Friday the 13th … there were more people on stage than in the audience
MICHELLE CONFIRMS HER TITLE STATUS
Mrs Kerr “taught me that it is possible to be a successful promoter while remaining a thoroughly decent person”
It was Friday the 13th (December 1991). It was the night of the great fog. It was also the occasion of the smallest attendance in the history of the title. Ironically this was one of the best contests, even though there were more people on the stage than in the audience. The bare result that Michelle Ward won again in the “proper” promotion, to confirm her position as interim title-holder during her predecessor’s illness, hides an exciting tussle in an interesting field. History was made in that Michelle is the only winner to have had direct Indian – Anglo/Indian in her case – heritage. Although several contestants have entered both shows she is also the only one to have won both Miss Elegance and Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth.
Shortly after agreeing to stage the contest again at Dougie’s Club at Clapton Pond, promoter Clayton Goodwin was taken ill from an adverse reaction to medication and directed to “rest”. Club owner Mr Douglas and local radio station WNK agreed to run the show during his absence in the run-in to the event. They had banked on attracting their regular patrons and their (admittedly limited) radio audience respectively. It might have worked – possibly – if everything else had run smoothly, but it didn’t. Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth was noted for attracting adverse weather conditions, and this year they were exceptional. Without the back-up of a ticket sales-drive to the relatives and friends of the contestants this venture was in trouble.
The winter afternoon was fine and sunny when the contestants and promoters arrived for rehearsal. Then the fog came down, settled in and intensified. By the time the door was opened to the public it was impossible for anybody to see their hand in front of them. Even the most hardened supporters were deterred from leaving their house. One Nigerian contestant from New Cross in south-east London broke the buckle on her shoe, slipped out to buy a replacement, lost her bearings in the fog, and decided to head home, leaving her friend and compatriot to gather up her clothes and belongings. Nevertheless competition on-stage was as warm and vigorous as the weather outside was cold and ….. just foggy.
It is a tradition of the title that contestants draw numbers just before the start of the show for the order of appearance. Michelle Ward from Newham, who worked in the Inland Revenue office, drew No1. Was that pole-position ? There is no doubt that she seized the chance to impress from the moment the curtain opened. Michelle was one of the shorter candidates to have won the title, whereas her immediate runner-up Rachael Oke, a Nigerian, was one of the tallest to have entered. The height difference was emphasised by “Frazz” Cox, a diminutive Barbadian and, surely, the shortest contestant ever, shared third place with Sarah Ferguson, a young St Lucian. In another year any one of them could have won.
Michelle’s success was a final triumph for Mrs Etty Kerr who had recommended her and the previous winner as well. In addition to promoting Miss Elegance, Miss Mini Model, Miss Junior Model and Glamorous Grandmother, she had been associated closely with our title since arranging the fashion shows for the promotions at Spots Club at the Podium and on the St Nicholas. She also with Mrs Claudette Francis of Clapton and Mrs Daisy Ralph of Herne Hill the most prolific of ticket-sellers. Unfortunately Mrs Kerr had already withdrawn from promoting on account of her husband’s illness that year and his passing two years later. Clayton Goodwin refers to her as his “promotional godmother” and that she “taught me it is possible to be a successful promoter while remaining a thoroughly decent person”.
Although the contestants were recruited again mainly from newspaper advertisements, with a few direct recommendations from established promoters, they were a varied and competitive ensemble. Narinder from the Medway towns was the first Sikh housewife to have competed. The title welcomed all applicants without having the usual pageantry restrictions on height, weight, age, marital status, or life-style. The sole criterion of judging has always been the best bend of “good looks, a pleasant personality, and knowing how to behave (socially)”. Consequently the standard of our title-holders has regularly been high even at those times when the contest has struggled.
Michelle’s main trip was to Barbados where she was featured prominently in the island’s press. She had visited Holland already in her capacity as the interim title-holder and now returned with deputy Sarah Ferguson to attend the Rotterdam Summer Carnival. One other runner-up had lost contact after the contest and the other had an aversion for the necessary sea journey. Although the local east London press publicised the Michelle and her activities, her reign was under-reported by the national, African and West Indian media. For the first time since the initial year the title-holder was received by neither mayor, high commissioner nor politician. If the title was to retain its fully international perspective, there would have to be a re-think on how it was projected and how it dealt with national entity. If the title continued …… and that was by no means certain.
Clayton faced a difficult few years. His father had entered into his last illness before his passing in February 1993 – the month in which Michelle went to Barbados. Even so he felt that he had left the contest in safe hands by leasing the franchise to Mystique, a Jamaican-heritage enterprise. Roger, the main man, was the best qualified promoter of the title who did not promote it. He had attended several of the shows – not just the finals but the preliminary heats as well – and his cousin Yvonne had been a contestant. Roger was also a hotel administrator of high regard with Park Lane experience and international honours. Perhaps, he was even over-qualified.
Unfortunately not all the other members of Mystique had the same level of competence or commitment. Plans for the promotion were over-ambitious and decisions deferred. Whereas the show had been presented on the journey to Holland, the new presenters decided to stage it in Rotterdam, itself, even if it meant missing a year to organise properly. The financial details had to be worked out in both pounds sterling and Dutch guilders against an ever-changing exchange rate. It was tough going. Then the pound fell out of the Exchange Range Mechanism and Mystique’s involvement was doomed. Roger struggled to deliver on his proposals but on 1st February 1993 he met Clayton – it was the last day the latter was to see his father alive – at the Imperial Hotel in Russell Square, Central London and handed back the paper-work. “It’s all yours again” he said.
Carl Metz Bennett, who had printed the advertising/publicity for the now void promotion, and ticket-buyer Robert Duthie had also been invited to the meeting so that Roger could settle what he owed them. They persuaded Clayton to take up the reins again – with their support. Both were well-known to him. Robert had been his business partner in various operations when starting out in promotion in the 1960s. Carl was the printer and photographer for the contest when it was staged at Spots Club in the Podium. He had also attended, been a major ticket-seller, and recommended contestants for those shows on the St Nicholas. The only trouble was that they were saddled with the booking that Mystique had negotiated for the Tropicana leisure centre in Rotterdam – and all that business about pounds sterling and guilders!
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