Rifling through packets of old and sometimes scratched negatives, you find that the best picture today is often the one that was probably rejected at the time. Someone walks into shot, one of the beauty queens is frowning or yawning or (as below) another photographer walks into shot.
This shot shows the winner, a Miss Joan Ashley, 21, of Mill Hill, London. But out of focus at the rear of the shot (giving it great balance) is one of the runners-up. Her pose suggests she may also be having her shot taken by another snapper. But maybe she is just contemplating her recent defeat. Either way, it is a beautiful photograph.
Please get in touch if you know Joan Ashley. I am looking for any Margate beauty queens from 1945-1995, including those who travelled to the town to compete. Contact me by leaving a comment below or email on email@example.com. You can also call on 01622 322007
Looking at the local papers in Margate from the 1960s and 1970s, it seems the town was very backwards in its taking up of female equality in the workplace or elsewhere. But I doubt that things were much different in the rest of the UK. After all, the Sex Discrimination Act did not come into law until 1975.
This was a time when many factories in the area had their own beauty shows, including Klinger and the famous Rovex factory in Westwood. Even local trades unions held their own beauty show, as did political parties.
Rovex, who made Hornby trains and Scalextric racing cars, appealed to women with their ads referencing the ‘model world’, workplace safety and half-day Fridays (so you could go to Dumpton Market and pick up the latest knock-off fashions). There was also the chance to win the title of Miss Rovex at the company’s annual dinner and dance each December.
I am looking to find any Miss Rovex, Miss Klinger or any other workplace beauty queen from a time when that was a seemingly normal thing to happen. Similarly, I would love to speak to any judges from that time. Please pass the message on to your mum, nan, aunt, sister or friends. The workplace shows are as much a part of the Margate beauty queen history as any show at the Lido or Winter Gardens.
My Beauty is a project about the beauty queens of Margate’s past, but it is very much one that concentrates on the photography of the time, too. After all, the SEAS photographic archive at Canterbury Christ Church University is a partner in my project.
Most of the images I am finding are those that will have been taken by professionals. The candid shots by beauty queens’ families are fascinating, but some of the unused and discarded shots by the pros are simply outstanding. Some packets show the editor’s pick marked up for print in the local press, but the throwaways nearly always show more history.
The above shot is of women waiting to take part in the 1960 Miss Margate competition. It is from a set of colour negatives in local historian Suz Foad‘s archive, with most of the other shots being standard beauty show material. Shots of the winners, shots of the line ups and shots of the judges. But this shot recalls the work of English photographer Tony Ray-Jones (who sadly passed away in 1971 at the age of 30).
Ray-Jones shot in black-and-white (and did shoot in Margate), but the colour image is certainly one you can image him taking . The photographer is capturing the moment and perhaps telling you more than he thinks. Ray-Jones may have composed it better, but you can judge for yourself by looking at one of his own candid beauty queen pictures in an article about a retrospective of his work curated by fellow-photographer Martin Parr in 2013. It is one of my favourite images by him.
Below is another shot from the same set of Margate negatives. It may be by the same photographer, although it is from 1968. Do remember to contact me if you spot any relatives in the photos (you may not have much luck with the below unless you know them very well!) I would love to hear from them, as well as from any of the photographers. Full contact details are in the About section, or you can just email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is little doubt that Margate was a very white place in the 1970s. The demographics show that the area still has a very small number of black or Asian residents. Black and Asian daytrippers from south and east London were a regular sight on the seafront, but the numbers who chose to stay and make a home in the town were small.
This picture of a Miss Margate show at the Winter Gardens in 1975 is the first sight I have had of a black woman taking part in a Margate beauty competiton. I assume the woman on the left is runner up to winner Pip Neale (centre) here. But I do not have a name as yet. Click on the picture to see it larger. Do you know her, or know someone who may know her?
It is quite likely that the woman in question was part of the groups of women who entered the local beauty shows while not living in the area. In the heyday of beauty shows, many women spent the summer travelling from town to town and entering shows. Women from London, Essex and the Midlands regularly took part in Margate beauty shows. There was a decent living to be made if you were placed and it sure beat working in a factory, digging potatoes or selling ice creams.
You have to remember that entering these shows must have been a bold move in the mid-1970s. This was before England had a black player in the national football team. This was a time when black women were still highly exoticised, judging by some of the other pictures I have seen in the local newspaper. This was when the National Front was on the rise.
The picture is from a largely unlabelled set of negatives on loan from brilliant local historian Suz Foad. Apparently they were rescued from a skip when a local newspaper disposed of much of its own archives.
Please email me on email@example.com if you have any clues as to the identity of or contact details for any of the women in this picture or on the website. It would be great to hear from you.
My Beauty feels like it has been under way for some time, from meeting the beauty queens who inspired it (back in 2011) to receiving Arts Council England funding and setting up this website. But yesterday (Tuesday) felt like the first proper day of the project, as I was out meeting and photographing former-beauty queens.
I had a tentative contact from Rosalyn last week, telling me she lived a long way from where I was concentrating my actions. She also told me that she would be leaving the UK again soon. With time being of the essence, I quickly arranged a meeting with Rosalyn in Dorset. The sun was out and the train timetable was kind. Although the café where we had arranged to meet had closed down.
Worried that we may never meet, I had a look around the station and was relieved to find Rosalyn. I was even more pleased to find that she had her sister Evelyn with her.
As we sat and chatted over coffee, I learned that Rosalyn was Miss Dairy Maid 1960 in Margate and that both had entered Miss Margate 1958. Evelyn was runner-up in that contest and often appeared in the Miss Margate sash, as the competition winner was regularly unavailable for the public engagements that went with the title.
The sisters – whose parents used to run the Rhonallea Hotel in Edgar Road, Cliftonville – were a delight to be around. They were exceedingly generous with their time and their anecdotes of Margate and beauty shows past. I think they’d both had a crush on a young Reg Varney, who was performing in summer season with Benny Hill when they were teens.
I look forward to meeting more amazing women like Rosalyn and Evelyn. So do let me know if you, your aunt, sister, mum or nan ever took part in any beauty contest in Margate, Cliftonville or nearby. The more I explore this untapped history, the more I find. And that will just keep driving me on, recording history, telling stories and making sure those voices are heard.