Caxton Hall in Westminster and the marriage of Diana Dors to Dennis Hamilton

The marriage of Diana Dors to Dennis Hamilton at Caxton Hall, July 1951

A very happy looking Diana Dors with Dennis Hamilton at Caxton Hall, July 1951

Diana Dors, the so-called English Marilyn Monroe, isn’t much mentioned these days and I suspect most people under the age of thirty hardly know who she is. Perhaps it’s not that unsurprising as it’s now over 25 years ago since she died. However for much of her life, in one way or another, the Swindon-born actress whose real name was Diana Fluck, was easily one of Britain’s biggest stars.

She married her first husband, Dennis Hamilton, at 4.pm 3rd July 1951 at Caxton Hall registry office in Westminster. She was just nineteen and already a film star.

Her parents, not over-enamoured with the proposed union, decided not to come, and Diana, who was still under the, then, legal age of 21, had to forge their signatures on the form that gave permission for their daughter to be married.

diana-and-dennis-marriage-3rd-may-51

after-the-wedding-dd-and-dh-kissing

Caxton Hall, 10 Caxton Street today

Caxton Hall, 10 Caxton Street today

Caxton Hall, now a redeveloped apartment and office block, wasn’t just a registry office favoured by celebrities, it was also the location for some fascinating political events in its time. The first meeting of the Suffragettes in 1906 was at Caxton Hall and it was often used for their rallies due to its close proximity to the Houses of Parliament and no doubt plenty of railings. Caxton Hall is now a listed building mainly because of its Suffragette associations.

A fearsome looking bunch of Suffragettes at Caxton Hall in 1908

A fearsome looking bunch of Suffragettes at Caxton Hall in 1908

Caxton Hall was also the scene of the assassination of Michael O’Dwyer by Udham Singh on March 13 1940. Tipperary-born O’Dwyer had been the Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab at the time of the infamous Amritsar massacre of 1919. Brigadier General O’Dyer, with O’Dwyer’s full connivance, ordered soldiers to open fire on a crowd of 20,000 Indian Independence supporters.

It was said that over 1,500 rounds of ammunition were used in just 15 seconds. The obvious result of which meant hundreds of protesters died in cold blood. Unfortunately for O’Dwyer, one of the victims was Udham Singh’s brother.

The day after the massacre the Brigadier received a telegram from Governor O’Dwyer which said:

“Your action correct. Lieutenant Governor approves.”

I’m not entirely sure the saying “revenge is a dish best served cold” exists in the Sikh language. It probably does, because over twenty years after the massacre, Singh pulled out a Smith and Wesson revolver at a meeting in Caxton Hall and fired six shots, two of which hit the former Punjab Governor, killing him instantly.

Udham Singh leaving Caxton Hall after his arrest, March 14th 1940

Udham Singh leaving Caxton Hall after his arrest, March 14th 1940

At his trial, Singh, not overly contrite, explained to the judge:

“I did it because I had a grudge against him, he deserved it.”

Truthful it may have been, but unsurprisingly his statement didn’t particularly help his cause, and on 31st July 1940 Udham Singh was hanged at Pentonville Prison. Maybe sooner than he would have expected, India gained independence seven years later.

As I mentioned earlier, Caxton Hall was the location for many a celebrity wedding during the fifties, sixties and seventies…

19 year old Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Wilding in 1952

Peter Sellers and Anne Howe, 15th September 1951

Peter Sellers and Anne Howe, 15th September 1951

Billy Butlin marrying his late wife's sister in 1959.

Billy Butlin marrying his late wife’s sister in 1959.

Wendy Richards marrying the business man Leonard Black in 1972

Wendy Richards marrying the business man Leonard Black in 1972

Roger Moore and Luisa Mattioli in 1969

Roger Moore after marrying his third wife Luisa Mattioli in 1969

Robin Nedwell and Jenny Handley in 1973.

An extraordinarily and unbelievably lucky Robin Nedwell standing next to an extraordinarily and unbelievably beautiful Jenny Handley in 1973.

Elizabeth Taylor back at Caxton Hall for the marriage of her son Michael Wilding jnr. in 1971

Elizabeth Taylor back at Caxton Hall for the marriage of her son Michael Wilding jnr. in 1971. He seems to be some kind of goth before goths were invented.

Back again. Peter Sellers leaving Caxton Hall with his third wife Miranda Quarry in 1970

Back again. Peter Sellers, looking disgustingly happy with himself, leaving Caxton Hall with his third wife Miranda Quarry in 1970.

