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When a picture of an 'almost nude girl' sparked a storm in Great Yarmouth

PUBLISHED: 07:13 01 December 2019

Beauty on parade: contestants in the Miss British Isles competition at the open-air Marina postwar. Vincent Hayes is the MC.

Beauty on parade: contestants in the Miss British Isles competition at the open-air Marina postwar. Vincent Hayes is the MC.

Archant

A provincial journalist's life is not as high-octane as many imagine.

Seven shop assistants in Palmers department store in Great Yarmouth, plus a German friend, on the beach in 1955, responding to a national claim that staff in a store in another resort were Britain's prettiest.Seven shop assistants in Palmers department store in Great Yarmouth, plus a German friend, on the beach in 1955, responding to a national claim that staff in a store in another resort were Britain's prettiest.

Yes, we do attend fires, shipwrecks, fatalities and other hard-news incidents, often with deadlines ominously close, but mostly we are routinely reporting courts, council sittings, inquests, annual meeting, dinner-dances...

Occasionally, a figurative little gem sparkles, enabling a break from the hum-drum and, as a consequence, perhaps giving readers something to smile or mardle about.

In January 1963, one of those magic moments occurred - sadly, in my absence because I was working elsewhere in the county.

Great Yarmouth's entertainments and publicity committee, discussing the forthcoming summer, was probably startled - as were the reporters covering the meeting - when one of their number, councillor J E Rivett, criticised the choice of a bikini-wearing girl for the cover of the new annual holiday guide.

The front of the 1963 Great Yarmouth and Holiday Guide that caused controversy.The front of the 1963 Great Yarmouth and Holiday Guide that caused controversy.

According to the Mercury: "The picture of 'an almost nude girl' sitting on a sailing dinghy on Gorleston beach that appears on the front of the Yarmouth and Gorleston holiday guide was criticised as 'bad taste' by a councillor."

Mr Rivett told his fellow committee members he felt the guide's front cover was "cheap publicity."

He continued: "Don't think I don't admire the human figure, but one of my teachers told me there was 'a time and a place for everything'. I don't think the front of the guide is the place for an almost nude girl.

"I think the cover is in bad taste. I think it is going a bit near the bone!"

The Mercury said the picture showed a "a smiling dark-haired girl in a pink and blue bikini sitting on a Firefly sailing dinghy in the sun on the beach."

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Nobody on the committee supported Mr Rivett's stance, said the Mercury. Frank Stone told the gathering: "It is one of the best guides ever. Everybody concerned should be congratulated on the presentation."

From Ken Hammerton came the comment: "All my friends agree it was the best guide they have ever seen. I can't see anything offensive in it."

As for chairman Edgar Barker: "I thought it was a yachting picture - a picture of a regatta. Quite frankly, I didn't notice the girl. Perhaps I'm getting old..."

Director of entertainments and publicity John Kinnersley declared: "The cover is my responsibility. Ninety per cent of all guides in Great Britain have got girls in swimming costumes on the cover. There was no thought like that in my mind."

Nobody in that council department knew the identity of the young woman in the bikini, but a spokesman told the Press: "She was apparently at Gorleston for the regatta and was quite willing to have her photograph taken for possible use in the guide."

Choosing a bikini-clad girl for the photograph? "The department says it would never think of showing anything coarse or vulgar - we try to maintain the standard of a family resort."

Girls in swimwear? Well, bathing-beauty competitions have long been a popular attraction at holiday resorts, and the weekly heats in the long-gone open-air Marina amphitheatre drew big crowds. Some big-name variety stars appearing in Yarmouth often helped with the judging or placing winners' sashes over the girls' shoulders.

Once or twice Mrs Peggotty and I were invited to join the judging panel when the Miss British Isles heats moved to the Winter Gardens. Lucky you, readers might think, but the novelty's pleasure was offset by the angst of trying to pick the right contestant.

In 1955 some salesgirls at Palmers department store in the Market Place caused a few eyebrows to be raised hereabouts when their photograph in swimsuits on the beach was published in the News of the World, a million-selling down-market Sunday newspaper.

It was the store's response to a friendly boast from a shop in either Blackpool or Brighton that it had Britain's prettiest assistants. The Yarmouth picture was taken on a bitterly cold day...but the "models" smiled bravely.

- Were you the bikini-clad girl whose picture sparked a storm? Let us know by emailing Peggotty via peggottyporthole@gmail.com

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