COLLETTE COMES FROM NOWHERE TO WIN AS FAVOURITES FALTER
The title survives crisis to emerge stronger than ever
Collette meets the Mayor of Croydon – the start of a traditional
The promotion exploded into activity with the second contest which was held at Spots Club at the Podium, South London on 22nd October 1982. Nobody was quite prepared for what happened. There were 37 contestants and a crowd, inflated by several hundred after another show at the Royal Albert Hall closed early, must have – on reflection – exceeded the safety regulations. Founder/director Clayton Goodwin was so overwhelmed by the size of the attendance that he decided that henceforth ticket sales would not be advertised so publicly but would be conducted by word of mouth.
After the success of its first year the promotion gained a momentum of its own. Contestants were drawn from every part of the country with no dis-barring qualifications of entry. The many who would have been excluded by the rigid rules of conventional pageants welcomed the chance to compete. There were short girls, plump girls, and several contestants were over the usually accepted age (a number of whom were housewives). Ian Dowe, future international body-building champion, featured in the accompanying entertainment and has remained a steadfast supporter of the contest. The judging panel included guest beauty queen Josie Binns, international cricketer Wilfred Slack, international athlete Lorna Boothe, and politician Lord Avebury who took a cab to the venue from attending a committee meeting at the House of Lords.
Since the last year the competition had been restructured to reflect the increased desire for participation by the community, local associations and small-time business. Now each contestant was sponsored. The credibility of the promotion – still the Weekly Gleaner Page 5 Girl – was heightened by the link with promoters TWJ who were at the peak of their professional acclaim. The value of their experience was soon put to the tests. For reasons that have never been explained only one of the invited 40 entrants turned up at the rehearsal a week before the show. The perceived debacle caused one of the Gleaner management to threaten to withdraw the newspaper’s support there and then. Over the next seven days TWJ swung their full promotional force into action: it included the extensive use of unlicensed (“pirate”) radio stations which were then new to the industry. The results were astonishing.
So many people came to see the action that, it was claimed probably in joke, some were hanging from the rafters. When Clayton Goodwin went to the door to verify the accreditation of a journalist he could not get back to his place through the throng until a kindly waiter led him on a short-cut by way of the kitchen. There was no doubt that a good number of the girls were unnerved by appearing in front of so many spectators in such a confined, intimate atmosphere. More stories are told about this evening than any of the other twenty-and-more contests since. Lessons were learned that passed into the traditions of Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth.
An entrant from Leeds was embarrassed to find mid-contest that she had left her swimsuit at home. Fortunately Connie Mark, a well-known personality in the community, knew somebody who lived nearby and borrowed hers. Another young lady, distracted by having sat on some spilled red wine which had stained her costume, could not remember her name when asked. “Can you ask me something less difficult?” she stuttered to an amazed compere Spencer Williams. It was not quite as bad as it sounds. She was known by two names and momentarily forgot which one she had given to the promoters. Following a bright start a girl from Birmingham had become listless after some rivals had mocked her regional accent. After that dressing-room courtesy was made paramount and professional “circuit” girls, the bane of many white contests, have been banned from taking part.
Photographer Owen Shaw, disappointed that the contestant he was due to sponsor had been taken ill, asked if he could enter a replacement. There was nothing in the rules at the time to prevent him from doing so. It could well have affected the result. The substitute, Collette Gordon, a civil servant, did not expect to win and entered just for the fun. She was almost alone in being unfazed by the tension of expectation. As a result the judges were influenced by her quiet confidence and voted Collette the winner. It was our Foinavon year, after the Grand National horse-race in 1967 when all the favourite contenders fell and an otherwise totally unknown entrant modestly picked a way through to win.
Due to the high number of contestants six runners-up were selected. They were Hilari Bissette from Camberwell in south-east London, Candida Mbenga from Yorkshire, Lisa Dyer from Swindon, Debbie Dey from Streatham in south-west London, Elaine Grant from Deptford in south-east London, and Carron Duncan from Newham in east London. The last-named made a particularly good impression on the judges but, as possibly the youngest entrant, was affected by nerves. The promoters were pleased that Carron had done well because she was the one girl who had turned up to the rehearsal. Her day would surely come … and it did.
Immediately after that evening Clayton Goodwin went with his family on holiday to Germany. He returned to face a crisis which sowed the worst side of beauty contest promotion. During his absence other promoters, and supposed supporters of the title, had “got at” the winner and runners-up, trying to persuade them to switch allegiance to them. Clayton called for a vote of confidence by inviting the young ladies to meet him and the press at Club Ramara on Finchley Road, West Hampstead. It was a disaster. Just runner-up bothered to turn up and only one other sent an adequate apology for absence. In spite of the recent resounding success the word had got around that Goodwin and his competition was a “loser”. Fortunately none of the press representatives were there either. Club owner Ray Morrison suggested that as he had come all the way from his come in Kent, Clayton should at least read his prepared speech – to the empty premises. Why not? There was nothing else for him to do.
The next morning Norman Smith, editor of the Weekly Gleaner, phoned to ask how the meeting had gone. Had it taken place? Yes – it had. What had Clayton said? He read the notes of his speech. Thank you. That was all. Unbelievably, and thankfully, he did not inquire if there had been anybody there. Perhaps fearing they had missed a significant story the Gleaner published a favourable report. Not wanting to be seen as having missed out on a scoop the rival Westindian World produced an even more extensive report on the theme – defiant promoter faces down critics and saves the title which is stronger than ever. Sensing that they may have jumped the wrong way, those who had cold-shouldered Clayton and the contest hastily came back “on board”. Through the crisis TWJ had been staunch in their support, which was just as well because the Gleaner was now wavering.
Collette’s term-of-office may have been overshadowed by the promotional politics off-stage. However she set what became a tradition by paying a courtesy call on the Mayor of Croydon, and, thanks to Air Jamaica, took a prize-trip to Jamaica. At this time it was decided that future entry to the final would be by the recommendation of established promoters, who associated themselves with the title, and by our own heats for newcomers at clubs such as the Shady Grove in Bruce Grove, north London and Spots. After two years experience the contest was on the verge of establishing its own identity – but not, for a while, its own name. For another year yet it would be the Weekly Gleaner Page 5 Girl feature.
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