Thurrock historical figures

Eric Morley, creator of 'Miss World'

Eric Douglas Morley was born on November 26th, 1918 in Holborn, central London and was initially educated at Whitstable grammar school in Kent. His father, who Morley later claimed 'was at Oxford and spoke nine languages', died young, and his mother and stepfather both died of tuberculosis when he was 11.

As an orphan, Eric was sent by the London County Council to the boys' training ship 'Exmouth', moored at Grays. Here he clearly displayed an entrepreneurial streak, breaking bars of toffee into squares and selling them to friends. At the age of 14, he joined the Royal Fusiliers as a bandbox and continued to play the French horn for the rest of his life.

During the war he became a captain in the Royal Army Service Corps, organising entertainments for the troops and on being demobbed in 1946, Eric Morley joined Mecca as a publicity sales manager. Three years later he created 'Come Dancing', which was a great success and became the world's longest running television programme. During the early 1950s Morley began to adapt traditional seaside beauty contests to fashion shows, and used them to help publicise the Festival of Britain in 1951. Having then established a 'Miss World' contest, Morley was prompted to turn it into an annual event held in the Royal Albert Hall, following the launch of an American rival, 'Miss Universe' in 1952.

The importance of Morley's role at Mecca grew rapidly and by 1953 he was a director of Mecca's dancing division. In 1959 'Miss World' was first televised, and at its peak in 1968, the show received an audience of 27.5 million in Britain alone. Although the contest is no longer broadcast in Britain on terrestrial television, it remains popular elsewhere and in 1997 attracted a worldwide audience of 2.5 billion people from 155 countries. Eric Morley also took Mecca in other directions, including the introduction of betting and gaming, with the arrival of commercial bingo in Britain in 1961.

Morley's wife, Julia, who he had met at a dance hall and married in 1960, ran the contest during the 1970s and 80s. Meanwhile, he had worked his way up the hierarchy and by 1971 had become chairman of Mecca and a director of Grand Metropolitan, which had taken over Mecca the previous year.

The focus of Morley's activities then began to change, following an unsuccessful plan to create 'Merrie England', an amusement park, in 1972. He turned to politics and enjoyed a relatively short period of success for the Conservatives, but his interest evaporated after losing the nomination to another candidate before the 1983 general election. In 1991, Morley bought out 'Miss World' for £800,000, after it made a loss for the first time since its creation.

Throughout his life, Morley worked for numerous charities, and 'Miss World' alone raised a total of over £30 million for various causes. At the age of 63 he completed the London Marathon despite a damaged hamstring, and supported both the Variety Club of Great Britain and Variety Clubs International (the latter as president in 1978.) He died on November 9th 2000.

Bibliography

The above information was obtained from an obituary in The Times newspaper of Nov 10th 2000.