Records of Miss Great Britain

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of a variety of material including correspondence, photographic material, publicity material such as posters, and legal documents. The archive also includes information about similiar competitions. It contains information on events and activities organised by Morecambe and Heysham Borough Council, such as the illuminations.

Administrative / Biographical History

Miss Great Britain (1945-c1990) was one of several beauty contests introduced in seaside resorts around the countryIn the years after World War Two. Towns like Eastbourne, Weston-Super-Mare, Great Yarmouth, Cleethorpes and Skegness staged contests, but the main focus was the Lancashire and North Wales coast: Rhyl, New Brighton, Southport, Blackpool, Fleetwood and Morecambe. In Morecambe such beauty contests were staged in the resort in the new Super Swimming Stadium as entertainment spectaculars for the holidaymakers. Morecambe was home to the Miss Great Britain competition between 1956 and 1989. Originally called the Bathing Beauty Queen, the contest began in the Summer of 1945, as the "Bathing Beauty Queen", organised by the Local Council in partnership with the 'Sunday Dispatch' newspaper. The first final was watched by 4,300 people in a continuous downpour. The winner, chosen by the film star Michael Rennie, was an 18 year old Morecambe girl Lydia Reid, a civil service typist, who received a cup and a paltry prize (according to the local paper) of seven guineas as well as a swimsuit. Prize money increased over the years. The contests were a new kind of entertainment for the holiday-maker. Aimed at a family audience organisers hoped that the men would enjoy watching pretty girls, the women would enjoy picking their favourites (or commenting on the others) and the little girls would dream of being bathing beauties when they grew up. The entrants themselves had the promise of cash prizes, as well as possible fame and fortune to follow. In the early days Morecambe and Heysham Council in association with the 'Sunday Dispatch' hosted the competition. As a preliminary to the personal appearance heats at Morecambe, photographic heats held in conjunction with the newspaper attracted contestant from all over the country. In 1946 the first prize was increased by the local authority to £100. Due to the success and popularity of the contest, the prize was further increased in 1947 to £500, and then to £1000 in the fifties. This by any standards was rapid progress, and throughout the years the contest has continued to offer the largest prize fund of any competition run by a municipal authority. The 1950s and 1960s saw the hey-day of the seaside beauty contest, these decades also saw the zenith of the British seaside holiday. Increasing prosperity meant that more and more families could take a fortnight's holiday on the coast and seaside towns were in competition for a growing market. Many seaside towns believed that beauty contests were important in gaining publicity for the town, in Morecambe, beauty contests were seen as second only to the Illuminations as the major tourist attraction. Throughout the 34 years prior to 2004, judges for the heats and finals were selected from personalities from all walks of life. Press and publishers, stars of stage, screen and television, peers and politicians joining sportsmen and a bishop. Over the years the Competition was sponsored by various internationally known companies, in 1978 Pontin's Holidays Ltd were the main sponsors yet previous sponsors included supermarket companies. As the contest grew, heats were held at various ballrooms throughout the country and at events staged in conjunction with other local authorities. The winners of these heats, together with the winners of the weekly seasonal heats held each Wednesday afternoon in Morecambe during the summer, were invited to the Grand Final. The competition was held annually on the last Wednesday afternoon in August, a pattern followed up to and including 1970. Each Grand Final was a parade in swimwear before a panel of judges. The Foreword to the official 1962 Miss Great Britain programme states "when the Morecambe Corporation started the contest in 1945, they introduced to the attractions of the seaside holiday, a new form of entertainment which has now become a big part of Show Business. As the years go by, the size of our audiences shows no signs of diminishing, the standard of our beautiful competitors improves steadily and the Contest remains as popular as ever." But, during the sixties, the British seaside holiday started to lose out to other types of holiday. Increasing car ownership meant that many families had a wider choice of destinations and some families could afford to go abroad for certain sun, rather than taking pot-luck in Southport or Scarborough. And, the girls' names were changing. The Normas, Irenes, Margarets and Maureens of the early years were replaced in the sixties by Judiths, Cheryls, Carols and Sheilas. But the format - and the cliches - of the contests were well established: results in reverse order; mothers apparently entering their daughters without their knowledge; and the judges saying that they were looking for the "friendly, girl-next-door type". Usually over 20 contestants entered the heats. Their jobs were receptionists and models, secretaries and students, young women who either wanted to further their careers in fashion or beauty or who took the opportunity of the difference offered by the seaside scene to make themselves glamorous. 1971 saw a change in this pattern. This was brought about by the involvement of television. After long negotiations agreement was reached between the Council and Yorkshire Television Ltd. for the Grand Final to be recorded and for the event to be broadcast by the whole of the independent television network. It was suggested by Yorkshire Television that the Grand Final for 1971 should be changed in format to create a more spectacular programme for the viewers. The Grand Final was therefore recorded in three parts - Swimwear Parade (at the Super Swimming Stadium), Daywear Parade (at the Promenade Gardens), Evening Wear Parade (from the stage of a local theatre) followed by the presentation and Crowning Ceremony. This format was found to be completely successful and was followed to at least 2004. Prior to 1971 winners of the various preliminary heats automatically qualified to take part in the Grand Final of over 40 finalists. The changes in the Grand Final, the introduction of televised contest winners and the limitation of transmission time necessitated a curtailment of the numbers of Grand Finalists, achieved by introducing a semi-final parade. During more recent years the staging of many more heats throughout the country further enlarged the contest and necessitated the introduction of Regional Finals. In 1978, in co-operation with the main sponsors Pontin's Holidays Ltd. and other subsidiary benefactors, the local authority (now Lancaster City Council) offered a prize-fund of over £10,000 to encourage the most beautiful girls in the country to enter. During her term of office Miss Great Britain was contracted to Lancaster City Council who were her sole agent and she was to be available through them to undertake promotional personal appearances at home or abroad. Past title holders visited countries all over the world carrying out their duties as ambassadors for the resort (and indeed the country). Immediately after her crowning Miss Great Britain undertook a publicity tour of the country, lasting about eight days, making personal appearances and attending press calls. By 2003 this tour was arranged in conjunction with Button Farshaw Group, who lent one of their cars to the winner for her year of office, and Trust House Forte Ltd, who attended to accommodation arrangements. The falling popularity of seaside resorts was later mirrored by a fall in the popularity of beauty contests. In some ways, this was a contradiction since national and international contests were now being covered by television and, indeed, the Miss World contests had high audience figures in the 1970s. However, the British public were seeking more sophisticated forms of holiday entertainment, questions were being asked about what the contests represented and the opportunities open to young women were changing. The eighties saw the end of a number of seaside beauty contests. Rhyl, Great Yarmouth and Morecambe took decisions to end their contests. Other towns moved the contests from the swimming-pools to other venues and, more dramatically, New Brighton finished its contest when the swimming pool was destroyed by winter gales. So, the local councils that had started the contests after the War were now asking themselves whether these were events they should be involved with. The contests were becoming less acceptable and less popular as seaside attractions. But there were still attractive young women - now Debbies, Traceys, Clares and Joannes - interested in entering the contests, there were mothers right there behind them and there were still enough people prepared to watch for a pleasant hour or two.- Please note - the archive dates from 1945-1982 only. At the start of the 1990s, only Southport, Blackpool and Fleetwood were staging traditional seaside beauty contests and that decade saw further decline. There were decreasing numbers of contestants and fewer people wanting to watch. In particular, more young women had better career opportunities than in the past, meaning that fewer had the time to spend summer afternoons entering heats across the country. The seaside towns themselves were also adapting to the different ways in which people used their holidays. They had to re-think their marketing. By the 1990s Southport and Blackpool were able to do this successfully: Morecambe less so. By the end of the 1990s, Southport had finished its contest because it wanted to diversify its afternoon entertainments on the Prom and Blackpool's contest had changed from swimwear in the afternoon into club-wear for the evening. So Miss Wyre at Fleetwood was the only traditional seaside beauty contest to make it into the new century, finishing in 2002, although Miss Blackpool continued successfully in its new format. In the early 1990s the title 'Miss Great Britain' was purchased by new owners, an organisation that became known as 'Miss Great Britain Organisation'. By 2004 Miss Great Britain was still running as a beauty competition and was part of the growing commercialisation and publicity wing of the beauty industry. By 2004 the organisers sourced their own contestants, with applicants filling out a form and sending in a photograph. There were no local heats, rather a panel reduced the number to 60 finalists. The main winner of the Miss Great Britain competition then went on to enter the 'Miss Tourism' competition. Finalists other than the winner were also eligible to enter 'Model of the World', 'Miss Bikini', 'Miss Internet' and 'Model of the Universe', 'Miss Millionaire'. Whilst 'Mr Tourism World' was an equivalent male contest from the same organisation. A separate organisation provided the 'Miss World' competition, illustrating that beauty competitions were continuing well into the new millennium.

