The British Marilyn Diana Dors

The lectures examine postwar Britain through the evolution of styles of femininity that reflected a variety of the most pressing issues of the nation during the 25 years following the conclusion of the Second World War. Through the 50s, American style was reintroduced to war-stricken Britain as part of the larger flow of goods that traversed the Atlantic during this time. However, during the process something significant happened: blondes changed into British, Marilyn Monroe became Diana Dors. The lectures document this transition in its evolution throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and was influenced by the shifting definitions of social aspiration, class and desires that defined the postwar country.

Drawing from a variety of visual mediums and forms such as film, painting, advertising, fashion, and photography, the lectures provide a fresh background of the culture and art that developed postwar Britain.

The evolution of American glamour is seen through the life and appearance of Diana Dors, who became popularly known for her role as “British Marilyn”. The raunchy excessiveness of the 1950s’ bombshell body shook the long-standing myth of British elegance and restraint. It was, simply,, over the top and, in final, the issue all came down to a problem of size. The huge female body in the 1950s demanded greater than the flatscreen cinema technologies. These times saw the explosion of technological advances like CinemaScope, Cinerama, 3-D and Technicolor. This talk examines the blonde glamour in the 1950s and its connection to advances in the field of film technology.

The Paul Mellon lectures, which were named in honor of the collector and philanthropist of British art, Paul Mellon (1907-1999) was inaugurated in 1994, when Prof. Francis Haskell delivered the first series at the National Gallery in London. The inspiration for this series were The Andrew W. Mellon lectures which were established in 1949 to honor Paul Mellon’s father who was the creator of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Co-organized with the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and the Yale Center for British Art. The lectures are biannual and are delivered by a renowned expert in the field and scholar of British art. The lecture series will take location at both the V&A in London as well as on the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven.

Place: V&A The location is the V&A Enter through the Secretariat Gate entranceon Cromwell Road (just passed the main entrance to the V&A). The other entrances will be shut.

Admission starts at 18.00 (arrive at least 10 minutes prior to when the commencement of the lecture to allow sufficient time for walking to Gorvy Lecture Theatre)

Credit: Diana Dors wearing a strapless dress for a formal evening, 1954. Image credit: Diltz / Bridgeman Images (All Rights Reserved)

About the speaker

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Lynda Nead is Pevsner Professor of History of Art at Birkbeck, University of London. She has published extensively on a wide range of art historical topics and has a particular focus on the history of British visual culture during the 19th and 20th centuries. She has published her most current book, The Tiger in the Smoke: Art and Culture in Post-War Britain (Published by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press). She holds a variety of advisory positions in national art galleries and museums and is a trustee of both the Holburne Museum and of Campaign for the Arts. She is currently working on the book British Blonde: Women, Desire and the image of Post-War Britain.


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