Miss World 1951: How the First International Beauty Pageant was Created in London

Phipps, a former RAF officer in charge of publicity for the upcoming Festival of Britain of 1951, contacted Group Captain Pickard, the managing director of Mecca (then a small catering and leisure group), to get creative ideas to add glamour to the event. Pickard contacted Morley for some suggestions, and eventually, they came up with a brilliant idea of a Miss World Festival Bikini Girl contest. Eric Morley was the promotional sales manager of the Savoy and one of the founders of ‘Come Dancing for the BBC’ in 1949. It all went ahead because Squadron Leader Phipps deemed this a superb idea. The first prize of £1,000 went to a Swedish woman called Kiki Hakansson, and it was a great success.

Morley said,

Even a girl with big hips can be made to look good in a bikini. Girls between 17 and 25, ideally five foot seven, eight or nine stone, waist 22–24′′, hips 35–36′′, no more no less, a lovely face, good teeth, plenty of hair, and perfectly shaped legs from front and back – carefully checked for such defects as slightly knocked knees.

1970 was a year of tremendous popularity for Miss World in the UK and around the world. In addition, a large amount of money was raised for charity. Morley and his wife Julia, who joined him as the show’s organizer in 1970, enforced strict discipline among the contestants, who were not allowed to marry each other. What was called ‘traditional family values were also strictly enforced. In the middle of the competition, about fifty women and a few men started tossing flour bombs, stink bombs, and tomatoes at the stage while yelling, “We are liberationists!”.’ and ‘Ban this disgraceful cattle market! Leaflets with the slogan ‘Morley is a pimp’ were thrown all over the place. Numerous phone calls also complained that the contest had been rigged. Later, it was discovered that four of the judges had given first place to a Swedish entrant, a twenty-year-old model named Maj Christel Johansson, although, rather oddly, she placed fourth overall. Miss Grenada, the eventual winner, only received two first-place votes from the judges. Sir Eric Gairy, one of the judges, is the Premier of Grenada. Is it not a coincidence?

The favorite to win before the contest, Miss Sweden, didn’t help her cause when she publicly denounced it two days earlier while stating that she wouldn’t even want to win the competition if the organizers didn’t contract her.

I was told the contest was like a cattle market, and I tend to agree. I feel just like a puppet.’ 6 Jennifer Hosten was far better at toeing the Miss World party line: ‘I do not really know enough about what they were demonstrating against; all I know is that it has been a wonderful experience competing for the Miss World title.

Then in 1969, Eric Morley was appointed general manager of Mecca and became a director of Grand Metropolitan Hotels. Grand Metropolitan took over Mecca a few months before the 1970 Miss World competition. Julia Morley, who insisted that there had been no vote-rigging, resigned as organizing director four days after the contest, saying, Perhaps I wasn’t the best person to organize the contest.

#1 Competitors in the first Miss World contest at the Empire Rooms on Tottenham Court Road, London. 27th July 1951

#2 Kiki Hakansson winning the first Miss World contest in 1951

#5 Competition organiser Eric Morley checks the names and numbers of the entrants.

#6 A picture at a heat in the “Miss Britain” beauty contest, showing competition organiser Eric Morley freeing a jammed zipper on a contestants outfit

#7 Competition organiser Eric Morley is pictured talking to the entrants for the “Miss England” beauty contest

#8 Demonstration By Members Of The Women’s Liberation Movement At The Miss World Competition Held At The Royal Albert Hall In London In 1970.

#9 The Miss World contest causes a feminist storm as protestors demonstrate outside the Royal Albert Hall where the contest was held.

The Miss World contest causes a feminist storm as protestors demonstrate outside the Royal Albert Hall where the contest was held.

Some protestors even managed to infiltrate the show as the compere Bob Hope was on stage, and had to be forcibly ejected.

Written by Orla Morris

Full-time dress and costume designer, Half Persian half Italian. I still don’t know how to write, but i'm writing and you are reading :)

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