Britain has not seen such feverish excitement since the Coronation. Marilyn was about to arrive! For four months in 1956, the sexiest of all Hollywood stars would be ours — and the prospect seemed to drive people slightly crazy.

Across the country, voice coaches were teaching women how to imitate Marilyn Monroe’s breathy delivery, while lookalike contests took place in every conceivable venue. 

Police were called to Airdrie to deal with rioters outside North Lanarkshire’s town hall. At piers and other seaside venues, thousands queued to squeeze into wooden cut-outs of the star — to see if they shared the same curves as their idol.

Not since the Coronation had Britain experienced such a fever-pitch of excitement.

Britain had not experienced this level of fever since the Coronation.

Meanwhile, a 64-year-old woman whose house in Ascot had been rented for Marilyn’s stay — at £100 a week (the equivalent of £2,600 today) — was becoming a celebrity in her own right. Eileen Cotes Preedy poses for photos and welcomes the media to come have a look.

While one reporter laid down on Marilyn’s bed, another brought along a Marilyn-like Marilyn to sit on the edge. Mrs Cotes-Preedy confided she’d be buying an electric blanket — because she’d heard the 30-year-old star slept in the nude.

As Marilyn’s arrival approached, her landlady convinced herself they’d soon be best friends.

However, it wasn’t to be. Fed up with all the publicity, Marilyn’s film company had quietly rented another house — Parkside House in Englefield Green, Surrey.

She discovered that Mrs Cotes Preedy already had 40 flowers ordered for her new tenant.

Incensed at the change of plan, she wailed to the Daily Mail: ‘I wish I’d never heard of Marilyn Monroe.’

As the actress’s plane touched down at Heathrow on July 14, 1956, Sir Laurence Olivier was waiting for her in the terminal with his wife Vivien Leigh.

In the hope she’d finally be taken seriously as an actress, Marilyn had asked him to be her leading man and director in a film called The Sleeping Prince — later renamed The Prince And The Showgirl.

At a joint press conference in New York, Marilyn had called Olivier ‘a dreamboat’ and said England sounded ‘adorable’

At a joint press conference in New York, Marilyn had called Olivier ‘a dreamboat’ and said England sounded ‘adorable’

Who could ask for a more inspired pairing: the world’s most famous sex symbol and its greatest actor!

At a joint press conference in New York, Marilyn had called Olivier ‘a dreamboat’ and said England sounded ‘adorable’. The great man was so infatuated that he was afraid he would fall for someone.

In the event, however, Olivier’s ardour was cruelly dented.

Just weeks before leaving for Britain, Marilyn had married her third husband, the intellectual American playwright Arthur Miller — and she was bringing him along for a prolonged honeymoon.

‘I have never been so happy in my life,’ Marilyn said shortly after their wedding. ‘This is the first time I think I’ve really been in love.’

Once the couple’s 27 pieces of luggage (for which they paid the equivalent of more than £11,000 in excess baggage) had been disgorged from the plane, Marilyn and Olivier attended the first of four press conferences.

It was impossible to breath with the presence of up to 400 photographer and jostling writers. It was likened to the VE Day festivities by one newspaper.

What was she looking for in England? She replied that she wanted to buy a bike so that she could pedal down the country roads. And ‘see many things in London, including the little fellow with the bow and arrow in Piccadilly Circus — I’ve always wanted to meet him’.

Film star Marilyn Monroe (1926 - 1962) with her husband playwright, Arthur Miller

Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962), film star, with Arthur Miller, her husband and playwright.

Two Daily Sketch journalists triumphantly rode in the blue-and-white bicycle to the press conference and gave it to her. Although she was delighted, she later complained about how difficult it was to transport the bicycle in her hallway.

Every bike manufacturer in Britain offered her a complimentary gift.

Marilyn was a happy to answer any questions that were put forward.

Ambition? To be Lady Macbeth. Favorite composers Beethoven and Berlioz.

When a sneaky journalist stood up to ask which specific Beethoven symphonies she liked, she replied: ‘I have a terrible time with numbers. I know it when I hear it.’

Marilyn was present with Olivier, the other cast members at Pinewood Studios on July 19 for a reading-through. The read-through did not go as planned.

