Essays: The way Miss World ends |
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The way Miss World ends

‘SUCH was her trust in her beauty,’ Ovid was always saying in the ‘Metamorphoses’ — while the heroine lay about admiring herself in a sylvan pond, unaware that a randy god was due to appear and chase her until she turned into a laurel. With the woods full of rapacious deities, it was dangerous in those days to be lovely.

Nor has the element of retribution entirely disappeared. It would have been easy to call Miss World (BBC1) a farce. But as things turned out, the competition proper was merely the first night of the story, which dragged on for days, and ended up with the new incumbent tearfully resigning her tinsel crown. Miss UK’s baby and her impending moment in court had been enough to throw the whole mechanism into confusion. Human kind cannot bear very much reality, and the Miss World Competition cannot bear any reality at all. What kind of thing is it, if that kind of thing can ruin it? Let the mind’s eye turn to shimmering water and take us back to that first, enchanted evening.

‘Each year girls from all over the world come in search of the Crown of Beauty.’ Dah-dah! ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss World 1974!’ Dah-dah-dah! ‘Top of the bill, 57 of the world’s most beautiful girls!’ Dah-dah-DOING! ‘With Mike Aspel! The other privileged man, David Vine!’

After a brief, ludicrous routine by male dancers with tiny bottoms, the 57 varieties of baked birds lumber on in National Costume. ‘Mike’ Aspel begins his spiel with a typical vulgarism. ‘The original Miss World must be a poor old thing in her mid-forties. Wonder where she is?’ Miss Yoruba marches past with a tree on her head. Miss Australia’s National Dress is a yellow evening gown slit in front to emphasise the mons pubis. As the girls clomp by, David Vine does his famous one-line epitomes. ‘From the middle of Africa where the diamond mines are comes Miss Botswana!’ And then, incredibly ‘Miss New Zealand, who broke her jaw just nine weeks ago performing a television commercial!’

The 57 are herded off to he reduced to 15, who come back on in evening dress, headed by the black and groovy Miss Africa South, walking superbly, which makes her practically unique. Here comes Miss Japan. ‘All the grace and charm of the Orient,’ says David brilliantly. And here comes the white Miss South Africa, so they’re both still in.

Miss Sweden is a giggler. Miss UK, with her ill-chosen cleavage, is surely a goner. Off they all troop, to reappear in swimsuits. Miss South Africa is still looking pretty good, earning from ‘Mike’ an inventive epithet ‘South Africa’s Golden Girl.’ Miss Spain, clomp, clomp. Miss UK, clomp, clomp, clomp: no chance, surely. Miss USA’s maracas are pointing straight up in the air. That’s the line-up. Miss Africa South, booms David, ‘would you please regretfully lead away, please?’ Off they go to be reduced to seven finalists. Miss USA gives a tricky little wave as she disappears, perhaps to ingratiate herself with the judges, who are now occupied with what David calls ‘liddle bitsa card.’

Back come the seven, and Miss Africa South has been axed. Miss Australia tells ‘Mike’ that ‘England should do what they feel is right’ and that ‘Australian men are the same as other men all over the world.’ Miss Israel, enchantingly nervous, is ‘too much excited to sink about it.’ She is a dream. Miss South Africa is still in! ‘Do you think the great resources of your country will ever he exhausted?’ asks ‘Mike.’ ‘Whin they esk me about poltics I gist say I’m a beauty quin and I’m not intristid in poltics.’ Miss UK does a disastrous interview. Miss USA is a skydiver, but ‘only on static-line status.’ She is tirelessly vivacious. ‘It opens up when I jump out of the airplane.’

The seven retire. ‘The judges’ pencils are working furiously’ says ‘Mike.’ The unsuccessful 5O sing a losers’ chorus in evening dress. Results: Third, Miss Israel. Second, Miss South Africa. Blimey, Miss Japan must have won. First — Miss United Kingdom!

A few days later it emerged that Miss South Africa had got four votes for first where Miss UK had got only one. News at Ten asked Miss South Africa about this, but she still wasn’t interested in politics. Perhaps she had guessed that Miss UK needed only to be left to herself in order to queer the scene, because next day the new monarch’s short reign fell apart. For the second year running Miss World had proved unequal to her mighty status. Only in Britain could things go so gloriously wrong. In America, as we saw in an apposite Man Alive (BBC2), the Miss America candidates are ideologically motivated chauvinists who wouldn’t crumble even under Red torture. ‘We have the freedom to pray and vote/That is why the Constitution was wrote,’ as one of them recited.

That such goofy events always seem to go ape in this country is of course one of our strengths, although the Hudson Institute probably wouldn’t think so. The Hudson Report (BBC2) gave this dubious outfit more coverage than it deserves. The top Hudsoneer called for ‘a new, dynamic generation of growth-minded, success-minded bureaucrats,’ obviously forgetting, or never having considered, the fact that growth and success were nothing to be proud of when we still had them. The Hudson Institute is a tent show. The BBC should have known this without needing to be told.

ATV screened a neat documentary called The Selling of Las Vegas, in which growth-minded, success-minded hoteliers explained their paltry philosophies. At Caesar’s Palace you can ‘have your handwriting analysed and see a girl turn into a gorilla.’ The last Task Force crimestopper to succumb, Watt is now to he seen on ITV peddling Square Deal paints — by Texas, the Big One.

Chopin has at last arrived on stage in Notorious Woman (BBC2). He is ‘a genius — moody, frail and fascinating.’ He is played by George Chakiris, who learned a Prelude especially for the role. More of that next week. In Disappearing World (ITV) a downtrodden but unrepressed Masai woman said ‘if you give birth when it rains, who will smear the roof, if not a co-wife?’ A questionable belief, but elegantly articulated, and emphatically superior to the garbage filling the heads of the Miss World contestants, poor twits.

The Observer, 1st December 1974