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Morgan, Diana (1908-1996)

Main image of Morgan, Diana (1908-1996)

During the 1940s, Welsh-born Diana Morgan was probably best-known for the theatrical revues she wrote with her husband. However, she is remembered now as practically the only female member of the creative team at Ealing Studios, and one of the few women writers at work in the British film industry at that time.

She originally planned an acting career: she trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama and was appearing on the West End stage in the early 1930s. . However, she had already done some writing and, later in the decade, penned some highly successful stage revues with Robert MacDermot, who she married in 1934. Their stock-in-trade was light, satirical humour, and they had a talent for sneaking risqué jokes past the Lord Chamberlain, who censored theatrical shows.

In the early 1940s, she was taken on by Ealing Studios in a freelance capacity, to add the love interest to the screenplay of the 1941 film Ships with Wings (d. Sergei Nolbandov). On arrival, however, she was told by co-writer Patrick Kirwan that he was in charge of the love scenes and she should concentrate on the sea battles, for which she consulted a naval advisor. The following year, she worked more happily with Ealing regular Angus MacPhail on two contrasting projects: Go to Blazes, a short 'instructional' comedy starring Will Hay, and the dark war film Went the Day Well? (d. Alberto Cavalcanti), based on a short story by Graham Greene. Supernatural comedy The Halfway House (d. Basil Dearden, 1944) was their next collaboration, a film set in Morgan's native Wales. Morgan and MacPhail adapted a stage play, The Peaceful Inn, to give it a wartime theme, using the Welsh setting to lend it a Celtic otherworldliness.

While MacPhail was a very creative writer, Morgan complemented him with her gift for realistic dialogue and they made a good writing team. In Fiddlers Three (d. Harry Watt, 1944), another film with fantastic elements, they managed to include some rather lewd jokes - which Ealing head Michael Balcon, who was strongly against any adult content in his films, presumably failed to spot. Comic actors Tommy Trinder and Sonny Hale play modern-day sailors who find themselves transported back to Nero's Rome, leading to some bizarre adventures. Again, the war is alluded to through jokes referring to salvage and limits on the depth of bathwater, as well as humorous comparisons between the dictatorships of Nero and Hitler.

Morgan's only solo credit for Ealing was the Robert Hamer film Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945), the tale of a barmaid who murders her husband and tries to pin the crime on an innocent admirer. Morgan felt that Hamer was the only director at Ealing who could really direct women and the two had an excellent working relationship. Along with MacPhail and Charles Crichton, they formed a rather exclusive clique at the studio, perhaps a buffer against the relentlessly male environment, in which Morgan was referred to, apparently affectionately, as 'the Welsh bitch'.

In 1949 Morgan wrote the screenplay for her first non-Ealing film, Poet's Pub (d. Frederick Wilson), based on a novel by Eric Linklater, but she returned to Ealing for another Welsh-themed film, A Run for Your Money (d. Charles Frend), for which she was credited with 'additional dialogue' - although she actually wrote most of the screenplay. Her final film for Ealing was Dance Hall (d. Crichton, 1950), which featured a largely female ensemble cast, and which she co-wrote with E.V.H. Emmett and Alexander Mackendrick.

She was credited on two more films in the 1950s, The Woman's Angle (d. Leslie Arliss, 1952) and Technicolor musical Let's Be Happy (d. Henry Levin, 1956), starring Vera-Ellen, for which Morgan adapted the original stage version. Thereafter she mainly wrote for television; although her husband was head of BBC Drama from 1948, her credits were for commercial companies, including episodes of the anthology series Douglas Fairbanks Jr Presents (ITV, 1953-57) and the medical soap Emergency - Ward 10 (ITV, 1957-67).

Her final film script was for the film Hand in Hand, made in 1960. Directed by Philip Leacock, it deals with the friendship between a Jewish and a Roman Catholic child, and their attempts to understand each others' religions, showing much more tolerance than their parents. The film won several international awards, including a Golden Globe for 'Best Film Promoting International Understanding'.

After MacDermot's death in 1964, Morgan continued to write for the stage and lived on until 9 December 1996. Pink String and Sealing Wax was her key contribution to Ealing's output, but in a studio as overwhelmingly male as Ealing, she often struggled to get either the opportunities or the credit she deserved. However, her ear for natural dialogue, along with her sharp wit and professionalism, made her ideally placed to contribute to Ealing's realist project.

Jo Botting

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Dance Hall (1950)Dance Hall (1950)

Low-key drama about factory workers and their evening escapades

Thumbnail image of Go to Blazes (1942)Go to Blazes (1942)

Will Hay shows how not to deal with fire bombs in a comic instructional film

Thumbnail image of Halfway House, The (1944)Halfway House, The (1944)

Unusual cross between ghost story and WWII propaganda film

Thumbnail image of Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945)Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945)

Family and class conflict, murder and blackmail in Victorian Brighton

Thumbnail image of Ships with Wings (1941)Ships with Wings (1941)

Stiff-upper-lipped Ealing war film celebrating the Fleet Air Arm

Thumbnail image of Went the Day Well? (1942)Went the Day Well? (1942)

Chilling classic imagining a brutal Nazi invasion of a small English village

Thumbnail image of Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel, The (1955)Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel, The (1955)

Marius Goring plays the mysterious saviour of French aristocrats

Thumbnail image of Emergency - Ward 10 (1957-67)Emergency - Ward 10 (1957-67)

British TV's first long-running medical drama series

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Who's Who at EalingWho's Who at Ealing

Meet the team at 'the studio with team spirit'

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of MacPhail, Angus (1903-1962)MacPhail, Angus (1903-1962)


Thumbnail image of Ealing Studios (1938-59)Ealing Studios (1938-59)

Film Studio, Production Company