Olivier introduced her to her fellow guests and explained that it might take some time for her to adjust to how they worked, as her acting style was so different.

Marilyn felt shocked by his arrogance and was instantly on edge.

Determined to become a ‘serious’ actress, she’d been attending a New York drama school famous for ‘the Method’, a technique for completely immersing yourself in a role. To help with her part — playing a showgirl — Marilyn had insisted on bringing along a Method coach, Paula Strasberg.

Marilyn Monroe with Husband Arthur Miller arriving in London

Marilyn Monroe and Husband Arthur Miller arrive in London

This didn’t impress Olivier, who despised the Method and was horrified that Strasberg was being paid only slightly less than he was.

The atmosphere at the set became more chaotic over the next few days.

Olivier grew increasingly exasperated: as far as he was concerned, Strasberg’s only talent was telling her insecure client how wonderful she was.

But she wasn’t the only one being fawned over.

Third assistant director David Tringham remembered: ‘Olivier was surrounded by cronies, telling him how great he was. It was frosty between Marilyn and Olivier — he couldn’t handle it that she didn’t defer to him.’

Whenever she fluffed her lines, Olivier urged her to try again — but he’d be largely ignored as she turned to Strasberg for comfort. Many fluffs were made.

But if Olivier had reason to gnash his teeth, so did she — particularly when he said her teeth looked slightly yellow on film, and suggested she whiten them with baking soda and lemon juice.

Events came to a head when Olivier ordered Marilyn to be ‘sexy’ for a particular scene. She found this condescending and stormed out of the set.

Marilyn arrived at the studio almost every day late or spent hours in hiding with Strasberg while other actors were waiting to see her. Holding up the production was her way of punishing Olivier — whom she referred to sarcastically as ‘Mister Sir’ — for his lack of respect.

From then on, Marilyn almost always arrived late at the studio, or hid in her dressing-room with Strasberg for hours

Marilyn was almost always late to the studio or hiding in her dressing room with Strasberg until hours later.

Filming progressed and he became more moody. Any thoughts of falling for love were long forgotten. And he wasn’t the only one nursing grave reservations.

Observing the minimal effort Marilyn put into each scene, some cast members began to fret she’d ruin the whole film. These concerns were voiced by Sybil Thorndike, an actress of distinction. Olivier invited her to observe the day’s rushes to come up with her own conclusions.

She was shocked at the sight.

‘Instead of Marilyn’s timing being wrong, it was perfect; instead of muttering, her enunciation came through magnificently,’ she said two years later. ‘I consider Miss Monroe to be one of the best actresses in the world today.’

Arthur Miller was shocked to experience his first true immersion in Marilyn. After falling out with Olivier, she’d asked her 40-year-old husband to come on set as part of her support system — so he was witness to the daily tensions.

When he tried to reason with his wife or come up with compromises, however, she took that to mean he was siding with the ‘enemy’.

It was not the honeymoon you had hoped for. Sometimes, Miller felt like an employee who had to ensure Marilyn left the house on time — or to field angry calls from Pinewood if she had not.

Her addiction to prescription medications for appetite suppression and mood lifting was another source of her anguish. She also took sleeping pills to combat insomnia. However, her hysterical crying would sometimes wake her up in the middle the night.

Aware of how ultra-sensitive she was to criticism, Miller couldn’t share his feelings with Marilyn. Miller instead wrote his thoughts down in a secret journal.

It was six weeks later that she had arrived in Britain. She found it when searching for her script. She began to read the book after seeing her name written in an open notebook.

Marilyn shared the pages with friends, saying they contained his frustration in her. He no longer felt she was an angel in his life; he didn’t know how to answer Olivier’s complaints about her behaviour; and — according to Marilyn — ‘He said he agreed with Larry that I could be a b****.’

She was soon able to find the notebook and she was taken to hospital for a possible overdose.

On her return home, one witness to her state of mind was a young pianist called Alan who’d been hired to go to her rented house so she could practise the song she had to sing. ‘She was miserable and puffy and her temper was short,’ he said.

Miller flew home to the United States in spite of everything. The timing couldn’t have been worse, but his trip had been planned weeks before. Olivier was left struggling to find footage without Marilyn after Marilyn called in sick. Rumours began to circulate that she’d had a miscarriage.

