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Miss World 1952

By Julio Rodríguez Matute


                After the conclusion of the Festival of Great Britain and having held the international bikini contest called “Miss World” by the press in July 1951, Eric Morley felt happy and satisfied. He received dozens of congratulatory letters, not only from people in the United Kingdom, but from numerous countries of the British Commonwealth and America. They had known about the contest thanks to press media and international newsreels. The contest had been created to liven up the 1951 Great Britain Festival as a unique international beauty event and, although it had been an achievement, there were no plans to continue it.

                Thanks to the success of the Miss World contest and to the growing popularity of beauty contests in the United Kingdom, the Morecambe & Heysham Corporation, together with Mecca Dancing, the Butlin’s firm and the “Sunday Dispatch” newspaper held their annual contest of “Miss Great Britain”, at that time called “National Bathing Contest”, in the Swimming Stadium of the city of Morecambe, which had a record in the number of candidates, many of them who competed in the last Miss World. In fact, the winner of the contest was Marlene Ann Dee, who had participated unsuccessfully in the Morley’s Miss World contest.

                It was the spring of 1952 when Morley learned that a well-known swimsuit firm in the United States, together with the Panamerican airways, was organizing the Miss Universe contest in Long Beach, California. The North American organizers sent an invitation to London to send a representative, but the British girl should be a national winner.

                Those who got the rights of Miss Universe for the United Kingdom (the representatives of the Butlin’s firm), decided that the winner of their “Holiday Princess” contest would be designated as Miss Great Britain for the American contest. This event would be held at the beginning of June in the Royal Albert Hall of the British capital city. Miss Aileen Chase, who was fifth in the last edition of Miss World, won the aforementioned national contest and was the representative of the country in the Miss Universe.

                It was then when Morley, due to the success of the Miss Universe worldwide, resumed the idea of holding his Miss World contest again, because he wanted to be considered the pioneer in this type of international beauty events. In July 1952, Morley started the planning of the contest, he sent letters and made countless phone calls to get sponsors in different countries that could send their representatives to what it would be the second edition of Miss World.

                Morley needed support in Great Britain to get his contest through; Sponsors to help him pay for the expenses involved in this type of event. The British newspaper “Sunday Dispatch” agreed to sponsor the contest to be held in the month of November. However, Morley did not find much financial support. He decided then that the prize for the winner would be only 100 Pounds Sterling, considerably less (in fact 900 Pounds Sterling less), than the first winner, the Swedish Kiki Hakansson, the previous year.

                In order to collect money for the contest and to be able to pay the prizes of the winner and her two finalists, Morley also thought that it would be a good idea to invite, with two weeks in advance, the international representatives for them to visit the different halls of Mecca Dancing ( about twelve throughout the United Kingdom) to promote the contest and thus raise money through admissions to these premises. The presence of the numerous international queens in the dance halls of Mecca Dancing would be a wonderful way to fill-up these venues and generate extra money necessary to pay for the event.


                Despite the success of the contest the previous year, Morley did not have it easy to get international candidates. In the first place, and due to a certain rejection the previous year by some conservative countries, Morley had to change his plans and the rules of the contest; On this occasion, the Miss World hopefuls would not have to wear bikinis but one-piece bathing suits. On the other hand, some directors in other countries wanted Morley to pay for the air tickets of their queens, since the Miss Universe, thanks to the agreement with the Panamerican Airways, had sent their candidates’ air tickets to Long Beach. Morley had no sponsoring airline, therefore, he could not afford such expenses. Even so, and thanks to his perseverance, he achieved a positive response from 11 countries, which would send their national winners to the Miss World contest. Compared to the six international contestants he had the previous year, eleven was almost double and, therefore, Morley felt satisfied.

                Morley decided that the beauties should be only from different countries and not having a bunch of local beauties along with the foreign contestants in order to give a greater international enhancement to his contest and to reduce some expenses due to the unexpected and not long planned celebration of his contest. On Wednesday, August 27th, the National Bathing Contest was held, in its 1952 edition, once again at the Morecambe Swimming Stadium in Lancashire, and was attended by about three dozen candidates. As we mentioned earlier, this event was co-organized by the “Sunday Dispatch” newspaper, Mecca Dancing, the Butlin’s firm and the Morecambe & Heysham Corporation and, the winner, who would be chosen as “Miss Great Britain”, would be the representative of the United Kingdom in the Miss World contest. This local pageant was attended by the Hollywood actor César Romero, who was one of the judges, and it was won by Mrs. Doreen Gaffney-Dawne, who had taken third place in the previous edition of Miss World. Doreen decided to hide her true age once again. She showed up being 24 when she actually was 29 years of age. In second place was Sylvia Jenkins and in third, Brenda Mee, who had also participated in Miss World the previous year.

                Autumn arrived and the arrival of international candidates to the British capital was anxiously awaited to begin a 10-day Tour of the British Isles. The Clarets Hotel in London was ready to receive the beauty queens. Two of the pre-registered beauties had to be replaced at the last minute: The representative of Finland, Kyllikki Koskihalme, who was not the owner of the “Miss Suomi” contest but her first runner-up, was not sent to London, instead it was the national titleholder; and the Dutch Elisabeth (Bepie) van Proosdij, winner of the Miss Holland 1951. She decided to cancel her participation in Miss World to marry after obtaining the position of second runner-up in Miss Europe.

