in A Weekend in Paris and then Death Takes a Holiday, in which she played the lead for one week and received rave reviews in the campus paper. She also sang on the college radio station, which her parents could pick up on their home radio. It was all very exciting, and with so much going on she decided to leave school altogether, wheedling her way round her father to let her attend an acting academy in London once a week instead. He wasn’t happy about Diana going on the stage. He announced, “I’ve seen too much of what happens, and too often the way to success is through a bedroom door”, but realising he was wasting his money sending Diana to ordinary school. He agreed on the understanding that she study for a teachers diploma and return to Swindon to teach elocution. Thrilled with yet another victory, she left her hated school and journeyed to London each week for a private acting class with Miss Kathleen Cunningham at the London Academy of Dramatic Art. Mary Fluck as usual accompanied her daughter.
Finally it happened. The Americans went home. Never before had Diana felt so disconsolate or miserable. The bottom had dropped out of her world and nothing could make her feel better. Swindon seemed duller and greyer than ever, not even the local boys could compensate for what she had lost. She had to get out of there; it was her new driving force, time was slipping by. Diana was fourteen years old and she thought she had done nothing with her life except physically grow up.