Frontline World

NIGERIA - The Road North, January 2003


THE STORY
Synopsis of "The Road North"

MISS WORLD'S WOES
A Chronicle of the Pageant's Troubles

THOUGHTS OF A FAVORITE SON
Interview With Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka

NIGERIAN WOMEN SPEAK OUT
Five Diverse Voices

FACTS & STATS
Learn More about Nigeria

LINKS & RESOURCES
Sharia Law, Human Rights, the Role of Women

MAP

REACT TO THIS STORY

   


1950s
A Pageant Is Born - 1950s Decade of the Indiscreet Contestant - 1960s Feminists Attack the Pageant - 1970s Miss World’s Facelift - 1980s A Globalized Culture Clash - 1990s The Show Must Go On - 2000s

A Pageant Is Born
Miss World contestants take their places during a rehearsal
Miss World contestants take their places during a rehearsal. (AP/Wide World Photos)

The Miss World competition began in Britain after World War II, in the midst of postwar reconstruction. The British government staged the Festival of Britain in the summer of 1951. That first celebration featured the country's latest industrial products, technological discoveries and the arts.

Organizers turned to a London entertainment company, Mecca Limited, to boost festival attendance. Eric Morley, the company's publicity director, persuaded festival planners to add an international beauty contest to planned events. The competition was first officially called the Festival Bikini Contest after Morley decided that contestants should be judged while wearing the new beachwear sensation.

The contest, lauded by the British press -- and which they dubbed "Miss World" -- was originally planned as a one-time event. But after its inaugural run, Morley turned Miss World into an annual extravaganza. The contest became one of Britain's most successful exports.

Miss World was marked by controversy from the beginning. In the early 1950s, few contestants from non-European countries participated. Morley struggled to recruit foreign delegates. After Ireland and Spain threatened to withdraw from the competition because of their opposition to women being judged in bikinis, Morley banned the two-piece from the event. Kiki Haakanson of Sweden, Miss World 1951, would be the first and last woman to don a bikini. For the next two decades, Miss World winners wore one-piece bathing suits for the crowning ritual.
Contestants line up after rehearsing for the swimsuit segment of the Miss World competition
Contestants line up after rehearsing for the swimsuit segment of the Miss World competition. (AP/Wide World Photos)

With the rise of television, pageantry emerged as a popular cultural phenomenon. Contestants no longer modeled only for stage hall crowds, but had their images beamed into the homes of millions of viewers. In 1959, the British Broadcasting Corporation broadcast the Miss World competition for the first time. The contest subsequently became the most-watched event in Britain. At the competition's broadcast peak years later, the number of viewers was comparable with the audience of a royal wedding.

NEXT - 1960s: Decade of the Indiscreet Contestant

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