Television Review

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The Independent Culture
A BLONDE is a blonde until she dies. This at least was true of the three former starlets each allotted a programme in the trilogy Arena: Blondes (BBC2): Jayne Mansfield, Diana Dors, Anita Ekberg. As Roland Rat was beginning his career on a nascent TV AM, Diana Dors was in the final stage of her life, as the show's celebrity weight watcher. The road from the Rank charm school to rank TV show was one littered with bad publicity, the occasional big part and bankruptcy. Yet she remained as devoted to her platinum hair as a nun to a wimple.

When Jayne Mansfield was killed in car crash in 1967, she was not - contrary to rumour - decapitated, but her blonde and bloody wig was found on the car's dashboard. It was purloined by press photographers at the scene of the accident.

"My hair, if it is not freshly washed, I won't go outside my gate," declared Anita Ekberg in last night's programme. "I owe it to my public." Her voice oscillated between a rattle and a bellow, in a broken English accent reminiscent of Hattie Jacques's cook in Carry On Abroad. Ekberg, the only surviving blonde of the trio of subjects in the series, held court in the kitchen of her Italian home. The crew were weak in the presence of someone who dismissed herself as a former beauty, whilst railing against the manner in which time ravages the flesh. "Why do we have to change like that?," she asked. "So drastically."

The erstwhile Miss Sweden's finest moment was the fountain scene in Fellini's La Dolce Vita. It did for her what the dress blowing image in The Seven Year Itch did for Marilyn Monroe. Ekberg, like Dors and Mansfield had a bad habit of falling for the wrong man. Between them, these women hitched up with gamblers, alcoholics and con men.

Arena revealed that even though each fitted the bill as a blonde, none of them were dumb. Essentially, Dors was a good actress, and Mansfield was an accomplished violinist and pianist, with five languages under her belt. Meanwhile Ekberg, now in her late-Sixties, has survived to find what she claims is her Dolce Vita - at home with her pets, her garden, and her celibacy.

In her last TV appearance before her death in the early 1980s, Diana Dors guested on a Des O'Connor show in which she revealed that she had cancer. It was possibly the only time in the history of his years at the fore of TV chat shows that Des didn't curl up with laughter, with tears raining down his cheeks.

He was at it again on the Des O'Connor Tonight Christmas Special (ITV). Barely had he fed comedian Frank Skinner the line for a funny story, than he was in convulsions of mirth on the couch. The charm of Des O'Connor's style of TV host is the complete absence of irony or self-conscious camp. He is one of the few remaining fossils from a bygone British era, when food was canned and laughter wasn't. It was a time when variety was king and impresarios went by the name of Bernard Delfont. Heinz may threaten salad cream, and the Dutch may ban Spam, but Des O'Connor and his ingredients remain the same. He is exactly what it says on the tin.

Robert Hanks is away