Marilyn, in fact, was truly unwell. She had been diagnosed with neutropenia by doctors, which is a low level of white blood cells.

Endometriosis is a condition that affects the uterus. [a womb condition which often results in pain and fertility issues] since her teens, she’d also long had excruciatingly painful periods — which the lower-strength painkillers prescribed by British doctors were doing little to alleviate.

On Tuesday, September 4, a top gynaecologist specialising in endometriosis arrived at Marilyn’s home to examine her under anaesthesia. Miller was back in America on the next day and took the remainder of her week off.

On the Friday, however, it didn’t escape Olivier’s notice that Marilyn managed to don her glad rags and go to the theatre.

On days off, she’d put on a floppy hat, drop her famous wiggle and escape with Alan the piano player to see the sights.

A little lady from Trafalgar Square poked the woman in her ribs. ‘’Ere, you’re that Marilyn Monroe tart, ain’t ya?’ she said.

Alan recalled: ‘Marilyn looked down and in her “Queen” voice said, “Oh thank you, you’re so kind. I’m often being compared to her.”

‘“Snotty cow,” said the old woman and stormed off. Marilyn was in hysterics, laughing.’ In fact, Marilyn — who was a talented mimic — was soon to meet the Queen herself at a celebrity line-up for a Royal Command Performance.

Monroe with her second husband, baseball star Joe Dimaggio, who remained devoted to her until the end

Monroe and Joe Dimaggio her second husband. Joe was a baseball player who continued to be devoted until her death.

Warned to wear appropriately conservative clothing, Marilyn deliberately chose a gold-lamé gown with spaghetti straps and plunging neckline. This didn’t faze the Queen: she briefly looked the actress up and down, then allowed Marilyn to take her hand as she sank into a curtsy.

‘The Queen is very warm-hearted,’ Marilyn said afterwards. ‘She radiates sweetness. She asked how I liked living in Windsor, and I said, “What?!” And she said that as I was staying in Englefield Green, near to Windsor, we were neighbours. So, I told her that my husband and I went on bicycle rides in the park.’

In 1961, an unnamed ‘friend’ of the Queen said that after the 1956 Royal Command Performance, Her Majesty had become fascinated with Marilyn and watched every one of her movies. She apparently told the friend: ‘I thought Miss Monroe was a very sweet person. But I felt sorry for her, because she was so nervous that she had licked all her lipstick off.’

This is supported by footage from the event: Marilyn can be seen in line waiting for the Queen to come to her.

One of the toughest scenes of The Prince And The Showgirl to film — for both Marilyn and Olivier — was when their characters had to kiss. By then, they’d gone past the point where they even wanted to pretend to like each other.

The wait was long before the first usable kiss could be made.

Monroe with singer and actor Frank Sinatra, who she dated for several months in 1961

Monroe with Frank Sinatra, singer and actor who Monroe dated several months in 1961

Cold Case: History will go into production with Story House this fall, but it isn't the first series to look into Monroe's mysterious death

 Cold Case: History will go into production with Story House this fall, but it isn’t the first series to look into Monroe’s mysterious death

The assistant director David Tringham recalled: ‘There was just no chemistry. It was a fatal flaw — Marilyn looked as though she was talking to her father.’

True, 49-year-old Olivier was nearly 20 years older, but it wasn’t just his appearance that was fatherly. He’d now taken to telling Marilyn off when she kept people waiting, and even made her apologise to the unit.

This made it too hard for Sybil Thorndike to accuse Olivier of using bullying techniques.

Finally, the film was finished on November 16th. Marilyn gifted the whole unit with gifts: jewelry boxes, alcohol bottles and wallets to the women.

Then she apologised to them for being ‘beastly,’ adding: ‘I hope you will forgive me as it wasn’t altogether my fault. I have been ill.’

Mixed reviews were given to The Prince and The Showgirl, with most hailing Marilyn as the movie’s star. Picturegoer magazine opined that, as the director, Laurence Olivier had ‘worked wonders’ with her, inspiring her to give ‘the performance of her life’.

Years later, he said: ‘I’ve never been so glad when anything was over.’

Adapted from When Marilyn Met The Queen: Marilyn Monroe’s Life In England by Michelle Morgan, published by Robinson on February 17 at £20. © Michelle Morgan 2022.