The worst wind for three centuries cannot blow contest off course

MARJORIE’S STEADY PERFORMANCE SEES HER THROUGH

The title gets a title – it is Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth

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Marjorie Lewis (left) assists Tottenham Hotspurs in Christmas charity presentation

The weather, which was bad enough the previous year, came closer yet to wrecking the contest held on board the St Nicholas in November 1987. The run-in to the final had gone easily and the success of the two earlier shows on the water interest in tickets ran higher than ever. Then barely a fortnight before the event the worst hurricane in 300 hundred years struck the country.  The promoters – contestants and supporters – awoke, if they had been able to sleep at all – to see buildings destroyed, trees uprooted and their hopes dashed. The destruction of telephone-lines hurt most as Clayton Goodwin could communicate  with little more than a handful of those involved. The lines were restored after three or four days but by then many prospective travellers, unnerved by television pictures of ships buffeted by high winds and driven aground, had cancelled their booking.

Entry to the contest was again by recommendation and by preliminary heats at the Shady Grove club. The former was beginning difficult as the number of promotions and promoters declined. The squeeze on venues and apathy, not to say antipathy, of the press was mainly to blame. Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth survived because we had established our own identity at sea. Miss Jamaica UK, Miss Trinidad & Tobago UK and Miss Guyana UK came to a halt – to be replaced by other longer-lasting contests of the same name – and the shows of some of the other islands were not replaced at all.  Miss Elegance, and its associated titles, alone kept pace to form with ourselves what was seen already as being the Autumn Double.

The coach drive to Harwich through the devastated Essex countryside was made sombre by the sight of the rural damage wrought by the hurricane. Fortunately the sea stayed calm and the crossing each way was smooth. There was an on-board crisis however. The sister of one of the contestants was taken ill mid-journey so that a doctor had to be summoned by helicopter. Because she had boarded the ship knowing that she was ill the medic did not set out until payment could be guaranteed. Guest promoter/compere Junior Hart took the risk of meeting the cost and collecting from the young lady’s father when they returned from the trip. His faith was justified but the experience was considered to have had an adverse effect on the on-stage performance of the patient’s sister who had been one of the favoured contestants to take the title.

This contest is remembered for one contestant who lost as much as for the winner. A Barbadian beauty, whom we shall not name here, took the first, evening-dress, section of the show by storm. It seemed that she had only to stand up in the swimsuit parade to win. Alas, she hit a triple fault. Firstly, the young lady wore an exceptionally brief trikini which hardly covered the private parts. It would have gone down well with an English audience but not West Indian. Then, perhaps bemused by the cheers of the audience, she looked out over the heads of the judges as she walked, as if oblivious to the panel. Finally, just as she was about to complete her performance, the d.j. called “Here, darling, give us a hug” ….. and she did. It was not the thing for him to say, or for her to do.

Marjorie Lewis, the current deputy title-holder, paraded competently, without frills and, more importantly, without error, to win the crown. She had been recommended by the Shady Grove club. Marsha Hibbert, a former Miss Mini Model and recommended by Mrs Kerr of Miss Elegance, and Jennifer Reid, an independent, was third. All three were of Jamaican heritage. Jeni was equalling a record shared with Ruby Palmer and Elaine Maxham, her cousin, of competing in four finals. Elaine has qualified for five but a last minute illness prevented her from attending on the fifth. The practice of allowing contestants to enter the competition more than once provided a thread of continuity which added to the individuality of the title.

The title … yes …. Marjorie was the first winner to be known definitely as Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth. We had struggled to settle on a name since abandoning the Page 5 Girl feature some years earlier. The public knew who we were but not who we were. Then promoter Clayton Goodwin found that the name had been right in front of him all the name. His own business was registered as the Caribbean and Commonwealth News Service and as applicants came to him through the readership of the publications to which he contributed it seemed to be right that that was who the contest should be seen to represent. Entrants do not have to be of Caribbean or Commonwealth nationality but they should move in the society served by those publications. Nevertheless the founding traditions were maintained – there was neither crown, nor sash, nor other parapheranlia.

As Clayton tried to catch up on sleep on the return journey, he was woken by a knock on his cabin door. Contestant Lorraine stood there still in her bikini. She had shivered so much with nerves on stage that the promoter doubted whether he should have allowed her to continue. Lorraine was crying – with joy. “Thank you so much for letting me take part. I know that I had no chance of winning but for those few minutes I was in contention with some of the most beautiful girls in the country – and maybe the judges were just giving me a thought.  How can I repay you? I have not got anything”. True, there were no pockets in her bikini. However  she was holding a half-eaten packet of polo-mints and thrust them into Clayton’s hand. “It’s all I have. Thank you so much”.

Marjorie’s reign followed the pattern of those of her immediate predecessors, though, it is fair to say, she was not quite so active. She was received by Mr Herbert Walker, the Jamaican High Commissioner, and by the Deputy Mayor of Haringey. Tottenham Hotspurs, her local football club, arranged for her to take part with some top photographic models in a Christmas fund-raising opportunity at White Hart Lane. Because the match – which was against a South London team (Charlton Athletics, or Crystal Palace?) started in the morning, Marjorie was invited to high breakfast with some of the best-known names in soccer and the media.

Ms Lewis took her main promotional trip to Antigua. She also went to the Netherlands. Here, however, things had changed. The greater prestige, civic involvement and financial resources of nearby Rotterdam had drained support from the Utrecht Caribbean Carnival to their own and it had ceased to exist. Nevertheless with Clayton covering the costs of some days spent in Amsterdam, Julian Patterson and Rudi Wilson hosted Marjorie and deputy Jeni Reid (the other runner-up Marsha Hibbert had moved to the U.S.A.) in Utrecht, the costs of which they paid for personally.  It was a generous gesture. Yet it wasn’t quite Carnival, and there was a distinct air throughout the year that while the title remained the same the edge had gone out of the earlier impetus. Nevertheless while the St Nicholas remained the future of the contest was secure.   

This chapter has a happy, romantic ending. While she was his guest, Jeni fell in love with Rudi Wilson and four years later they were married, settling in Maerssen just outside Utrecht. The contest couldn’t promise that to all contestants, even those that came deputy to the title. Jeni was the last survivor from the 37-candidate promotion in 1982, and had been one of our most fervent supporters. When the next title-holder was unable to accept an invitation to attend the final of the Maid in Kent, and her deputies were otherwise engaged, Jeni was happy to take on the honour.

 

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