Dors claimed to have left a large fortune to her son in her will, via a secret code in the possession of her third husband, actor Alan Lake, but after Lake’s suicide, this code was never found, and the whereabouts of the fortune remains a mystery.
Diana Mary Fluck was born in Swindon, Wiltshire, on 23 October 1931 at the Haven Nursing Home. Her mother Winifred Maud Mary (Payne) was married to Albert Edward Sidney Fluck. Mary had been having an affair with another man, and when she announced she was pregnant with Diana, she admitted she had no clear idea if he or her husband was the father.
Diana was educated at Colville House. She enjoyed the cinema; her heroines from the age of eight onwards were Hollywood actresses Veronica Lake, Lana Turner and Jean Harlow.
Having excelled in her elocution studies, after lying about her age, at 14 she was offered a place to study at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), becoming the college's youngest ever student. She lodged at the Earls Court YWCA, and supplemented her £2 per week allowance, most of which was spent on her lodgings, by posing for the London Camera Club for one guinea (£1.05) an hour. Signed to the Gordon Harbord Agency in her first term, she won a bronze medal, awarded by Peter Ustinov, and in her second won a silver with honours.
She had already acted in public theatre pieces for LAMDA productions. Her first film part was a walk-on piece that developed into a speaking part in The Shop at Sly Corner (1947), at a rate of £8 per day for three days. During the signing of contracts, in agreement with her father, she changed her contractual surname to Dors, the maiden name of her maternal grandmother; this was at the suggestion of her mother Mary. Dors later commented on her name:
They asked me to change my name. I suppose they were afraid that if my real name Diana Fluck was in lights and one of the lights blew ...
Returning to LAMDA, two weeks later she was asked by her agent to audition for Holiday Camp (1947) by dancing a jitterbug with actor John Blythe. Gainsborough Studios gave her the part at a pay rate of £10 per day for four days. Her next film was Dancing with Crime (1947), shot at Twickenham Studios opposite Richard Attenborough during the coldest winter for nearly 50 years, for which she was paid £10 per day for 15 days. Following her return to LAMDA, she graduated in spring 1947 by winning the London Films Cup, awarded to LAMDA by Sir Alexander Korda. She timed her return to Swindon to visit her parents, with the local release of The Shop at Sly Corner.
At the age of 16, she signed a contract with the Rank Organisation, and joined J. Arthur Rank's "Charm School" for young actors, subsequently appearing in many of their films.
She had a small role in The Calendar (1948), and a good part in Good-Time Girl (1948), as a troubled teen being warned at the beginning and end of the film. She had a bigger part in a B, Penny and the Pownall Case (1948), and a tiny role in a prestigious film, Oliver Twist (1948). After a bit in My Sister and I (1948), Dors was given a showy comic support part in Here Come the Huggetts (1949), a series that followed Holiday Camp. She was so well received that she returned for Vote for Huggett (1949).
Dors impressed in small roles in two further comedies It's Not Cricket (1949) and A Boy, a Girl and a Bike (1949).
Rank promoted Dors to leading roles in in 1949's Diamond City, a commercially unsuccessful story of a boom town in South Africa in 1870. Dors played a saloon owner. Better received was Dance Hall (1950), as one of the four female leads.
After an appearance with Barbara Murray in The Cat and the Canary at the Connaught Theatre, Worthing, she was contracted out to Elstree Studios. They cast her in the play Man of the World with Lionel Jeffries, which opened at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, and capped her works that year to win her Theatre World magazine's Actress of the Year Award. However, with Rank now £18 million in debt, Rank closed their "Charm School" and made Dors redundant.
She had a leading role in Worm's Eye View (1951), a popular comedy.
With her boyfriend in jail and having just undergone her first abortion, Dors met Dennis Hamilton Gittins in May 1951 while filming Lady Godiva Rides Again for Rank, a film which has uncredited appearances by Joan Collins, and a then-four months-pregnant Ruth Ellis. (Dors described herself as "the only sex symbol Britain has produced since Lady Godiva)". The couple married five weeks later at Caxton Hall on Monday, 3 July 1951.
