Is politics a beauty contest, or showbusiness for ugly people?

. Miss Socialist

The Libdem win in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election is big news this morning, reducing the government’s majority to just one. Although many news outlets are also commenting on the poor Labour result and speculating on what they can do to pick up numbers.

Firmer positions on Brexit have been mooted, along with a change in leader. But a return to official Labour Party beauty shows has (as yet) not.

It may be hard to believe, but In simpler, less-enlightened times the Margate Labour Party really did hold an annual beauty show. I have found at least two years so far, 1965 and 1966. But there may well be more. The winner was, of course, crowned Miss Socialist.

Above is  the 1966 winner,  Julie Cannon. Below is 1965’s winner at the Margate carnival. She is one Linda Fleming, mother of national treasure and TV star Holly Willoughby.

Miss Socialist carnival

Whatever your views, these pictures of Margate’s Miss Socialists is pretty shocking in a modern context. Yes they were taken over 50 years ago, but they reveal so much about the world of politics at that time. Trades unions were also regularly holding beauty shows, as did many factories. The Liberal Party (forerunners to the Libdems) had a contest of its own in Thanet area into the 1970s. Below is 1965 winner of the Liberal Princess crown, Christine James.

Miss LIberal Margate

I have not found any Conservative Party contests as yet. Whether that is because local Tories found the contests demeaning, common or simply beneath them will have to be left to speculation for now. But if you come across any or ever took part in a political party beauty contest in the Margate area I would love to hear from you.

The main picture from the local press shows Miss Julie Cannon, a 17-year-old student from Birchington, winning the contest at the annual Labour Party dinner and dance at Queen’s Hall. The ‘eight charming competitors’ were judged by local councillors and then local(ish) MP David Ennais. Miss Jenny Hamilton of St Peter’s and Miss Eva Van de Hurste of Margate were the runners up. Let me know if you know any of them, or indeed if you are Holly Willoughby’s mum or you know her.

Email on

Brothers and Sisters, a bit of hush for the beauty queen


It may seem somewhat strange nowadays, but trades unions once held their own beauty contests. Many workplaces did the same, especially the manufacturing factories in the Thanet area. There is no date on the clipping, but this would have been around 1974.

Here is Janet Hughes, winning the Miss AUEW contest at the Margate Winter Gardens. Now merged, merged and merged again into Unite The Union, the AUEW is now a thing of the past, as are trades union beauty shows.

The clip shows how closely beauty shows were linked to working class life, and now to its social history. Miss World 1967 remains the ninth most-watched non-sports TV show in UK history, with 23.7 million viewers.

And… I am back.

Miss Margate 1964

It is 2019 and I am finally back working on My Beauty. I had to put the project on the back burner due to a bout of illness. But I hope to finish the project this year. Here is Miss Margate 1964 with the runners-up.

For those who don’t know, the project is a social history of beauty queens in the Margate area, taking in various aspects of class, gaze, feminism, femininity, culture, time, beauty, subculture and belonging. I have, thus far, interviewed, collected photos from and taken new portraits of around 20 women who were beauty queens in Margate between 1950 and 1990.

A recap of My Beauty

Miss Margate 1966For those new to My Beauty, here is a quick recap. I started the project (in my head at least) way back in 2011 when in Margate working on a project called Cachet about youth subcultures in the town. The idea was to get working class locals into Turner Contemporary while recording their important part in the area’s cultural history. This worked surprisingly well.

While doing my research I kept meeting ladies of a certain age who would stroll up and proudly announce themselves as Miss Margate 1972, Miss Cliftonville 1964 or Miss Lido 1958. At first I was confused. Then I was hooked. What was it that was so important about these contests? What was it about the beauty shows that had stuck with them? And just who were they?


As I dug a little, I found out that the contests were as varied as the women I met. Some shows were about civic pride and evening gowns, others were about swimsuits and cash prizes. Sometimes the cash prizes were life-changing. A flat and a sports car life-changing. A Way Out. In the same way that boxing was for young working class men. For me, this is working class history, told from a working class perspective. These are untold stories, refreshed and not moderated through the same old lens.

Fast forward five years and I spent the summer back in Margate, interviewing and photographing 25 women. Quizzing them on class, feminism, beauty, family, local pride and just about everything else I could think of. They were ALL wonderful, ranging in age from 50- to 84-years-old.

Now for more hard work, putting it all together as a book and exhibition. More soon!



