Night Des and Diana starred at Sankey's canteen

As the diners opened the menu for their Christmas "do" at the Hadley Works canteen, their eyes almost popped out.

Des O'Connor was on the bill. Which is true, but that's not why their eyes nearly popped out. The voluptuous Diana Dors, the great blonde bombshell of the day, was topping the bill!

The place of the late, great Des as second fiddle to Diana was underlined when the Shropshire Star published a photo of the event on the following Monday – concentrating on her and having Des partly cropped off in the background.

Des however was already a star in his own right, and had a Shropshire connection through his National Service days. He did his initial recruit training at RAF Bridgnorth in 1949, and if his obituaries are right, it may have been while there that he first started to develop his showbiz career.

But back to that Saturday evening, December 12, 1964, at the Sankey's canteen in Hadley, when it seems the organisers of the Christmas dinner for the foremen and supervisory staff sprang a star-studded surprise.

Des and Diana at Hadley, December 12, 1964 – Diana topped the bill but Des outshone her on the night.

Here's how the Shropshire Star the following Monday reported things: "Hundreds of eyes boggled unbelievingly when the turkey-and-Christmas-pud menus were opened. As the event was a stag one, the men, young, middle-aged and elderly, were more enthusiastic than ever when they saw the name of the star who was appearing in the cabaret.

"It was, they gulped, the all-woman woman, the one and only blonde bombshell... Diana Dors.

"As they ate their dinner, Miss Dors was the one topic of conversation. As they supped their ale and had a smoke, Miss Dors was the one topic of conversation. Miss Dors came at the end of the star-studded bill.

"The tone for the evening had been set. Des O'Connor was as funny as ever and proved a hit. Saveen, with Daisy May and Co, also went down well.

"The works' own Sankey of Wellington Male Voice Choir had gone through half a dozen numbers with their usual brilliance and polish.

"Then... the moment had come. Miss Dors wiggled out on to the stage in a full-length glittering dress to thunderous applause. But the act, when it actually came down to it, did not seem to go down as well as most anticipated...

"But that's showbusiness."


According to veteran Bridgnorth historian Clive Gwilt, Des did his initial National Service at RAF Bridgnorth, and this seems to be confirmed by a contribution on a website comprising memories of recruits at the base from one Geordie Heward.

"The winter of 1949/50 was one of the coldest on record. Shrewsbury had the lowest temperature in the British Isles. Mess tin hinges froze solid within two minutes of leaving the mess," he wrote.

"Harold Brandwood was in the end bed next to the Corporal's bunk and I'm almost sure that Des O'Connor was in the next bed. I should know, I stole his woollen gloves.

"After Christmas leave somebody had come back to camp and forgotten his gloves, so at any one time somebody in the hut didn't have a pair of gloves for the CO's inspection. Finding myself minus my gloves I helped myself to Des'.

"He was small, inoffensive and always smiling. It couldn't be anyone else but THE Des O'Connor of television fame. So if you're reading this Des, it was me!"

According to the obits for Des, he first got a taste of performing during his National Service in the RAF. Bridgnorth was where recruits did their first few weeks' training, and it is not clear if Des cut his entertainment teeth there, or after being posted elsewhere.

In any event, he is said to have entertained his friends with impressions of their commanding officers. On one occasion, one of his seniors overheard him and encouraged him to perform at their concert party.

Des's career was on its way.

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