Dors often played characters suffering from unrequited love, and by the mid-1950s, she was known as "the English Marilyn Monroe". Hamilton also made sure that she had the lifestyle attachments of a sex symbol, agreeing to a lease-deal with Rolls-Royce such that a headline could be created in the tabloids that, at the age of 20, she was the youngest registered keeper of a Rolls-Royce in the UK.
Hamilton went to great lengths to advance Dors' career and his income or influence from it. After her death, friends and biographers said that Hamilton would lend Dors out as a favour to hiring producers and leading actors, much as in the "casting couch" practices of Hollywood. In 1954, Hamilton had the idea of exploiting the newly printed technology of 3D. He engaged photographer Horace Roye to take a number of nude and seminude photographs of Dors which Hamilton subsequently had published in two forms; the seminude pictures were issued as a set called "Diana Dors 3D: the ultimate British Sex Symbol", which was sold together with a pair of 3D glasses; the full-nude test shot photographs became part of Roye's booklet "London Models" (1954).
Following the success of British film noir The Last Page (1952), producer Robert L. Lippert offered her a one-picture deal on condition she divorced Hamilton. Dors refused. She gained a second offer from Burt Lancaster for a lead role in his His Majesty O'Keefe (1954), but this time Hamilton turned down the part on her behalf before she even knew of the offer. The result was that her early career was restricted to mainly British films.
Dors returned to comedy, playing support roles in My Wife's Lodger (1952) and The Great Game (1953). She was the lead in the comic Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary? (1953) and had a support part in The Saint's Return (1954).
After another comedy, It's a Grand Life (1953) with Frank Randle, Dors had an excellent support part in a prison drama, The Weak and the Wicked (1954), directed by J. Lee Thompson and a big hit in Britain. She had a guest role in Thompson's As Long as They're Happy (1955) with Jack Buchanan and a good role in the popular A Kid for Two Farthings (1955). That year she was also in the comedies Miss Tulip Stays the Night (1955), Value for Money (1955) and An Alligator Named Daisy (1955), the last directed by Thompson. British exhibitors voted her the ninth-most popular British star at the box office in 1955.
Dors made a fourth film with Thompson, Yield to the Night (1956). It was a crime drama with Dors playing a role similar to Ruth Ellis. She received some of the best reviews of her career.
Dors' performance attracted interest in Hollywood. Signing a three-film contract with RKO Pictures on 20 June 1956, she left Southampton on board the Queen Elizabeth for New York City and then to Hollywood to start shooting The Unholy Wife (1957) and I Married a Woman. Due to meet Hollywood columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, interviews were arranged to be held at the Hollywood home of her friend, the celebrity hairdresser Teasy-Weasy Raymond, who owned a Spanish-style villa off Sunset Boulevard, formerly owned by Marlene Dietrich. To coincide with the publication of the articles, Hamilton and Raymond arranged a Hollywood launch party at Raymond's house in August 1956, with a guest list that included Doris Day, Eddie Fisher, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Liberace, Lana Turner, Ginger Rogers, and John Wayne. After 30 minutes while lining up next to Raymond's pool with her US agent Louis Shurr and her dress designer Howard Shoup, all four, including Dors and Hamilton, were pushed into the pool after the party crowd and photographers surged forward. Hamilton emerged from the pool and hit the first photographer before he could be restrained. The headlines in the National Enquirer read: "Miss Dors Go Home – And Take Mr. Dors With You". Because of the resulting negative publicity, the couple failed to buy Lana Turner's house, settling into a rental property in Coldwater Canyon.
