FIFTY years ago, a 20-year-old hairdresser from Poole was crowned the most beautiful woman on the planet.

It seemed as though Ann Sidney’s entire home town was watching the Miss World contest, broadcast from London that November night.

The contest was popular on a scale that is difficult to imagine today, with 27.5million people in the UK alone tuning in.

In months, Ann had gone from entering her first beauty pageant to donning the tiara which brought with it unparalleled opportunity and glamour.

Ann moved to Poole with her family when she was very young.

She remembers being on the train as it rolled into the town past Poole Park lake.

“I was about five years old. Poole Park was my first view and I was thinking this was absolutely fantastic,” she said.

The family settled in Kent Road, then an unmade track, near Branksome Rec, and Ann went to Martin Road School and then Kemp-Welch secondary, leaving at 15.

She learned to skate at Bournemouth’s Westover Ice Rink and was keen to pursue the sport, but was devastated at having to give it up because her parents could not afford lessons.

“It was very expensive. We were working class. My dad came back from the war with a heart problem, pretty much knowing he would die young,” she said.

Her parents tried to find her a sponsor in London but were afraid at the prospect of her going to the city without them.

“They couldn’t see much future in it,” she said, “so I decided to go into hairdressing. I said to them ‘I’ll do a three-year apprenticeship and then I’ll do what I want to do’.

“They thought ‘ideas above my station’ time.”

She earned 30 shillings a week as a hairdresser, working at the salons Otis and Roger De Paris in Bournemouth.

“I was very creative and hairdressing would have been a good career but it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to be a model and go to London,” she said.

But when she went to London in 1964, Ann found herself struggling to get jobs. “I was big-boned. I’m not your typical skinny model,” she said.

She came home and decided to head to Blackpool to begin entering beauty pageants.

“I went to Blackpool, entered the contests and within four months I was through to the finals of Miss UK,” she added.

She won the Miss United Kingdom contest making her Britain’s representative in Miss World at the Lyceum Theatre, London, on November 12.

Echo reporter Richard Walton reported that night on the scene in Ann’s Kent Road home, where her mother Gladys and father George saw Ann crowned.

He wrote: “When the result came, pandemonium broke out in the house. The parents hugged each other ecstatically and from then on it was open house until the early hours of the morning.

“The front door was left open as a steady stream of neighbours and friends came with congratulations.”

Telegrams began arriving at the house from across the world.

Ann’s parents joined her in London and were on the train that brought her home on November 19, to the kind of reception usually reserved for royalty.

Soon, Ann was pictured signing on as the International Wool Secretariat’s ambassadress and visiting Dior fashion in Paris.

By Christmas, she was in Vietnam as part of Bob Hope’s show for the US troops.

She even appeared on TV in Moscow, in a film of her Miss World coronation.

Within a decade, the Miss World pageant would be the target of protests by women’s groups, but Ann says no one questioned beauty contests in her day.

“It was a bit of free entertainment, for people to go and say ‘There’s a pretty girl’ and nobody was disrespectful. It was a gentler time, after the war. They wanted to look at beauty again.

“It was innocent. It was simple fun entertainment and it wasn’t considered in any way demeaning.

“Beauty is always going to be a currency and if you’ve got it, why not go and do something with it if you get the chance?”

After her year as Miss World, Ann decided to pursue acting.

“I thought ‘I’ve got a bit of money, I’m going to invest in what I want to do for the rest of my life’,” she said.

She joined a Manchester repertory company, “back on hairdresser’s-style money”, for a couple of years, touring in plays such as Doctor In The House.

Her career in entertainment would include playing Maria in The Sound Of Music in Denver, several stints in panto with Les Dawson and six years as a lead singer at the MGM Hotel in Las Vegas.

On screen, she would appear in Sebastian, starring Dirk Bogarde, and with Mick Jagger and James Fox in Performance.

At 45, she got her first “real job”, in hospitality, at the 3,044-room Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.

“It was the best thing I’d ever done. I didn’t realise how many skills I had in dealing with people,” she said.

Showbiz life has “a lot of uncertainty”, she said.

“It’s also not conducive to family life or marriage.”

“Although I would like to have had children, I don’t regret that I didn’t have any. I’m rather pleased. I’d have to have somebody who could afford to keep me out of work.”

After years in America, she is now living in London with Duncan C Weldon, her husband of 10 years. She is in touch with a number of her Kemp-Welch schoolmates via Facebook and is writing her memoirs.

The part of those memoirs that will most interest the national papers is her affair with the married Bruce Forsyth at about the time she became Miss World.

It will, she says, be a “short piece”.

“It was when I was very young. It’s something that’s got to be in there because it’s part of my life.

“He won’t like it very much. He doesn’t speak to me now.

“I’ve never told my story of what happened.

“That’s a very small part of it.”

Looking back, she says Miss World helped open up huge opportunities to her.

“Women in that period didn’t have the same expectations and opportunities,” she said.

“My mum was a working-class person. Although she worked very hard all her life, she still didn’t expect to have any other opportunities in her life.”

She added: “If I hadn’t been a beauty queen first, I would have been a signed-up member of the feminist group. I don’t fit into the old-fashioned gender-specific roles.”

Miss World returns home

THE Evening Echo of November 19, 1964, reported the scene that greeted Miss World’s return home.

“Cheering crowds milled round the forecourt of Poole Station and overflowed across the bridge as Miss World, Parkstone’s own Ann Sidney, stepped off a train from London this morning to a civic welcome home,” it said.

Ann remembered: “It was phenomenal coming back, especially for my mum and dad because they were with me.

“Arriving at Poole station, the amount of people that turned out. Some of the figures – the dear old ladies that are probably no longer with us, who came out in their best coats that had seen better days.

“They all turned out to say ‘Good luck and we hope you have a wonderful year’.”

Ann was welcomed with a bouquet of yellow roses from the council’s parks department, handed to her by children Lindsay Arney and Rodney Hannan.

A 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost from Lord Montagu’s museum was to take her on a tour of the town, with neighbours pushing forward to pat her on the back or shake her hand.

She stood in the back of the car while the mayor, Cllr Tom Sherrin, placed her Miss World crown on her head.

That evening, she was welcomed to a gala dinner at Poole Civic Centre.

Eleven-year-old trumpet player Nigel Hopkins, of Petit Road, Moordown, heralded her arrival and played cabaret after the dinner.

Guests at the dinner were given a souvenir menu with Ann’s Miss World picture on the front, and inside a poem about her composed by Mr W Lawrence, of the organiser, Zebra Catering Ltd.

Outside, the crowds grew impatient to see Ann appear on the Municipal Buildings balcony, and she obliged with three encores.

The next day’s Echo described the atmosphere as “something between Coronation reverence and cup tie fever”.