Orson Welles marrying his third wife Paula Mori in 1955

Orson Welles marrying his third wife Paola Mori in 1955

The Caxton Hall wedding between Diana Dors and Dennis Hamilton wasn’t the smoothest of affairs. Before the ceremony the couple had posed for pictures outside (Hamilton had tipped off the press) but eventually the registrar tapped Hamilton on the shoulder and asked for a quiet word. The official discretely told him that he had received an anonymous phone call with the information that the marriage application had been forged.

Hamilton, furious, grabbed the registrar by the throat and shouted:

“You’ll marry us, all right, or I’ll knock your fucking teeth down your throat.”

The registrar decided to accidentally forget about the phone call and in the end officiated over the ceremony. Diana hadn’t seen the bullying side of Hamilton before but was now quietly impressed with his, what to her, seemed a rather exciting criminal glamour.

diana-and-dennis-with-pipe

They had met just five weeks previously after Dennis had chatted Diana up when asking her for a light. She was instantly charmed. Although Diana already had a boyfriend, a man of dubious morals named Michael Caborn-Waterfield, Hamilton sent her flowers almost daily. Unfortunately, Michael went to prison for a fortnight after one too many shady business deals and Dennis pounced. He proposed to Diana at the end of June 1951 and they became Mr and Mrs Hamilton just four days later.

Dors was in the middle of working on a film called Godiva Rides Again so there was no honeymoon after the wedding, just a meal in Olivelli’s in Store Street. The guests all paid for their own meals.

Lady Godiva Rides Again 1951

Lady Godiva Rides Again 1951

Diamond City, 1949

Diamond City, 1949

A Monroe-esque picture from 1950. Five years before the famous Marilyn Monroe picture.

A Monroe-esque picture from 1950. Five years before the famous Marilyn Monroe picture.

Diana in Folkestone the same month she married Dennis Hamilton

Diana in Folkestone the same month she married Dennis Hamilton

By the time of her wedding she had already been a contract girl for J Arthur Rank for five years and had made some fifteen films including a role in David Lean’s Oliver Twist.

She was certainly not untalented but had always struggled to find real noteworthy roles and a rather turbulent private life certainly didn’t help her cause. She had been renting a small flat off the Kings Road from 1949 for six guineas a week but was eventually thrown out after complaints from the neighbours for the endless parties, late nights and loud music. The nights must have been very late and the music very loud because she wrote in her first autobiography in 1960:

“I didn’t realise it but the cute flat was slap dab in the middle of one of the worst areas I could have established myself in, for Chelsea in those days, just after the war, was much wilder than it is today.”

In 1950, while seeing Caborn-Waterfield, she also had a traumatic illegal abortion, performed on a kitchen table in Battersea, for ten quid.

The ‘interesting’ private life didn’t disappear now that she was married to Hamilton. Not long after their wedding he introduced her to, what were basically, sex parties.

Dors and Hamilton in Cannes,1956

Dors and Hamilton in Cannes,1956

Just a few months after Diana and Dennis’s wedding, Bob Monkhouse, then a 24 year old up-and-coming script writer, was invited to one of their parties. The lights were very low when he got there with almost the only lumination coming from a 16mm projector showing hard core porn (stag films or blue movies as they were known then) and there was a faint smell of Amyl Nitrate in the air.

Monkhouse was quickly invited to bed by a very attractive and comely young dancer. It was a little too quickly and he soon realised that something wasn’t quite right. After his eyes adjusted to the darkness he saw that there was a false mirror on the ceiling and the other party guests were watching behind it. Furious, he stormed out of the room, with the ‘dancer’ shouting, “I think he’s a homo”. He was met by Dors in the hallway who said:

“Some people absolutely adore putting on a show, they come back to my parties just to do that.”

Bob Monkhouse in 1954

Bob Monkhouse in 1954

The following year Monkhouse and Dors met again at a Sunday evening radio show and they had a brief affair. Diana lied that her husband was in New York to lower Monkhouse’s guard. Eventually Hamilton found out about the affair and threatened Monkhouse with a cut-throat razor screaming at his face:

“I’m going to slit your eyeballs!”

Monkhouse only escaped by kneeing Hamilton in the groin and running away, but he once wrote that he had spent the next six years continually looking over his shoulder. He only had to worry for six years because in 1959 Dennis Hamilton suddenly died. His death was initially blamed on a heart attack but the day after the funeral Dors found out that he had died of tertiary syphilis. It never came to light, despite many autobiographies, whether she had contracted the disease herself.

Diana Dors made one acclaimed film in the fifties called Yield To The Night – a movie that was loosely based on the Ruth Ellis story but it’s not entirely unfair to say that she starred in some of the worst films ever made. After an unsuccessful foray to Hollywood (a public affair with Rod Steiger and and an incident where Hamilton beat up a photographer unconcious didn’t help), her film career, despite the very early promise, never really took off.