Dors reportedly had an affair with Rod Steiger during the filming of The Unholy Wife, during which he broke off the affair in the October 1956 after Hamilton had started an affair with Raymond's estranged wife in London. After Dors announced her subsequent separation from Hamilton, RKO cancelled the contract on a morals clause because of her pending divorce, after only The Unholy Wife and I Married a Woman (1958) were completed. Dors left Hollywood, staying in the Dorchester in London for a single night, before reconciling with Hamilton for a period. Subsequently, she had her U.S. films distributed under the stage name Diana d'Ors to avoid bad publicity.
Neither Unholy Wife or I Married a Woman were popular at the box office.
Dors returned to England and supported Victor Mature in a trucking drama, The Long Haul (1957). She stayed in crime for Tread Softly Stranger (1958). She played an American in the French-Italian The Love Specialist (1958) and was a prostitute in Passport to Shame (1958).
During the summer of 1961, Dors shot "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", based on Robert Bloch's story, for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The episode was so gruesome that it was suppressed for decades. Dors also starred in a 1963 episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour titled "Run for Doom", co-starring John Gavin.
In February 1957 while filming The Long Haul, Dors started a relationship with co-star Victor Mature's stuntman, Tommy Yeardye. Details about the affair were reportedly leaked to the press by Yeardye. Hamilton discovered the relationship, and another period of separation began that led to divorce proceedings.
Following her final separation from Hamilton in 1958, Dors discovered that her company Diana Dors Ltd was in serious debt. Hamilton had steered the company toward the dual purpose of publicising his wife and helping himself, overpaying tax bills and establishing financial stability.
Having been forced by Hamilton to sign over all of her assets on their separation, and in need of money to pay her divorce lawyers and their accountants, she agreed to the suggestion of agent Joseph Collins to undertake a theatre-based cabaret tour entitled "The Diana Dors Show".
Yeardye suggested that they hire the comedian Dickie Dawson, later known as Richard Dawson. Dawson subsequently scripted the show and wrote most of the material. Dors started a relationship with Dawson and ended the relationship with Yeardye, who subsequently emptied her cash box at Harrods of £18,000 and sold his story to the media. This brought negative publicity to the show, but audience numbers remained high, which allowed Dors extra time to explain her affairs to a subsequent HM Revenue and Customs investigation of her cash holdings. In 1959, Hamilton died and Dors married Dawson in New York whilst making an appearance on The Steve Allen Show. "The Diana Dors Show" was commissioned for two studio-based series on television at ITV.
After the birth of her first child in February 1960, and wishing to stay in the United States with Dawson, Dors undertook a cabaret contract to headline at the Dunes hotel and casino in Las Vegas.
She appeared in some American films: On the Double (1961), a Danny Kaye comedy, and The Big Bankroll (1962), a crime film.
Dors returned to Britain to appear in Mrs. Gibbons' Boys (1962), West 11 (1963), The Counterfeit Constable (1964), and The Sandwich Man (1966).
Dors divorced Dawson in 1966 and returned to the UK, leaving behind her two sons Mark and Gary. She resumed cabaret work, and subsequently was served with a writ of bankruptcy in which she owed HMRC £40,208. As her popularity had fallen, this time she was touring working men's clubs.
Dors' film career was now strictly supporting roles: Danger Route (1967); Berserk! (1967), with Joan Crawford; Hammerhead (1968); Baby Love (1969); Deep End (1970); and There's a Girl in My Soup (1970). She had the lead role in a sitcom, Queenie's Castle (1970-72), which lasted for three seasons. Less popular was another sitcom in which she starred, All Our Saturdays (1973).
Dors' film work included Hannie Caulder (1971); The Pied Piper (1972); The Amazing Mr. Blunden (1972); Nothing but the Night (1972); Theatre of Blood (1973); Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1973); From Beyond the Grave (1973); and Craze (1974). In the mid-seventies she became in high demand for sex comedies: The Amorous Milkman (1975), Bedtime with Rosie (1975), What the Swedish Butler Saw (1975), Three for All (1976), Adventures of a Taxi Driver (1976), Keep It Up Downstairs (1976), Adventures of a Private Eye (1977) and Confessions from the David Galaxy Affair (1979).