And I’m back

I’ve not really been away (well apart from a short holiday). But I have been working hard on getting the items people loaned me together, scanning photos and contacting former-beauty queens who now live outside Margate. There are still a few to go and I am still working on the project, so do get in touch if you were a Margate beauty queen contestant.

Autograph ABP Miss Black and Beautiful

I have also been getting out and about and have been lucky enough to see the Miss Black and Beautiful photography show in east London. The show collects the work of photographer and show organiser Raphael Albert, who died in 2009. It’s on at the wonderful Autograph ABP, which archives a diverse cultural history and promotes the work of black photographers and is really one not to miss. The set up is done really well and the images and artefacts tell a powerful story that often runs counter to a traditional, 21st century view of beauty shows.

There is a small crossover with my own work. But more of that later…

Come and see me at Dreamland

Hibiscus Queen and Miss Margate
Miss Margate with South African Hibiscus Queen, Dreamland 1948

I will be down at Dreamland this Saturday, from 1pm to 5pm and hoping to meet more beauty queens and beauty show contestants from the area.

Saturday is the first anniversary of the amusement park re-opening and is also the first day that it is free to get in for all. So come and say hello, enjoy wandering around and bathing in nostalgia. But make sure you bring yourself/your mum, aunt or nan to share their memories with me.

I have met some wonderful beauty show contestants so far, but would love to meet more. Come along if you were ever a contestant in a show in Margate, whether it was at Dreamland, the Lido, the Oval, the Winter Gardens, a hotel or even your workplace. Beauty shows took place all over Margate, from Rovex to the annual balls of trades unions and from the beach to nightclubs. Whether you were a carnival queen, Teen Queen or Miss Dreamland I would love to meet you.

If you can’t make it on the day you can email on You can also call on 01622 322007.

Teen Queen 1972
Dreamland Teen Queen at Dreamland, 1972


The generosity of others

Janice and Susan
Beauty queens Janice and Susan in Batchelors

When you undertake a project like My Beauty, you are reliant on the generosity of others. So it really touches me when people want to take part and really get involved. The women who have been in touch via phone, online or face-to-face at events have been fantastic. They have enthused about the project, about their past and about Margate.

I have been invited into homes,  loaned precious photographs and shown amazing pieces of Margate’s history. There have been crowns, hand sign-written sashes, programmes and trophies. There have been peals of laughter, happy memories and ‘I wonder whatever happened to her’ tales. Thank you all.

Events at Batchelors Patisserie and the Tom Thumb Theatre have brought large numbers of beauty queens and interested parties along. Some of the photos that have been shared with me have been stunning, with many coming from the Sunbeam Studios. Sunbeam  was once based in Sweyn Road and their archive is now held by SEAS at Canterbury Christ Church University.

The next event up is at Dreamland this Saturday, the 18th of June. This marks one year since the park re-opened and is also the first day that the site will be free to enter for all. So do come along and say hello, bring memories to share and encourage your mum, aunt or nan to come and do the same. I shall be somewhere just inside the entrance. Ask at reception if you can’t find me. I’ll be there from 1-5pm.

Mary and Tanis meet Iain at the Tom Thumb Theatre
Mary and Tanis meet Iain at the Tom Thumb Theatre (pic: Louise Oldfield)

Monday event – a special beauty queen screening

Miss Margate heat

Tomorrow (Monday 13 June) sees the second My Beauty event in Margate. This is a special screening of a surprise beauty queen feature film at the wonderful Tom Thumb Theatre, 2A Eastern Esplanade, Margate CT9 2LB.

I am told that the former-owner of the Tom Thumb was a beauty queen. So it’s great to have a venue with a link to Margate’s beauty queen past.

The bar upstairs opens at 7pm, with the screening beginning at 7.30pm. Admission is free for any woman who was an entrant in Margate beauty shows, from Westbrook to Cliftonville and Miss Socialist to Miss Rovex or even Miss Lovely Legs at the Lido. Bring your photos and your memories as My Beauty takes over Club Hydropathe film club at the Tom Thumb for one night only.

If you can’t make this event, then there is another at Dreamland on 18 June, from 1-5pm. You don’t need to pay to get into the part where I will be (inside the main entrance on the seafront). But former-beauty queen contestants will be given free admission to Dreamland itself.

Last week’s event at Batchelors was a great success, with lots of beauty queens coming along.