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DIANE HART, the actress who has died aged 75, excelled in the expression of flighty femininity and affronted dignity; with her auburn hair, green eyes and waspish humour, she was sometimes compared to Coral Browne, with whom she shared a talent for sophisticated comedy and wry satire.
Her performances on the West End stage – whether as siren, wife, widow or mistress – exhibited a technique and personality which brought spark and polish to even the flattest theatrical scenes.
Diane Hart’s best-remembered stage roles came in such West End comedies as William Douglas-Home’s The Chiltern Hundreds (Vaudeville, 1947; New York, 1949), Terence Rattigan’s Who Is Sylvia? (Criterion, 1950), Andre Roussin’s The Little Hut (Lyric, 1952) and Ray Cooney and John Chapman’s Move Over, Mrs Markham (Vaudeville, 1972).
But her extra-curricular performances could be equally compelling. Although, in the reference books, she listed her hobby as “annoying critics”, she might just as easily have mentioned litigation.
Her most signal triumph in this field was in 1985, when she was awarded £15,000 in libel damages after a pornographic film called Electric Blue, 002 incorporated a clip taken from one of her own films, Games Lovers Play (1970), without her knowledge.
In the clip, Diane Hart was seen watching through a two-way mirror as her daughter, played by Joanna Lumley, cavorted in bed with a lover.
Contending that her own film was “no worse than Benny Hill”, Diane Hart said that she had known nothing of the new picture until, at the wedding reception of her daughter Claudia at the House of Lords, she had overheard one guest whispering to another: “Did you know Claudia’s mama was in a blue film?”
Having told the High Court that shoppers in Safeway had started giving her “funny looks”, she continued: “I was talking to the man doing my central heating, and he implied that I could afford much more than I said I could. He said: ‘They must have paid you a lot for that blue film’.”
In 1977 she had taken the actors’ union Equity to court to stop a referendum of their members over changes to union rules. Four years later she took on the Aga Khan Foundation United Kingdom; conducting the five-day case herself, she was awarded £750 damages at the High Court to compensate her for the noise caused by the construction of the Ismaili Centre opposite her home in London.
She also tried her hand at commerce. With a friend, a fellow actress called Pamela Manson, she set up a ladies’ underwear business in west London. Diane Hart was the designer, creating evening and bridal corsets in combinations of white and gold broderie anglaise, black over silver lame, and emerald covered in black net.
In 1961 the two entrepreneurs went to the Soviet Union to exploit this untapped market. Pamela explained: “We thought it was about time someone made the Russian women figure-conscious. If they wear corsets at all, which we doubt, they’re probably ones which came out of the Ark.
”So we’re taking our top-selling line, Beatnix, and lots of older models which were in fashion here some years ago. Frankly, we think they will be a better sell with the Russians than modern, snazzy, sexy little garments.“
Diane Hart also enjoyed the political process. In 1969 she attempted to set up a ”Women’s Party“, putting an anonymous advertisement in the personal columns of The Times which read: ”Ladies. Don’t just sit there. If you are sick of castles in the air, sit in the House of Commons. Wanted, 630 ladies willing to gamble £500 each fighting a constituency."
When she hired a room at Caxton Hall, London, for a rally, however, only about 40 women turned up. In the General Election of 1970 she stood unsuccessfully as an Independent in South Lewisham.
Diane Hart was born at Bedford on July 20 1926. She was educated at Abbot’s Hill School, King’s Langley, and went on to Rada in 1941, leaving after only two terms. Her first part in the West End was in Daughter Janie (Apollo, 1944), an American farce.
She worked with considerable success in the West End until, after a six-months’ stint as Mollie Ralston in The Mousetrap (Ambassadors 1953), she abandoned the stage for 11 years in favour of television and the cinema. Among her feature films were Enter Inspector Duval and Happy Go Lovely.
Her later theatrical roles included parts in The Bank Manager (East Grinstead, 1974), Miss Adams Will Be Waiting (Arnaud, Guildford, 1975) and The Pleasure Principle (New End, Hampstead 1989).
Diane Hart married, in 1950, the actor Kenneth MacLeod. They had two daughters.
- The Pleasure Principle, Traffic of the Stage
- Linda Lodge, Move Over Mrs Markham
- Joan Cadwallader, The Man Most Likely To…, Henry Sherwood Prouctions Ltd, Le Clare Productions Ltd, and Sherwood and Reid Ltd
- Susan, The Little Hut
- Susan (Replacement), The Little Hut
- Daphne / Doris / Nora, Who is Sylvia?
- Bessie, Yes, M’Lord
- Bessie, The Chiltern Hundreds
- Bessie, The Chiltern Hundreds
- Daughter Janie