Past Events

Carry On Blonde – Barbara Windsor

Lecture Series – Lynda Nead

  • 1 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.

This lecture considers the role of humour in “British Blonde”, focusing on the Carry On films, a series of thirty-one British comedy films that ran from 1958 until 1992 and starred, amongst its regular cast, the British actor, Barbara Windsor. Carry On films drew on the traditions of music hall and seaside postcards and lent heavily on innuendo and double entendre, which Angela Carter has described as “everyday discourse which has been dipped in the infinite riches of a dirty mind”. Drawing on detailed sequences from Carry On films, this lecture reassesses post-war British humour and its role in defining woman as body and the female body as comic.

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

About the speaker

  • 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.