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Thursday, 9 November, 2000, 18:08 GMT
The man who became Mr World
Eric Morley at Miss World 1978
Eric Morley meets finalists of 1978's Miss World
Eric Morley was an impresario and one-time boss of the entertainment group Mecca.

But he became a household name the world over when he would appear on stage at the climax of the Miss World competitions and announce the winners "in reverse order".

Together with his wife Julia, he presided over a competition that was watched by more than 20 million in Britain at its peak in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Appealing for calm after flour bombs were thrown
Appealing for calm after flour bombs were thrown
But it was dogged by protestors angry at what they regarded as the exploitative nature of the competition.

In one famous incident in 1970, at London's Royal Albert Hall, compere Bob Hope was hit by flour bombs thrown by protesters as he introduced the contestants.

Eric Morley's reply to his critics was: "If it is shameful to women, then the best thing they can do is turn it off".

But despite all the troubles, the competition survived and continued to raise millions of pounds for charity.

Eric Morley at the Waldorf Hotel, London
Ladies' man: Launching his autobiograhy in 1967
It disappeared from terrestrial TV screens and disappeared from the UK, heading instead to a string of glamorous locations.

But Channel 5 brought the competition back, pushing the pageant back into the spotlight.

The Miss World competition had its roots in fashion shows at the Mecca halls but became a world bathing beauty contest in 1951 to tie in with the Festival of Britain.

It went on to become an annual event. Morley built up the Mecca empire into an entertainment giant and is also credited with creating the TV phenomenon Come Dancing.

Eric Morley and 1988 Miss France Claudia Frittolini
Morley with 1988's Miss France, Claudia Frittolini
Eric Morley was a loyal supporter of the Variety Club Of Great Britain for four decades, and was a past international president.

Orphaned at the age of 11, he attended Whitstable Grammar School in Kent followed by the Royal Naval Training Ship Exmouth and an Army school, where he played the French horn in the band.

Later, in the Royal Fusiliers, he reached the rank of captain. He was one of the last out of Dunkirk.

After demob in 1946, he got a job as head of publicity in a small company called Mecca. By 1952, he was general manager of Mecca Dancing and the following year he was made a director.

Eric Morley and Margaret Thatcher at the
Dancing with Margaret Thatcher at the 1978 Conservative conference
He was dumped by Mecca in 1978. But within days he became chairman of the ailing Bellhaven brewing company in Scotland.

Eric Morley was an unashamed Thatcherite. He once said: "I would do anything for that woman."

He also had political ambitions of his own. He came within a whisker of entering parliament himself.

In the 1979 General Election he slashed the Labour 7,500 majority of then-Attorney General Sam Silkin to a mere 122 in his seat in Dulwich, south London.

Days later he remarked: "Unlike Sam Silkin, I didn't go to Dulwich College and to Cambridge. I went to the college of hard knocks and last week I received my doctorate."

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See also:

09 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Miss World founder dies
09 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Forsyth mourns Miss World founder
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