Dors would later complain that while Marilyn Monroe was making How To Marry A Millionaire in Hollywood, she was up in Manchester making It’s A Grand Life with the alcoholic northern comedian Frank Randle. Diana Dors was always a household name but it was her television guest appearances and roles in saucy sex comedies such as The Adventures of a Taxi Driver and Swedish Wildcats, that eventually kept her in the public eye.

She became the diet guru on GMTV in 1983 – where apparently she would weigh herself with all her heavy gold jewellery so it would look like she lost weight the following week. She died of protracted cancer the following year in 1984.

A year after Dors’ and Hamilton’s wedding back in 1952, the jazz drummer Louie Bellson (Duke Ellington called him the greatest ever) married the black Broadway star Pearl Bailey at Caxton Hall after a four day whirlwind romance. They came to London convinced that the wedding would attract less racial bias than back in New York, especially as Bellson’s father had said publicly that he “would have nothing to do with them if they go through with this”. The couple remained married until Bailey’s death in 1990.

By all accounts the wedding was a joyous affair, and if you listen to Bellson’s Caxton Hall Swing from his Skin Deep album released in 1954, I think you can tell.

Louie Bellson and Pearl Bailey outside Caxton Hall, November 1952.

Louie Bellson and Pearl Bailey outside Caxton Hall, November 1952.

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Louie Bellson – Caxton Hall Swing

Diana Dors – Roller Coaster Blues

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Buy Louie Bellson’s Skin Deep here

Buy Diana Dors’ Swingin’ Dors here

Buy the DVD of Yield To The Night here

Buy the DVD of It’s A Grand Life here

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36 Responses to “Caxton Hall in Westminster and the marriage of Diana Dors to Dennis Hamilton”

  1. VJESCI says:

    Eventually Hamilton found out about the affair and threatened Monkhouse with a cut-throat razor screaming at his face:

    ā€œIā€™m going to slit your eyeballs!ā€

    http://iamyouasheisme.files.wordpress.com/2007/10/un-chien-andalou4.jpg

  2. Simon says:

    Ginger Thompson – Boy Watcher

    The female version of that tune that I mentioned last post. Absolutely lovely, very summery, and quite possible my favourite Northern Soul tune.

  3. LondonLee says:

    Great story, she did seem to be one of those women attracted to dodgy blokes. Didn’t Barbara Windsor also hang around some criminal types?

    Robin Nedwell! That’s a name I’d completely forgotten. Whatever happened to him?

  4. nickelinthemachine says:

    I think Dennis Hamilton was almost relatively un-dodgy compared with some of the others she hung about with. You could write for years and years about her relationships. She took the virginity of Anthony Newley, went out briefly with Desmond ‘Naked Ape’ Morris in Swindon when she was a school girl. One of her boyfriends started Ann Summers, oh it just goes on and on. Her third husband Alan Lake was in the first ever Sweeney I think. But he was an alcoholic.

  5. Matt Tempest says:

    Seems to me Peter Sellars must have imbimbed years of party drugs between wedding number one and wedding number two – barely looks like the same human being.

  6. nickelinthemachine says:

    @ Matt Tempest

    And I just thought it was puppy fat in the earlier picture!

    Great name by the way. Please say its a real one.

  7. nickelinthemachine says:

    @ Londonlee

    Just looked, and he died of a heart attack ten years ago. Totally forgotten about now, isn’t he? I have to say that I would have had heart trouble if I had been married to Jenny Hanley.

    I maybe giving my age away here

  8. Matt Tempest says:

    It’s my real name. I should get together with that Gale Storm woman, who just had an obit in the Guardian this week.

    Great, great blog, by the way. I came to it via David Hepworth’s. Any advice on here would be like teaching grandma to suck eggs, but in case you’ve never read them – and no matter what you think of him – Kenneth Williams’ diaries are one of the ultimate London books. Always lived in Zone 1, always walked everywhere, observing as he went. Plus, of course, he committed suicide in Queen Alexandra Mansions, on Judd Street, in a flat where he cellophaned the bog seat so no visitors could use it. Had a touch of the Michael Jacksons viz a vee hygenie.

  9. nickelinthemachine says:

    I must write something on Kenneth Williams. I have read the diaries but years and years ago. Lent the book to someone but can’t remember who.

    I still remember his last written words, I think. “Oh, what’s the bloody point…” I know how he felt sometimes.