LIST OF WINNERS FROM 1945 - 1989

1945 Lydia Read

1946 June Rivers

1947 June Mitchell

1948 Pamela Bayliss

1949 Elaine Pryce

1950 Violet Pretty

1951 Marlene Dee

1952 Dorothy Dawn

1953 Brenda Mee

1954 Patricia Butler

1955 Jennifer Chimes

1956 Iris Waller

1957 Leila Williams

1958 Christine Mayo

1959 Valerie Martin

1960 Eileen Sheridan

1961 Libby Walker

1962 Joy Black

1963 Gillian Taylor

1964 Carole Redhead

1965 Diane Hickinbotham

1966 Carole Fletcher

1967 Jennifer Gurley

1968 Yvonne Ormes

1969 Wendy Anne George

1970 Kathleen Winstanley

1971 Carolyn Moore

1972 Elizabeth Robinson

1973 Gay Spink

1974 Marylin Ward

1975 Susan Cuff

1976 Dinah May

1977 Susan Hempel

1978 Patricia Morgan

1979 TV Strike forced re-timing of contest

1980 Sue Berger

1981 Michelle Hobson

1982 Tracey Dodd / Viviennne Farnen

1983 Rose McGrory

1984 Debbie Greenwood

1985 Jill Saxby

1986 Lesley Ann Musgrave

1987 Linzi Butler

1988 Gillian Bell

1989 Amanda Dyson

Arrangement

An imposed order was established.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

Acquisition Information

Purchased in 2002.

Other Finding Aids

The Women's Library Catalogue

Appraisal Information

All surviving material retained.

Accruals

None expected.

Related Material

The Women's Library held an exhibition: 'Beauty Queens: Smiles, Swimsuits and Sabotage' 3 Jun-18 Sep 2004, which used some material from this archive. For further details contact The Women's Library.

Geographical Names