Inglis was born Desiree Mary Lucy Hawkins in Colchester, Essex, the daughter of Margaret Inglis (nee Hunt) and Alan George Hawkins. Her screen debut was in the 1934 film, Borrowed Clothes. She then had a small part in The 39 Steps (1935) as Hilary Jordan. She appeared in the 1939 British telefilm version of Gaslight before taking on the role of Adele Ainsworth in The Letter in 1940, which marked the zenith of her film career. By this time she was appearing under the pseudonym/stage name Elizabeth Earl.