Past Events

British Blonde - Screenings and Panel Discussion

Lecture Series – Lynda Nead, Sarah Street, John Wyver, Catherine Grant, Melanie Williams

  • 15 November 2023
  • 6:30 – 7:30 pm
  • A talk as part of the Mellon Lecture Series 'British Blonde: Women, Desire and the Image in Post-War Britain' delivered by Professor Lynda Nead.
  • Gorvy Lecture Theatre, V&A Museum

These lectures look at post-war Britain through changing styles of femininity that expressed many of the key concerns of the nation in the twenty-five years that followed the end of the Second World War. In the 1950s, American glamour was exported to a war-torn Britain, part of a larger passage of commodities that crossed the Atlantic in this period. In the process, however, something important happened, blonde became British, Marilyn Monroe became Diana Dors. The lectures capture this process as it evolved through the 1950s and 1960s and was subjected to the changing definitions of class, social aspiration and desire that shaped the post-war nation.

Drawing on a wide range of visual media and forms including painting, film, photography, advertising and fashion the lectures offer a new history of the art and culture of post-war Britain.

The Paul Mellon Centre has commissioned four new, short video essays from filmmakers Catherine Grant and John Wyver that respond to the arguments and materials in the lecture series. Exploring the medium of the essay film, they work with still and moving images to develop ideas concerning women and desire and the visual imagery of Diana Dors, Barbara Windsor, Ruth Ellis and Pauline Boty. The fifth session in this lecture series will be the first public screenings of these films, along with a panel discussion including Professor Sarah C J Street (University of Bristol) and Professor Melanie Williams (University of East Anglia).

Catherine Grant is honorary professor at Aarhus Universitet, Denmark, honorary research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London, where she was professor of digital media and screen studies until 2020, and senior research fellow at the University of Reading, UK. She carries out her film and moving image studies research mostly in the form of remix-based video essays and is a founding co-editor of the award-winning journal, [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies.

John Wyver is a writer, producer and director with Illuminations, and professor of the arts on screen, University of Westminster. He collaborated with Lynda Nead on the multimedia article “Bert Hardy: Exercises with Photography and Film”, British Art Studies Issue 15.

The Paul Mellon lectures, which are named in honour of the philanthropist and collector of British art, Paul Mellon (1907-1999), were inaugurated in 1994 when Professor Francis Haskell delivered the first series at the National Gallery in London. The model for the series was the Andrew W. Mellon lectures, established in 1949 in honour of Paul Mellon’s father, the founder of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Co-organised by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and the Yale Center for British Art, the lectures are biennial, given by a distinguished historian of British art. This lecture series will take place at the V&A in London and at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven.

Tickets: £5 per lecture

Location: V&A - Enter via the Secretariat Gate entrance on Cromwell Road (just past the V&A’s main entrance). All other entrances will be closed.

Entry from 18.00 (arrive at least 10 mins before lecture starts to allow time to walk to the Gorvy Lecture Theatre).

V&A Secretariat Gate Location Map

V&A Secretariat Gate Location Map,

Image credits:

Diana Dors wearing a strapless evening dress, 1954. Image courtesy of Diltz / Bridgeman Images (All Rights Reserved)

Diana Dors featured on the cover of Picture Post, Vol 72, No 7, August 1956 (Liverpool: Hulton Press Ltd., 1956). Image courtesy of IPC Magazines / Picture Post / Getty Images (All Rights Reserved)

Ruth Ellis and her boyfriend David Blakely, c. 1955. Image courtesy of Manchester Mirror / Mirrorpix / Getty Images (All Rights Reserved)

Ruth Ellis, night club manageress poses in leopard skin for Captain Ritchie, 1954, probably in the flat above her club on the Brompton Road, Knightsbridge. Image courtesy of Hulton Archive / Stringer (All Rights Reserved)

Barbara Windsor by Daniel Farson, 1963. Image courtesy of the estate of Daniel Farson / National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG x22194) (All Rights Reserved)

Barbara Windsor, film still from Crooks in Cloisters, 1964. Image © Studiocanal Films Ltd. / Mary Evans (All Rights Reserved)

Pauline Boty by Michael Seymour, 1962. Collection National Portrait Gallery (NPG x88193). Image courtesy of Michael Seymour. (All Rights Reserved)

About the speakers

  • Headshot of Lynda Nead with window in background.

    Lynda Nead is Pevsner Professor of History of Art at Birkbeck, University of London. She has published widely on a range of art historical subjects and particularly on the history of British visual culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her most recent book is The Tiger in the Smoke: Art and Culture in Post-War Britain (Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press). She has a number of advisory roles in national art museums and galleries and is a Trustee of the Holburne Museum and of Campaign for the Arts. She is currently writing a book called British Blonde: Women, Desire and the Image in Post-War Britain.

  • John Wyver is a writer and media producer with Illuminations and Professor of the Arts on Screen, University of Westminster. His screen versions of stage productions and his documentaries about the arts have been honoured with a BAFTA Award, an International Emmy and a Peabody, and have been shown across the BBC, by Channel 4 and Sky as well as by foreign broadcasters and at numerous festivals. His publications include Screening the Royal Shakespeare Company: A Critical History (2019) and a forthcoming cultural history of early television, Magic Rays of Light (2025). His short films for British Blondes are collaborations with cinematographer and editor Todd MacDonald and graphic designer Ian Cross.

  • Catherine Grant is Honorary Professor at Aarhus Universitet, Denmark and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Reading, UK. She was Professor of Digital Media and Screen Studies at Birkbeck, University of London, until 2020. In that year, she was elected a member of the Film, Media and Visual Studies section of Academia Europaea. She carries out her film and moving image studies research mostly in the form of remix-based video essays. She also runs the Film Studies For Free social media platforms, and is a founding co-editor of the award-winning peer-reviewed journal [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film & Moving Image Studies.

  • Melanie Williams is Professor of Film and Television Studies at the University of East Anglia. A film historian with a particular focus on British cinema, she is author of David Lean, Female Stars of British Cinema, Transformation and Tradition in 1960s British Cinema, and most recently a BFI Film Classic book on A Taste of Honey. She has also co-edited the books British Women’s Cinema, Ealing Revisited, Shane Meadows: Critical Essays, and Sixties British Cinema Reconsidered, and co-edits the Journal of British Cinema and Television.