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
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.
(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
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