  10. Matt Tempest says:

    I used to live in Queen Alexandra Mansions, so not entirely objective, but then no fan of his ‘work’ either. But the diaries are proper little treasure troves of walking the West End, and restaurant dinners with Orton and the like. Like Alan Clarke MP, I guess, the diaries are better than the person!

  11. AMD says:

    I don’t condone murder, of course, but Udham Singh… well, there should be a bridge named after him.

    As ever, a wonderful post.

  12. Ed Vaughan says:

    Great stuff ; keep it up, as the actress said to the bishop.
    Does anyone know where Hannen Swaffer’s flat was overlooking Trafalgar Square, where the young, late Derek Jameson used to collect the great man’s stuff for the Beavers rag ?

    P.S. Yes ! I’m the Ed Vaughan who tried to halt Hilton Hotels converson of Caxton Hall, and preserve the Tudor Room where the retribution took place against the vile O’Dwyer.

  13. Annie says:

    I love Diana and Marilyn, I think their resemblance was purely a coincidence. What do you guys think?

  14. Gaurav says:

    Can a member of public go inside the caxton hall ???
    Please reply me please

  15. Alison says:

    Great post and fabulous blog.

    Diana Dors had a brief resurgence in 1981 when she starred in Adam and the Ants’ ‘Prince Charming’ video.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lCzIMacsEs

  16. federicA says:

    Orson Welles’ third wife name was Paola, not Paula :-)

  17. nickelinthemachine says:

    Thanks FedericA, I’ve changed it now. I did know that and it was just a typo. I promise.

  18. Paul says:

    I found this because interesting site whilst looking for information on the St James’ Hotel which was just down the road and on the opposite side from Caxton Hall. They had a bar which I frequented during it’s ‘Happy Hour’ in the mid 70s after a pint or three in a rather special private bar nearby known amongst its very exclusive users as ‘The Tank.’
    The Gents WC was on the first floor at the St James’ Hotel and on the way there you passed a shoe polishing machine at the top of the stairs, hence the common use of the phrase, “I’m just off to polish my boots!”
    In those days the patronage of the St James’ Hotel bar was almost as exclusive as the ‘Tank’ with a constant stream hurrying down to the ‘Happy Hour’ there for a little variation.
    Robin Nedwell died of a heart attack in 1999; I remember his obituary in The Times. I last saw him looking suitably hard [thanks to his haircut] providing suppressive fire in the film ‘Stand Up Virgin Soldiers’ and must admit I’d forgotten about him. Jenny Hanley, eh? I’m sure my cardiology would have looked very different too after a few years with her.
    Incidentaly, in her last years Diana Dors opened a gaming establishment situated in Norbury SW16 located on the London Road, junction with Norbury Crescent.
    That establishment, which I believe was named ‘Watertown’ is still open today but looking somewhat less pristine than it did. It was a few minutes walk from Diana Dors’ home in the Pollards Hill area and such was her diminished fame that her presence warranted just one police officer for public order matters as she opened the place.
    Thanks for posting a very interesting site and one which I will return to.

  19. Paul says:

    I found this interesting site whilst looking for information on the St James’ Hotel which was just down the road and on the opposite side from Caxton Hall. They had a bar which I frequented during it’s ‘Happy Hour’ in the mid 70s after a pint or three in a rather special private bar nearby known amongst its very exclusive users as ‘The Tank.’
    The Gents WC was on the first floor at the St James’ Hotel and on the way there you passed a shoe polishing machine at the top of the stairs, hence the common use of the phrase, “I’m just off to polish my boots!”
    In those days the patronage of the St James’ Hotel bar was almost as exclusive as the ‘Tank’ with a constant stream hurrying down to the ‘Happy Hour’ there for a little variation.
    Robin Nedwell died of a heart attack in 1999; I remember his obituary in The Times. I last saw him looking suitably hard [thanks to his haircut] providing suppressive fire in the film ‘Stand Up Virgin Soldiers’ and must admit I’d forgotten about him. Jenny Hanley, eh? I’m sure my cardiology would have looked very different too after a few years with her.
    Incidentaly, in her last years Diana Dors opened a gaming establishment situated in Norbury SW16 located on the London Road, junction with Norbury Crescent.
    That establishment, which I believe was named ‘Watertown’ is still open today but looking somewhat less pristine than it did. It was a few minutes walk from Diana Dors’ home in the Pollards Hill area and such was her diminished fame that her presence warranted just one police officer for public order matters as she opened the place.
    Thanks for posting a very interesting site and one which I will return to.

  20. Major Brown Eye says:

    Diana Dors opened a chip shop in Station Road Finchley, not long before her death.

    It was very exciting!

