Glitz, Kitsch & World Peace; since Its Inception, Miss World Has Caused Mixed Emotions. Supporters Claim It Is a Celebration of Womanhood While Others Say It Is Nothing More Than a Degrading Cattle Market with the Contestants Portrayed as Brainless Bimbos - but It Has Never Gone Away. Phil Gould Looks Back at the History of the Contest

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Byline: Phil Gould

Eric Morley was the man who became known as Mr World - the brains behind the global beauty contest which for the past 50 years has both united and divided nations.

The 82-year-old one-time Mecca boss died last week but has left behind him the legacy of an event that while being incredibly popular in some countries around the globe is greeted with ridicule and derision in others.

It all began back in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain. Morley, who was later joined by his wife Julia, came up with the idea of holding a beauty pageant as a way of promoting Britain abroad.

The first event was held at London's Lyceum Theatre with music supplied by the Joe Loss Orchestra. To help spice up proceedings Morley decreed that all the girls taking part in the competition should wear bikinis. The very first winner was Miss Sweden, Kiki Haakonson.

Bikinis were banned the following year but gradually worked their way back on to the catwalk as the Swinging Sixties began to make their presence felt.

Although the event was popular in the 1960s and 70s, attracting up to 20 million television viewers in this country alone, it has also been dogged by controversy and labelled 'sexist and outdated'. Last year the contest returned to England for the first time in ten years when 94 contestants took to the stage at London's Olympia.

While the girls received a warm welcome, some of the audience were less than pleased to be pelted with eggs and bags of flour by protesters outside the hall.

Since its inception the show seems to have stirred mixed emotions. Supporters claim it is a celebration of womanhood while others say it is nothing more than a degrading cattle market with the contestants portrayed as brainless bimbos.

The United Kingdom has enjoyed mixed fortunes in the event. We have won the title no less than seven times, the last time back in 1983 when Sarah-Jane Hutt was crowned Miss World.

Our very first winner was Rosemarie Frankland, in 1961, and she was followed three years later by Ann Sidney.

These days Frankland is less than complimentary about the event. She says: 'Miss World is so old hat. I can't think of anything more antiquated than a girl parading round in high heels and a swimsuit.'

And Sidney does not have fond memories either. She says: 'You are treated like royalty for a year then dumped unceremoniously when your time is up and they are ready to move in this year's model.'

While all Miss Worlds are supposed to be modest, the 1962 winner was obviously out to buck the trend. After winning the title Catharina Lodders, from Holland, promptly announced: 'I might not be the most beautiful girl in the world but I'm certainly the most beautiful here.'

Criticism of the contest reached its peak in the 70s. During the 1970 event, women's libbers infiltrated the audience in the Royal Albert Hall and pelted host Bob Hope with flour bombs. …