The earliest recordings of Dors were two sides of a 78-rpm single released on HMV Records in 1953. The tracks were "I Feel So Mmmm" and "A Kiss and a Cuddle (and a Few Kind Words From You)". HMV also released sheet music featuring sultry photos of Dors on the cover. She also sang "The Hokey Pokey Polka" on the 1954 soundtrack for the film As Long As They're Happy.
Dors recorded only one complete album, the swing-themed Swinging Dors, in 1960. The LP was originally released on red vinyl and with a gatefold sleeve. The orchestra was conducted by Wally Stott.
She also sang as a special guest for the Italian TV show Un, due, tre (One, two, three, starring Ugo Tognazzi and Raimondo Vianello) on 31 May 1959, at the Teatro della Fiera in Milan, with orchestra conducted by Mario Bertolazzi.
She continued to record singles on various labels: "It's Too Late"/"So Little Time" (Fontana, 1964), "Security"/Gary" (Polydor, 1966), "Passing By"/"It's A Small World" (EMI 1977), and in 1982 although battling cancer, she recorded a single for the Nomis label, "Where Did They Go?"/"It's You Again" (the latter being a duet with her son, Gary Dawson). While promoting the single on TV, Dors claimed 'Where Did They Go?' had been especially written for her, but in fact, the track had been recorded originally by Sandie Shaw several years earlier.
Still making headlines in the News of the World and other print media in the late 1970s thanks to her adult parties, in her later years, Dors' status began to revive.
Although her film work consisted mainly of sex comedies, her popularity climbed thanks to her television work, where her wit, intelligence, and catchy one-liners developed as a cabaret performer won over viewers. She became a regular on Jokers Wild, Blankety Blank and Celebrity Squares, and was a regular guest on BBC Radio 2's The Law Game. She also had a recurring role in The Two Ronnies in 1980. A popular chat-show guest, an entire show – Russell Harty: At Home with Dors – came from the pool room of her home, Orchard Manor. Younger musical artists engaged her persona, brought about after the 1981 Adam and the Ants music video Prince Charming, where she played the fairy godmother opposite Adam Ant, who played a male Cinderella figure.
Having turned her life story into a cash flow through interviews and leaked tabloid stories, like many celebrities in their later careers, she turned to the autobiography to generate retirement cash. Between 1978 and 1984, she published four autobiographical books under her own name: For Adults Only, Behind Closed Dors, Dors by Diana, and A. to Z. of Men.
Having gone through her first round of cancer treatment, by the early 1980s Dors' hour-glass figure had become plumper, and she addressed the issue through co-authoring a diet book, and creating a diet and exercise VHS videocassette. This resulted in her working for TV-am, ITV's breakfast station, in the summer of 1983, in a regular slot focusing on diet and nutrition, which later developed into an agony aunt segment. As the cancer treatment took its toll again, though, her appearances became less frequent.
Diana Dors was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, in April 1957 when she was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre, and in October 1982, when Andrews surprised her at London's Royalty Theatre.
Dors was married three times:Dennis Hamilton Gittins (3 July 1951 – 3 January 1959, his death): married five weeks after meeting, at Caxton Hall; no children; lived in London, Berkshire, and Hollywood
Richard Dawson (12 April 1959 – 1966, divorced): married in New York; two sons, Mark Dawson and Gary Dawson; lived in London, New York, and Hollywood
Alan Lake (23 November 1968 – her death): married at Caxton Hall; one son, Jason Lake; lived at Orchard Manor, Sunningdale, Berkshire
In 1949, while filming Diamond City, she had a relationship with businessman Michael Caborn-Waterfield, the son of the Count Del-Colnaghi, who later founded the Ann Summers chain, which he named after his cousin/secretary. During the short relationship, Dors became pregnant, but Caborn-Waterfield paid for a back-street abortion, which took place on a kitchen table in Battersea. The relationship continued for a time, before Dors met Dennis Hamilton Gittins on the set of Lady Godiva Rides Again, with whom she had a second abortion in 1951.