                Eric Morley was waiting the arrival of 11 beauties: Miss Belgium (Anne-Marie Pauwels), Miss Denmark (Lillian Christensen), Miss Finland (Eva Maria Hellas), Miss France (Nicole Drouin), Miss Germany (Vera Marks), Miss Holland ( Sanny Weitner), Miss Ireland (Eithne Dunne), Miss Sweden (Maj-Lis “May-Louise” Flodin), Miss Switzerland (Sylvia Müller) and Miss United States (Tally Richards). But the eleventh contestant, the Italian Lyla Rocco, who had won the “Miss Cinema” award in the recent Miss Italy contest, did not arrive in London. They would be joined by Miss Britain 1952, Doreen Gaffney-Dawne. Due to the fact that Morley had promoted his contest with 12 candidates, Morley thought about inviting the participation of a twelfth young lady, Miss Great Britain 1951, Marlene Ann Dee, which she delightedly accepted. In this way, its main partner in the contest, the Sunday Dispatch newspaper and main sponsor of the Miss Great Britain contest, had two beauties within the contest, achieving the satisfaction of the directors of the newspaper and, thus, ensuring future business alliances.


Miss Cinema 1952, Lyla Rocco (right) would be the Italian representative in Miss World, but she didn’t make to London. Along with her in the picture, Miss Italy 1952 and Miss Europe 1953, Eloisa Cianni.


                The representative of the United States was 24 years of age, her real name was Barbara Anne Stackhouse, but she decided to legally change it to “Tally Richards” as it sounded more glamorous in the world of modeling. She was born in Atlanta but lived in New York City. She was a renowned writer and a painting lover, and she opened an art gallery in Taos, New Mexico. She died of complications due to a lung cancer on April 29th, 2008 in Palm Springs.

                Miss France, Nicole Drouin, was 22 years old, was born in Forbach but lived in Paris. She had won the title of Miss France 1951. She was 1.68 m tall and was the first runner-up of Miss Europe 1952.


                On Friday, October 31, the first three candidates arrived in London, they were the representatives of France, the United States and Holland. The next day arrived the girls from Belgium, Ireland, Denmark and Germany, they were joined by the British Doreen Dawne. On Sunday, November 2nd, the Press Presentation was held at the Lyceum Ballroom facilities and with the attendance of the eight contestants who had arrived so far who were introduced to the media in swim suits. Later, that same Sunday, the last three international candidates (Sweden, Switzerland and Finland) arrived at the Clarets hotel together with the other English candidate.

                Miss Belgium, Ann-Marie Pauwels, did not arrive alone. She was accompanied by her boyfriend, who had registered at the same hotel with the contestants. The next day, Monday, November 3rd, the candidates and their chaperones traveled to the city of Nottingham to begin the tour of the different cities of the United Kingdom in which Mecca Dancing had ballrooms. Miss Belgium’s boyfriend left behind the girl group and, until that moment, had not given any problems. The contestants were met by Mecca executives in Nottingham, where they were welcomed by the Mayor of the city and subsequently had a party in one of the ballrooms owned by Mecca Dancing in that town. From there they left for Leeds and subsequently traveled by train to the Scottish cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. In addition to being welcomed and attending night events in the Mecca Dancing rooms, they were also taken to see local factories, so that they could learn on how their products were made. There were so many activities and so many events that the candidates had to attend that the young women began to complain due to the fatigue of the arduous days to which they were exposed. To top it off, the bus that moved them through the interior of Scotland was broken and they were stranded for several hours on the road in the cold.

                On Thursday, November 6th, the contestants took a plane to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where they would meet Eric Morley. They all traveled but Miss Belgium didn’t, as she refused to leave the hotel because she wanted the organization to pay for her boyfriend’s airfare. Upon arriving in Belfast, Morley asked one of the chaperones, where Miss Belgium was. Upon learning that she had decided to stay at the Glasgow hotel, Morley phoned her and demanded that she had to take the first plane to Belfast, but she refused. She said that her boyfriend should go where she goes and that if he couldn’t travel with her to Belfast, she wouldn’t go. Morley threatened to disqualify her and asked her to meet on Saturday at his office in London.

                Meanwhile, in Belfast, Morley realized that things were not going well. One of the chaperones had told him that the girls were “fed up” and too exhausted, that they had not had free time since they arrived in the United Kingdom. The women in the complaint were the representatives of France and Germany, who threatened to go on strike and not to attend the activities scheduled the next day in the Northern Ireland’s capital. Fearing that it would reach the ears of the press, Morley decided to placate the wrath of the candidates, receiving them all at the airport with teddy bears. Upon arriving at the Royal Avenue hotel, Morley asked to talk to the contestants in private and promised them that he would cancel some not-so-important activities, so that they could have time to rest or do whatever they wanted. The girls accepted and fulfilled their protocol obligations the next day with the Mayor of Belfast and visited a factory where they were gifted fine handkerchiefs. On Saturday, November 8th, the hopefuls traveled to Liverpool and from there to the city of Manchester, where it would be the last stop to conclude the tour and return to London.


