Rear Window: Flash, brash, and fawned over by Fleet Street - When scandal wasn't royal

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The Independent Online
LADY Docker - known by the press as 'naughty Norah' - was a sort of Fergie of the Fifties, exuberant and extravagant, liked by some and envied by others. She died 10 years ago today, in a room in the Great Western Hotel, Paddington; almost to the end, she drank her favourite pink champagne.

Lady Docker chose a good era in which to be a front-page celebrity. In those dour, post- war years there wasn't much glamour or excess around; the Royal Family, after the Abdication, had made a point of cultivating quiet, homely virtues and was, in any case, still protected by press deference and discretion. So people were cheered up, rather than made indignant, by Lady Docker's antics. She always hit the headlines; but the headlines rarely knocked her. She was married to Sir Bernard Docker, chairman of the Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) group of 50 companies, which included Daimler. They travelled in a gold-plated Daimler limousine, with zebra skin upholstery, and in a 863-tonne luxury yacht, the Shemara. Their lives were a series of publicity stunts: most famously, in the summer of 1954, they threw a party on the Shemara for 45 Leeds coalminers. Cassandra, the Daily Mirror's columnist, was invited. 'I did my darndest,' he wrote, 'to see if I couldn't squeeze a sneer from these colliers, suddenly cast into circumstances of almost appalling luxury. I failed. I failed completely.'

Lady Docker's behaviour was, by the standards of those years, scandalous. In Capri, she snatched off a harbour guard's beret and tossed it to the ground. Two summonses and pounds 25,000 in legal costs followed. She slapped a casino nightclub official across the face in Monte Carlo. A quarrel with the Monaco royal family - over the failure to invite her son, Lance, to the christening of their son, Prince Albert - ended with Lady Docker publicly tearing up the principality's flag and being banned from the country. But these were scandals of public behaviour; the subject, not the camera, made the running. Lady Docker's private life remained private. Even if men with telephoto lenses had been lurking in the bushes, it is doubtful that they would have seen much of interest: Lady Docker, it was said, never even undressed in front of her husband.

Though she mixed with royalty and aristocracy, part of Lady Docker's appeal was that she came from a humble background, and never lost the common touch. She was born Norah Turner, the second of four children, in a flat above a butcher's shop in Derby. The family later moved to Birmingham where her father, a car salesman, committed suicide when Norah was 16.

She went to dance school in London and became a hostess at the Cafe de Paris where she met Clement Callingham, chairman of Heneky's, the wine and spirit merchants. Norah then became pregnant by Callingham, a married man. She had an abortion and was later cited by Callingham's wife in a divorce action. For this reason, she was banned, years later, from the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. Callingham, whom she married in 1938, died at the end of the war. Then she married another millionaire, Sir William Collins, chairman of the Cerebos Salt Company - 'for his money'. He died after two years. Sir Bernard Docker, then 53, became her third millionaire husband in 1949. They remained married until his death in a Bournemouth nursing home nearly 30 years later.

Things began to go wrong for the Dockers in 1956. The board of BSA sacked Sir Bernard, partly because it had been charged a bill of pounds 7,910 for Lady Docker's outfits which were specially designed for the Paris Motor Show. The Dockers faded from the headlines in the 1960s, as people became more interested in young pop stars than ageing socialites.

Norah hated the 1960s and reckoned that, when the Beatles got their MBEs, it was the end of Britain's 'age of elegance'. Yet she never quite lost her talent for outrageous behaviour. As late as 1974 a Sunday newspaper reported that she had been thrown out of a Jersey hotel for using 'naughty language'. In the libel case that followed, Mr Justice Melford Stevenson observed that the paper's only real offence, in Lady Docker's eyes, was that the headline was not large enough. He awarded damages of a halfpenny and ordered her to pay her costs, estimated at pounds 1,500.

(Photograph omitted)

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