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From the archive, 14 July 1980: Miss Universe on television

You know those late night movies in which quite a small blob digests passing postmen and such until, replete, it beats its blobby breast and boils over everything like porridge.

The Blob is here. Miss Universe, 90 minutes of her, was only the beginning of Misses England, Scotland, Wales, UK, and tomorrow (or quite soon enough) Miss World. All on ITV with only occasional breaks for commercials.

It’s not as if Miss Universe was all that small to begin with. I don’t think I have ever seen a stage so full, unless you count Hassan, one of ITV’s early misadventures, which included incontinent camels. “From Seoul, Korea, the multi-million Miss Universe pageant! From the four corners of the world have come the most beautiful women!”

There were 69 of them, all dancing in national dress with what vivacity they could command for wearing dresses “designed by Gloria Vanderbilt for Jonathan Logan” (and I bet he looked sweet in them, too), or being escorted by cadets of the Korean military Academy (all with tall feathers in their caps, as featherless they are rather on the stumpy side).

Meanwhile, hundreds of Korean dancers, waving fans or hankies, Summer Bartholomew holding a bowl (possibly to be sick in) and “musical superstar Donny Osmond” were all trying not to break a leg on a stage made exclusively of steps.

This mish-mash was disentangled by “the beautiful Helen O’Connell,” who asked the questions, and “the beautiful Jane Kennedy,” who knew the answers. “Which girl has the highest mark, Jane?” “Miss USA, Helen. She is incredibly high.” “Wow!” It was compered by “The star of The Price Is Right, Bob Barker!”

You can well imagine The Price Is Right from Bob Barker’s interviewing technique. Miss Colombia: “I am going to become a doctor of cardiology.” Bob: “What?” Miss Colombia: “Cardiology.” Bob: “She has a marvellous bedside manner. I bet all the young men in Colombia will have heart problems.”

There was also a computer which had to be fed. A disturbing innovation but, happily, “the accountants tabulating the ballots are the internationally known firm of Ernst and Winnie.”

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It’s no use looking at me so hopefully. I didn’t seem to know anyone there. Neither Ernst nor Winnie nor Bob Barker nor Summer Bartholomew nor anybody. It’s so humiliating. I am not even positive which one Donny Osmond is.

I think Miss Scotland should have won for replying to “How are you a different person from when you entered?” with “I’m a much richer person”. But she, coming only second, was shuttled off smartish in case she spoiled the picture of Miss USA crying and the Korean Army presenting arms and Miss Universe 1979 reading the Miss Universe creed.

In the best of all possible worlds, the over-taxed stage would have collapsed so one might say, “Oh dear. They have all fallen down a hole in Seoul. How sad. What’s on next?”


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