Peaky Blinders: The Real Diana Mitford, Blackshirts and British Fascism  

Who was Diana Mosley, the real historical character encountered by Tommy Shelby in season six?

Peaky Blinders Amber Anderson as Diana Mosley
Photo: BBC

Warning: contains spoilers for Peaky Blinders season 6 episode 2 ‘Black Shirt

At the end of every Peaky Blinders episode comes the expected fiction disclaimer declaring that its names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. The usual next line about “any resemblance to persons living or dead” being purely coincidental isn’t included, for the obvious reason that several of the show’s characters don’t just bear a resemblance to persons living or dead, they’re unequivocally them. Charlie Chaplin, Oswald Mosley, Winston Churchill… The latest is Lady Diana Mitford, played by Amber Anderson (Strike, Emma.).

Peaky Blinders season six is currently taking place in early 1934, when the real Diana was 24 years old. She was one of seven Mitford siblings including six sisters whose lives were endlessly reported by the contemporary press due to romantic scandals, a range of published writing including Nancy Mitford’s comic and biographically inspired novels, and Diana and Unity Mitford’s ties to British fascism and Adolf Hitler.

A renowned beauty, Diana married brewing heir Bryan Guinness aged 18, but divorced him four years later after starting a relationship with anti-Semitic politician Oswald Mosley, by then leader of the British Union of Fascists. Speaking to Mavis Nicholson in this 1977 television interview, Diana recalled being drawn to Mosley’s charisma and cleverness, citing general dissatisfaction with the National Government of the time and saying, “there was somebody who seemed to know the answer. Now, looking back, one sees that he was right.”  

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Peaky Blinders 6-2 Mosley and Diana

Unlike many others who shared Diana Mosley’s politics in the 1930s but later distanced themselves in the wake of the holocaust, she remained unrepentant about her Nazi sympathies, anti-Semitism and fascist beliefs. “When we knew Hitler, he hadn’t committed his crimes,” Diana maintained in 1977, arguing that other dictators including Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao had been responsible for more bloodshed than Hitler and yet continued to be visited – and as she saw it, endorsed – by British politicians.

After her divorce, Diana had intended to live alone as Mosley’s mistress. Instead, she became the second Mrs Mosley three years after the shock death of his first wife Lady Cynthia Curzon, from peritonitis following a perforated ulcer.

“Our friend in Berlin”

In 1933, the year that ‘Cimmie’ Mosley died, Diana and her younger sister Unity – a badge-wearing member of Mosley’s BUF – took a summer holiday to Bavaria. The choice of destination was partly due to curiosity about the newly appointed German Chancellor. Speaking in 1977 to interviewer Mavis Nicholson, described Hitler as a fascinating man whom everybody wanted to meet: “People don’t get from being an out of work painter to being dictator of a very big powerful evolved country like Germany unless they’ve got some very special thing within them, and obviously he had it.”

As described in Mary S. Lovell’s 2001 biography The Mitford Girls, through a society contact, the sisters secured tickets to the first Nuremberg rally, which Diana described in a personal letter as “a demonstration of hope in a nation that had known collective despair.” From that point on, Diana and Unity befriended Hitler and several high-ranking members of the Nazi Party, a friendship that became an obsession for Unity (who shot herself in the head in protest on the day that Britain went to war with Germany, but survived). Around that time, Diana suggested that Winston Churchill (a cousin of the Mitfords on his wife Clementine’s side) meet the German Chancellor, but he refused.

At this time, Oswald Mosley was holding regular fascist rallies in venues around the UK, which became known for violence when fights broke out between his supporters and protesters, as seen in the Peaky Blinders season five finale and season six, episode two ‘Black Shirt’ (so named for Mosley’s supporters’ Mussolini-inspired ‘camicia nere’ fascist uniform). These fights culminated in 1936’s Battle of Cable Street in London’s East End, in which Metropolitan police and Mosley’s supporters violently clashed with anti-fascist protesters.

Two days after the Battle of Cable Street, in October 1936, Diana and Oswald Mosley married in a secret ceremony in Berlin. Their wedding was held in the drawing room of apartments belonging to chief Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels and was attended by their “friend in Berlin” Adolf Hitler. Earlier that year, Diana and Unity had attended the 1936 Berlin Olympics as Goebbels’ particular guests.

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Oswald and Diana Mosley were fascists and sympathisers of the Nazi party who continued to regret Britain’s role in WWII throughout their lives. They had been in favour of making peace with Nazi Germany and had planned for Oswald Mosley to become Britain’s fascist leader. Instead, when Winston Churchill became PM in 1940, Oswald and Diana Mosley were imprisoned under the Defence Regulation 18B, which allowed for the internment without trial of those suspected to have Nazi sympathies or otherwise opposed to the war with Germany. They were released in 1943, and thereafter exiled from London. Oswald Mosley died near Paris in 1980, and Diana Mosley followed 23 years later in 2003.

Peaky Blinders season six continues on Sunday the 13th of March on BBC One at 9pm.

Peaky Blinders season six continues on Sunday the 13th of March.