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Beauty Pageant with Stormy Past Again Raises Eyebrows

November 13, 1986

LONDON (AP) _ The Miss World pageant is raising a few eyebrows - as usual.

But despite a fuss over Miss USA’s skimpy star-spangled bikini - her ″national costume″ - and whether Miss West Germany had appeared nude or just topless on television, it’s been tame compared with some of the previous 35 years.

″Maybe they’re all good girls,″ said Tom Smith, Miss World spokesman, said Wednesday on the eve of the beauty pageant at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

It has weathered sex scandals, bombs planted by feminists that drove Bob Hope from the stage in 1970, and perennial allegations of rigging that have never been substantiated. In the early 1970s, three winners within four years resigned, prompting speculation that the Miss World title was jinxed.

But the contest’s popularity remains strong.

Thames Television, the commercial network, will broadcast this year’s event to more than 500 million people worldwide, including about 16 million in Britain.

The rival British Broadcasting Corp. dropped the show in 1984, calling it ″an anachronism in this day and age of equality, and verging on the offensive.″

″It always amazes me how a lot of people pooh-pooh the thing but then rush home and sit glued to it,″ said Liz Brown, a Thames spokeswoman.

″You’re obviously going to get the feminist element, the cattle market thing, but by and large most people view it as an enjoyable 1 1/2 -hour spectacle.″

The majority of the 77 contestants hoping to walk away with the the title of Miss World 1986 are students, models and secretaries. Miss U.S. Virgin Islands, 21-year-old Carmen Rosa Acosta, is an assistant funeral director aiming for a career in mortuary science.

Eric Morley had not intended it to be an annual event when he organized a bathing beauty contest for the 1951 Festival of Britain. But the following year, the United States inaugurated the rival Miss Universe pageant, and Morley couldn’t resist the challenge.

Some contestants chafe at the way the contest is organized.

″It is ridiculous - they treat us like nuns,″ Miss United Kingdom, model Alison Slack, complained to a reporter Wednesday. ″At the end of the contest, I can’t wait to be free to get away from them.″

But the show’s somewhat cloistered environment did not stop controversy.

Miss USA, Halle Berry of Cleveland, Ohio, drew gasps and complaints last Friday when she wore a bikini featuring stars and ropes of beads during a parade of national costumes.

Miss Berry - the first black American to reach the finals - said she wanted ″to catch the eye from the start.″ But Miss Holland, Janny Tervelde, thought it unfair because she was ″totally concealed″ in a traditional Dutch costume with clogs.

The West German representative, fashion model Dagmar Schulz, complained that trick artistry had made her appear to be nude on a German television show when in fact she was wearing a mini-skirt.

Miss Denmark, 19-year-old blonde shop manager Pia Larsen, appeared to be a clear favorite with British bookmakers Wednesday at 3-1 odds to replace last year’s winner, Iceland’s Holmfriour ″Hofi″ Karlsdottir.

Update hourly