Past Events

The British Marilyn - Diana Dors

Lecture Series – Lynda Nead

  • 18 October 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 transformation of American glamour is most clearly demonstrated in the life and image of Diana Dors, who became known as the “British Marilyn”. The vulgar excess of the 1950s bombshell body troubled the deep-seated myth of British restraint and subtlety. It was, quite simply, too much, beyond containment and, in the end, it came down to a question of scale. The expansive female bodies of the 1950s demanded something more than existing flatscreen cinema technologies and these years saw an explosion of technological innovations such as CinemaScope, Cinerama, 3-D and Technicolor. This lecture considers blonde glamour of the 1950s and its relationship to developments in film technology.

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: Diana Dors wearing a strapless evening dress, 1954. Image courtesy of Diltz / Bridgeman Images (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.