  21. Amy says:

    I did a photo search on the late Pearl Bailey and the late Louie Bellson both of whom I’m a fan of. Thanks, there was a bit more information than I already knew and I hadn’t seen that photo of them before.

  22. Mike says:

    She (DD) was very good in Yield to the Night, the story of which was broadly inspired by the events leading to the execution of Ruth Ellis who, incidentally, had made a brief appearance on screen in DD’s film Lady Godiva Rides Again. Small world ‘n all that….

  23. IAN PAYNE says:

    Lovely piece on the greatly missed and beautiful DD – lovely photo’s also.

    I have just read a book about Ruth Ellis by her sister and this is interestin :

    http://copperknob.wordpress.com/ruth-ellis-in-lady-godiva-rides-again/

    Stephen Ward is also mentioned in above piece and it would be interesting if NICKEL IN THE MACHINE did something on him also.

    The above film LADY GODIVA RIDES AGAIN also starred Joan Collins in her debut role with DD and Richard Wattis :

    http://www.walsall.gov.uk/news/new_look_at_walsall_screen_star.htm

    At present I am looking at an ILLUSTRATED MAGAZINE from August 30th 1952 of Sir Anthony Eden’s marriage to Clarrisa Eden outside Caxton Hall. If the webmaster wants a copy e-mail me.

    I also have loads on DD in Picturegoer mags from 1950′s.

  24. paul maybank says:

    mywed at the venue sisters linda and jacky maybank got wed at caxton hall, and it was the first time a double wed and two sisters got wed at caxton hall. there was alot of press , is there any photos, regards paul maybank, brother.

  25. Ms Stephen. says:

    Does any one know of Denis Hamiltons brother Ron? or got any stories?

  26. Morgan says:

    I am researching my father, and one of the stories he told me included Diana, I have always been a great fan of hers from an early age and to find, now at 51, that my father (79) knew Diana just makes things wonderful!

    I am hoping that as dad and I get together more often he will tell me more :)

    Watch out for the book!!!

  27. Kate says:

    Your insinuation that Robin Nedwell married Jenny Hanley is incorrect.
    As an acquaintance of the family, I should be grateful if you would remove this inaccuracy. Thank you.

  28. rahul menon says:

    though this is a bit diverting from the popular discussion, i wanted to share this information to the creator of the write up. Assassination of Michael O’Dwyer by Shaheed Sardar Udham Singh was of vengeance as you rightly mentioned, but not vengeance of his brothers death but sworn vengeance to the Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre On April 13, 1919(he was there and witnessed the deaths as a boy). His brother Sadhu Singh had died 2 years earlier in 1917.

  29. rahul katahri says:

    salute to saheed sardar udham singh.
    never forget.
    his another name. Ram mohamad azad singh.

  30. Denis says:

    I knew Ron in the late nineties when he frequented the Canterbury pub in Tewkesbury Gloucestershire. With my wife and two friends Bryan and his wife Joyce, who used to drink there, Ron decided to join us uninvited and then remained our drinking companion until one day in 1998, whilst sitting with Bryan and Joyce, after getting Bryan to fetch him a whiskey, he fell forward and died there and then. We were not sure that he was the brother of Dennis Hamilton until his family came to the wake.

  31. Zahid Aziz says:

    Muslims used to hold Eid prayers at Caxton Hall. For instance, Eid-ul-Adha prayers in October 1912 and Eid-ul-Fitr prayers (following Ramadan) in September 1913 were held there.

    In June 1917, Marmaduke Pickthall, convert to Islam, delivered a lecture at Caxton Hall on ‘Muslim Interests in Palestine’ under the auspices of the Central Islamic Society.

  32. RAKSHPAL SINGH SANGHA says:

    very interesting do like to visit inside CAXTON HALL

  33. IAN PAYNE says:

    Who can I apply to for permission to use the Diana Dors photos in my present project please :

    http://www.wscountytimes.co.uk/news/nostalgia/letter-diana-dors-request-1-3419371

  34. Kate says:

    I see my original post was ignored.
    There is an inaccuracy stating that Robin Nedwell married Jenny Handley.
    They did not get married and you can check these facts by searching any of the freely available ancestry/genealogy sites online.

    Please remove your ‘fact’ that Robin married Jenny, it is untrue. Thanks.

  35. Hello just wanted to give you a quick heads up.
    The words in your post seem to be running off the screen in Chrome.
    I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with internet browser
    compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you
    know. The design and style look great though! Hope you get the problem resolved
    soon. Cheers

  36. Emma says:

    Kate, where does it say that Robin Nedwell was married to Jenny Hanley? As far as I can see, the writer has merely said that he’s standing next to her! All the assumptions about them being married are in the comments, not in the text written by the website owner.

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