                Morley flew from Belfast directly to London to meet the rebel Miss Belgium. She insisted on being accompanied everywhere by her boyfriend, which Morley did not allow, because if the concession was granted, in the next few years he would see all of the candidates arriving with their boyfriends at all of the activities in the contest and he could not allow that. But the Belgian beauty refused to comply with the rules of the contest, so Morley made the decision to disqualify her, and the girl had to pack her things and fly back to Brussels with her inseparable boyfriend. Anne-Marie Pauwels thus became the first disqualified contestant in the history of Miss World!


                On Monday, November 10th, Morley received a telegram informing him that Miss France was feeling bad and that along with the other candidates, she was traveling by train from Liverpool to Manchester. The French beauty had refused to participate in several photographic sessions in a bathing suit due to a boil that had come out on her bottom, which even prevented her from sitting down! Upon arriving at her hotel in Manchester, the beautiful French woman had to be transferred to a hospital and although the doctor prescribed a week of rest, the French contestant was able to recover in time to return to London and participate in the contest.


                The finals of the Miss World 1952 contest was planned to be held, initially, on Wednesday, November 12th, but before the strenuous journey of the candidates throughout the country, Morley decided to give them a day off so they could later join the rehearsals and moved the final to Friday the 14th.

                The night of the finals, the 11 candidates paraded before the judges and the audience of the Lyceum Ballroom in London in evening gowns and swim suits. The panel of judges was made up of six personalities: South African actress Glynis Johns, British singer and actress Petula Clark, Irish actor Richard Todd, French Claude Berr who was one of the organizers of Miss Europe, the owner of a British model agency Mr. Eddy Franklyn and the editor of the Sunday Dispatch newspaper, Charles Eade. At that time, marks from 1 to 10 were used to vote for each participant. Each beauty had a pedestal with the name of the country represented so that the jury could clearly identify them. It should be noted that they were not presented in alphabetical order, but randomly. The candidates paraded in the following order: Ireland, Denmark, Germany, France, the United States, Sweden, Great Britain 1951, Finland, Switzerland, Great Britain 1952 and Holland. The big favorite of the audience was Miss Germany, Vera Marks, who achieved a cheer of applause every time she appeared. The swimsuit parade was the last one before meeting the winners of the night.

                After finishing counting the votes, the final verdict was announced. In third place, and winner of £ 25 turned out to be the favorite girl, the 19-year-old Vera Marks from Germany, a film actress from Frankfurt; Second place and winner of £ 50 was Miss Switzerland, Sylvia Muller, a 20-year-old model and secretary from Geneva. And, the title of Miss World 1952 fell on Miss Sweden, Maj-Lis (May-Louise) Flodin, a model and a clerk in a jewelry store in Gothenburg, 18 years old, blue eyes, auburn hair, 5 feet 7 inches tall and 36-24-36. Sweden retained the title for two consecutive years, being the first “back to back” in the history of beauty pageants. Apart from the cash prize of £ 100 (about $ 280 at the time), the brand new Miss World won a silver rose-bowl courtesy of the Sunday Dispatch and a week of vacation in Paris. There was much disagreement with the judges’ decision.

                The actress and former beauty queen Betty Hutton, who was present at the Lyceum Ballroom, decided to donate £ 25 to the girl who won fourth place, since in all of the competitions where she had participated she always finished in that position. This distinction was given to Miss Finland, Eva Maria Hellas, a 19-year-old actress from Helsinki. It was also known, unofficially, that the fifth place corresponded to the British Marlene Ann Dee and the sixth to the French Nicole Drouin.

                May-Louise was born on February 14th, 1934 and had three sisters. Being Miss World, she modeled for Christian Dior, Jacques Fath and Maggy Rouff in Paris and traveled through several countries, becoming soon a Top Model. She didn’t attend the next pageant in London to give the title to her successor, because that was not styled at that time. In 1954, on a modeling trip to Beirut, she met her future husband, the entrepreneur and world water sky champion Simon Khoury, with whom she married in January 1957 in Cypress Gardens, Florida. Due to her marriage, she rejected an important modeling contract with Eileen Ford in New York. In 1957 she won again a beauty contest, the “International Art Queen” in Cypress Gardens. She had four children (3 girls and one boy) and lived in Florida until 1964, when she moved to the Lebanese capital. She became one of the leading “socialités” in the Middle East, counting among her friends King Hussein. In recent years she lived in Jordan, where she managed the Aquamarina hotel in the city of Aqaba. She attended as a special guest the finals of Miss World 2000 in November of that year in London. Sadly, she died on February 4th, 2011 at the age of 76, due to a brain tumor.


Former Miss World 1952, May-Louise Flodin (right) along with Denise Perrier of France, who won Miss World 1953 (left) and Miss World 1958 from South Africa, Penelope Coelen (center) at the Hilton Hotel in London on the eve of the Miss World 2000 final.


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