Believing that Diana would return one day to teach elocution and not continue with her plan to become an actress, her father finally agreed that Diana could attend the London academy full-time, instead of once a week. He had been assured by Miss Cunningham, and by her elocution teacher, Mrs Barraclough, that this was one area in which she shone. He had been promised by the head of the Academy, Wilfred Foulis that she would come to no harm under his guidance. Diana’s welfare had been solemnly and sensibly confirmed by Miss Whipp, who ran the YWCA hostel around the corner from LAMDA.
Diana left Swindon one cold January afternoon in 1946, sporting a green suitcase and a return ticket, promising that she would return home every weekend. Her father lectured her all the way to the station, letting her know he was giving her her big change in life. “Failure is unthinkable”, he had said, and would occur if she did not work hard and concentrate on her studies. Mary Fluck who, although happy that her daughter was setting out to do things she had never had the opportunity to do, felt broken hearted. Her life was ending, for the void Diana left would never be filled again.
On arrival at the Earls Court YWCA Diana gave Miss Whipp her blue ration book, for being under eighteen she was entitled to extra food, which was still rationed even though the war was over. Diana settled down to her first night in London, and away from home, in a room with three other girls, two of whom were also studying at LAMDA. At seven the following morning Diana was abruptly awakened from her sleep by a loud clanging bell. Thinking the place had caught fire, she leapt from her bed only to find – rather like a prison – it was the waking up bell. The YWCA did not provide lunch, only an evening meal. Diana was on a tight budget, £2 given to her by her father, £1.50 for room and board, and the remaining 50p for her lunches throughout the week. He apparently intended that she venture no further than Earls Court and the acting academy each day.
Aged 13, Diana’s first pin-up photograph. Taken by a local newspaper photographer, Percy J Evans, following her win at the Weston-Super-Mare bathing beauty contest.
At ten, classes commenced at LAMDA, Diana presented herself there, feeling that she had begun her first steps to stardom. At fourteen Diana was the youngest full-time student the academy had ever had. As those first months went by Diana’s life took a rather uniform path. Days began with the wretched bell at seven, and then there were classes where those aspiring artistes studied the art of stage make-up, improvisation, film technique, Shakespeare, the other classics, miming and fencing. There were also lessons in how to fall down dead on the floor, in various ways depending on the cause of death, and other more unusual exercises.
Early LAMDA play
During these days Diana acquired an agent, The Gordon Harbord Agency. Mr Harbord called Diana to discuss a film which was being cast, Black Narcissus. She hurried to his office, heart pounding with excitement at the thought that her chance to become a film star had arrived. Diana was so disappointed when she did not get the role, it went to Jean Simmons, whose career at the time was soaring high and who played the part beautifully. Having experienced her first real set back to her ambitions, and with the wonderful optimism of youth, she set to rebuilding her career. One of her efforts, through the help of a newspaper photographer from the Swindon Advertiser, resulted in an evening job, for the princely sum of one guinea an hour, posing as a photographic model with the London Camera Club. Eventually Diana was asked, with the strictest propriety, if she would be prepared to remove her swimsuit. A serious discussion followed with her mother, and as her guinea was such a help with the expense of keeping her in London, it was decided she should do it. To Diana’s astonishment the reaction from her father was if she was prepared to pose nude for art classes then it was entirely up to her, a reasoning of a simple father who knew in his heart that Diana would go her own way no matter what he said.
Weeks went by, and Diana continued with her studies. The acting exams were due at the end of the summer term, and this involved long pieces from Shakespeare and other well known plays before an adjudicator. Peter Ustinov had already awarded her a bronze medal the previous term, and now she was attempting silver. The adjudicator for her silver exam was a casting director named Eric L’Epine Smith, and having watched Diana go through her paces called her out into the dark auditorium and told her she had won the medal with Honours. But the best news of all was that he was casting a film called The Shop At Sly Corner which had been a big success in a London theatre. He thought Diana would be perfect for a small part.
Diana’s head swam, she was breathless with excitement, what did it matter that it was a small part? Anything would have suited her then, even a ‘walk on’ part just so long as she could get in front of that camera in a film studio. Eric had a warning though, they must keep Diana’s age secret, for the time being anyhow. He told her, “The producer will think I’ve gone mad if I suggest such a young girl for the kind of part that this is. You’ll be able to prove your worth when we give you a screen test, so until then pretend you’re seventeen”. Of course this presented no problem to Diana who had for the last couple of years been pretending just that.
Publicity Still for ‘The Shop at Sly Corner’ 1947
Diana sailed through her scene, the role was that of a sexy tart, and with the help of a few drinks earlier in the day, the effect was exactly what was required. Her salary was fixed at £8 per day. There was only one problem, her name. Mr L’Epine Smith tactfully suggested that Diana lose her original surname, Fluck, ‘in case some people put vulgar connotations on it’. This lead to a somewhat heated scene in Harbord’s office when her father went to London to sign her contracts, as she was still very much a minor. Diana was not present when these discussions took place and could only imagine the problem it presented to Harbord. As usual, Mary Fluck came up with the solution by announcing that Diana’s grandmother’s maiden name had been Dors, and that in her opinion, two names beginning with the same letter had a strong sound for a film star. Diana Dors it should most decidedly be! Diana was not enamoured of the idea believing that her new name was not glamorous.
The role in the film took exactly three days to complete, and Diana returned to LAMDA, where everyone seemed to treat her with a certain amount of awe. She had appeared professionally in a film. Even Wilfred Foulis viewed her chances in a different light, for he had begun to assume the same opinion as her father; that she was a silly young girl who didn’t want to accept responsibilities and who would probably come to a ‘no-good end’. His forecast seemed even less likely when, some weeks later, Diana received a call from her agent to enquire if she could dance the ‘Jitterbug’. There was a sequence in a film called Holiday Camp being shot at Gainsborough Studios, and they would pay the princely sum of £10 for the day. Could she jitterbug indeed? Diana thought she was the best in the country, for hadn’t she performed this crazy dance every Saturday night with countless Americans at the Bradford Hall, Swindon?
Off she went to the studios, once again revelling in the atmosphere of the place, the arc lights, the actors and even the extras, of whom there were dozens on the day she was called. A large crowd-call had been assembled for the dance hall scenes in which Diana would appear. Diana was introduced to her partner, a young actor named John Blythe, with whom she would later appear in several films for the J. Arthur Rank Organisation. But on that winter day in 1946 the future was some distance away, although her ambitions were still set high and her hopes of Hollywood stardom seemed fast becoming more than dream.