Dors became a close friend of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, after Ellis had a bit part in Lady Godiva Rides Again, four years before she was executed by Albert Pierrepoint, having admitted to and been found guilty of shooting her lover. Through her husband Hamilton, Dors was also close friends with the notorious Kray twins and their mother Violet.
During her relationship with Hamilton and until a few months before her death, Dors regularly held adult parties at her home. There, a number of celebrities, amply supplied with alcohol and drugs, mixed with young starlets against a background of both softcore and hardcore porn films. Dors gave all her guests full access to the entire house; her son Jason Lake later alleged in various media interviews and publications that she had equipped it with 8 mm movie cameras. The young starlets were made aware of the arrangements and were allowed to attend for free in return for making sure that their celebrity partners performed in bed at the right camera angles. Dors would then enjoy watching the films the following morning, keeping an archive of the best performances.
Dors became an early subject of the "celebrity exposé" tabloids, appearing regularly in the News of the World. In large part, she brought this notoriety upon herself. In desperate need of cash after her separation from Hamilton in 1958, she gave an interview in which she described their lives and the adult group parties in full, frank detail. The interview was serialised in the tabloid for 12 weeks, followed by an extended six-week series of sensational stories, creating negative publicity. Subsequently, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, denounced Dors as a "wayward hussy".
Television news and film companies with more general interests, partly because of her popularity and partly because of who was attending the parties, were unwilling to repeat the stories until well after Dors' death. Her former lover and party guest Bob Monkhouse later commented in an interview after Dors' death, "The awkward part about an orgy, is that afterwards you're not too sure who to thank."
Dors died on 4 May 1984, aged 52, from a recurrence of ovarian cancer, first diagnosed two years before. She had converted to Catholicism in early 1973; hence, her funeral service was held at the Sacred Heart Church in Sunningdale on 11 May 1984, conducted by Father Theodore Fontanari. She was buried in Sunningdale Catholic Cemetery.
After her death, Alan Lake burned all of Dors' remaining clothes and fell into a depression. On 10 October 1984, Lake did a telephone interview with Daily Express journalist Jean Rook. He then walked into their son's bedroom and took his own life by firing a shotgun into his mouth. He was 43. This was five months after her death from cancer, and 16 years to the day since they had first met.
Her home for the previous 20 years, Orchard Manor, was sold by the solicitors. The house's contents were bulk-sold by Sotheby's, which sold her jewellery collection in an auction. After solicitors' bills, outstanding tax payments, death duties, and other distributions, the combined estate of Dors and Lake left little for the upkeep of their son (aged 14), who was subsequently made a ward of court to his half-brother Gary Dawson in Los Angeles.
Dors was portrayed by Keeley Hawes (younger) and Amanda Redman (older) in the TV biographical film The Blonde Bombshell (1999).
Dors apparently hid away what she claimed to be more than £2 million in banks across Europe. In 1982, she gave her son Mark Dawson a sheet of paper, on which she told him was a code that would reveal the whereabouts of the money. Alan Lake supposedly had the key that would crack the code, but as he had committed suicide, Dawson was left with an apparently unsolvable code.
Dawson sought out computer forensic specialists Inforenz, who recognised the encryption as the Vigenère cipher. Inforenz then used their own cryptanalysis software to suggest a ten-letter decryption key, DMARYFLUCK (short for Diana Mary Fluck, Dors's real name). Although Inforenz was then able to decode the entire message and link it to a bank statement found in some of Lake's papers, the location of the money is still unknown.
Some have speculated that there may have been a second sheet of paper, whose information might have led to the discovery of the money. Channel 4 made a television programme about the mystery, and created a website (now removed) where users could learn more and help solve the mystery.