Saturday, 5 November 2011

Missed World

If it wasn't for a small article in The Guardian this week, I would have been none the wiser that London was playing host to this year's Miss World competition. I felt slightly sad and nostalgic. Back in the day, Miss World was one of the annual television highlights, along with Children in Need and the Eurovision Song Contest, which caught people's interest.

Yes, a child I was always aware that, like a visit to the funfair, the search for the planet's best-looking woman was a tacky treat. On the big day we would glance at the 'runners and riders' lists in the tabloids. Miss United Kingdom would have been installed as favourite to win, even if she looked like Janet Street-Porter. By 8 p.m., the household would be seated and glued to the screen as shots of the Royal Albert Hall were replaced by a dazzling array of mismatched hosts. Would it be Michael Aspel in a dickie-bow, Esther Rantzen in a chiffon tent or Judith Chalmers with her lacquered skin?

Then the real fun began as the 'bevvy of international beauties' clomped on stage to sing an ill-judged anthem. For several years this was the nauseating 'For only a day', a ditty so inane that it actually finished last in A Song for Europe. Of course, it was always fun to spot the non-English speakers opening and closing their mouths on the back row but enough of Miss Australia.

The national dress parade was always a laugh. Poor old Miss UK would lumber out in a Beefeater outfit, the country lacking so much cohesion that it couldn't even agree on a frock. This part of the show was educational. We learned that the national dress of Malta is a coal sack and that all African women are forced to wear wicker baskets on their heads. How we chuckled as the gangly seven foot tall Miss Netherlands struggled onstage looking like a fifteenth century milk maid. The representative of the USA (never Miss USA, note) would be resplendent with toombstone teeth and Miss Mexico would look like a bad joke from Ugly Betty. Miss Iceland, even when she won, remained a dry-eyed Stepford Wife and curiously unsexual. Our household would always indulge in the 'is she a man?' competition, won on one notable occasion by Miss Turkey.

After the girls had been crooned at by Sacha Distel (usually 'The Most Beautiful Girl in the World'), Esther, Judith or someone would ask each contestant something non-threatening ('So Miss Israel, what's it like to be a beautiful girl in the army?') whereas we wanted Judith to smile and ask Miss South Africa what she thought of the oppressive regime of her homeland.

Then it was time to meet the jury (usually of the Bruce Forsyth ilk) before the forever seedy looking chairman, Eric Morley, announced the results in reverse order. At this point, a no-show for Miss UK was always rated a disaster. Would we never get to see that Beefeater suit again? There would usually be a surprised runner-up (Miss Guam 1980 - but revenge would be hers) followed by either a bizarre winner who no one had rated (UK 1983, Austria 1987) or some glacial automaton from Venezuela. Cut to winner attempting to walk, arrange her sash and hang on to the ridiculous crown that had been forcibly jammed on to her Farrah Fawcett hairdo by the previous year's winner.

This year's contest isn't being shown on either terrestrial or satellite TV in the UK but we wish Miss England well as she steps out at Earls Court dressed in our national costume, protective armoured battledress.

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