Although Diana could be considered indulged, she was still a female child being raised in an age of male breadwinners and female homemakers. Men would generally hand over their wage packets to their wives; however, this is slightly deceiving as they often held back a significant percentage of their income for drinks down the pub and other such luxuries, while women ploughed the money into home and family.
When Diana set off on her London adventure at the age of fourteen to join the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art, it was with the financial backing of her parents. Despite her father begrudgingly accepting Diana’s desire to take acting lessons, she was under a heavy burden of expectation. It was expected she would fail and return home to teach elocution lessons or become a secretary. Perhaps she would eventually marry the ‘decent sort of chap’ her father had in mind for his only daughter’s future.
Diana’s father kept his daughter under control by giving her just enough money for her accommodation at the YWCA, lunches, travel to and from the Academy each day, and weekly train fare home at the weekend. She defied everyone’s expectations and signed her first contract with the Rank Organisation. At this point she professed little interest in her income, and she allowed her father to take care of her finances. She said, ‘money was the last thing I cared about. My real concern was acting and making films’.
Diana earned extra money modelling for the Camera Club and she was often handed cash after completing acting assignments. It would be true to say she lived for the day, spending money on parties, ‘friends’ and the young men in her life. This was soon to change. Rank were having financial difficulties and eventually made their contract artistes, including Diana, redundant. Diana, unable to put the brakes on her spending, resorted to writing post dated cheques and borrowing money.
Around this time she met the man who would alter the direction of her career and change everything. Dennis Hamilton breezed into Diana’s life with devastating charm. Later she denied that she had ever been in love with him, but she clearly was under his influence. In 1951, within weeks of meeting him, he convinced her they should get married. It was here that Diana’s financial turmoil began in earnest. Their marriage would unfortunately result in her becoming as famous for her court appearances and bankruptcy exploits as for her acting career.
Dennis had an inability to live within his means. He took control of Diana’s life and career, making decisions on which jobs she could accept, disregarding her art, chasing the money, and turning down roles that would further Diana’s reputation as an actress. For example, he chose to accept cabaret and Revue roles on her behalf because they commanded a higher salary.
Their marriage was never built to last, but even after they separated Dennis managed her financial and business affairs. He purchased property, cars and a boat without consulting Diana in the decision making process.
When Dennis died suddenly in 1959 he left no assets to Diana. Although living separately, they had still been married, which resulted in Diana having to pick up the debts he had left behind. Diana carried the financial burden of Dennis’s debts over to her second marriage, claiming in her bankruptcy trial that when the marriage had ended she signed away £100,000 worth of assets ‘at the point of a gun’.
Diana continued the pattern of giving financial and career control to husband number two, British-American actor Richard ‘Dickie’ Dawson. She was once again the breadwinner of the family, and a working mother of two young sons, Mark and Gary. Diana’s work ethic was beyond reproach - she would do whatever it took too keep her children in the lifestyle they had become accustomed to whilst living in California.
Sadly, the marriage to Dickie was doomed and Diana returned to London, leaving her children with their father. Consequently, on her return Diana had to face the British taxman, as tax bills had been avoided by the men in charge of her finances over the years. Everything Diana had worked for had been left behind in California and her finances were a mess. However, she felt that she needed a home for her sons to stay when they were visiting.
A deal was struck. Diana would allow Dickie to divorce her, and he would keep custody of the boys and the family home in America, avoiding the reach of the British tax system. In return, Diana would have open visitation rights and would buy Orchard Manor, in Sunningdale, Berkshire, with money from the boy’s trust fund.
On 23 November 1968, Diana married her third and final husband, the actor Alan Lake, who famously declared ‘at least no one can say I’m marrying her for her money.’ Still broke, and despite difficult times, Diana took control of her finances. She insisted on being paid in cash, negotiated her own prices, and took jobs that many of her fellow Bombshells would have refused.
Years after Diana’s death in 1984, her son Mark took part in a documentary called Who Got Diana Dors’ Millions. Diana had allegedly stashed cash in secret bank accounts. Before she died she gave Mark a piece of paper with what appeared to be one half of a code Alan held the key to but sadly he died before the code could be fully unlocked.
By letting men take control of financial decisions Diana lived much of her life like many women of her era. However, she did break from these norms by eventually taking complete control of her money and her career. And who knows? Perhaps she really had been secreting away the millions she earned all along, and they are still tucked away in a place only she knows.
By Shar Daws