Information, photo & article kindly submitted by Ron Stanway - General Manager, Entertainment & Promotions for the Butlin Group 1974 to 1990 and Competition Producer 1968 to 1990
In 1955, Billy Butlin (later to become Sir Billy) visited the USA and during his trip he met the famous film star, Marlene Dietrich. He could not believe that this very glamorous lady was also a grandmother.
Upon his return to England, he instructed Lt. Col. Basil Brown, Director of Entertainment, to incorporate a weekly competition at all the main Holiday Centres and Hotels, with each weekly winner invited to a FOC weekend holiday during the autumn to take part in either a Northern or Southern Area Final. At the Area Final, by a process of eliminating heats, each was reduced to 10 ladies who then went forward to the Grand Final of 20. The popularity of the competition was enormous and the larger holiday centres could have in excess of 100 competitors a week.
As the Butlin empire increased with the addition of Bognor, Minehead and Barry Island, plus the hotels at Llandudno and Scarborough, the number of sites running the competition was now 14. The Area Finals attracted something like 125 competitors at each and this stage of the competition rapidly became a club; a chance to meet old friends. Ladies entered year after year just to return to an Area Final; to get through to the Grand Final was a bonus. Ladies who were possibly defeated in a weekly heat would re-book, sometimes several times a season, until they qualified for that all important `reunion'. Throughout the 70's and 80's the competition enjoyed over 10,000 entries per year.
Other holiday camp organisations, introduced the competition into their weekly programmes but Butlin's had that all important prefix to the title `of Great Britain'. Many ladies entered all three competitions but Butlin's with their vastly superior prize money at the final, always had the edge.
Following the 1995 Final, the Butlin Marketing Department felt that the title was out of tune and renamed it the `Super Gran Competition'. The old rule that any lady winning the title was not allowed to enter again was now void as it was a new title. Several of the previous title winners came back anxious to rejoin their old friends.
With an entry of 10,000 plus per year it was a puzzle as to why they wanted to change the title. It was made even more surprising when the Butlin brochure was printed and showed, "SUPER GRAN COMPETITION. To find the most Glamorous Grandmother". So, nothing had changed but the title had lost its attraction and two years later following the 1997 final the competition was scrapped.
With the purchase of the Butlin Hotels by Grand Hotels Ltd in 1999, the idea was muted to resurrect the original competition and Ron Stanway, former General Manager, Entertainment & Promotions for Butlin's, who was now retired but who had run the Butlin competitions for 24 years, was asked to set-up the competition again.
Throughout the summer seasons 2000 & 2001, at the six Grand Hotels, twice weekly heats were held from May to the end of September and, just like the old days, the weekly winners were invited to attend either a Northern or Southern Area Final depending on their home address. Once again these were reduced down to a Final of 20, which took place both years at the Grand Hotel Scarborough.
Many of the regulars have returned and will enjoy the reunion type atmosphere at the Area Finals. No less than six former title winners are entered again. The 2000/1 winner, Mrs Linda Goodinson (51) from Sheffield, was not permitted to enter the 2002 competition (Grand Hotels imposed just a one year ban on their winners) but she will be eligible for the 2002/3 competition if a new source can be found as Grand Hotels discontinued the competition after the 2001/2 Final. Linda was guest of honour at the 2001/2 Area Finals and Grand Final.
The weekly entries in the 2001/2 year's competition numbered nearly 3000; considerably less than the days when the holiday camps were involved but, bearing in mind the size of the hotels by comparison, still a very good response.
Some ladies have been in this competition for 25 plus years and many of these have never reached the Final. Still they come back and the standard of dress is quite remarkable.
At the last Grand Final, Sue Arnold wrote in The Guardian, "likening the finalists to little old ladies is to describe Michael Schumacher as a Sunday driver".
Many of those who have come back to enter again are of course 10 or 15 years older but the consensus of opinion from these ladies is 'YOU HAVE GIVEN US A NEW LEASE OF LIFE'.
The very first Glamorous Grandmother winner, Stella Airey, with Billy Butlin in 1955
Photo reproduced with permission
Stella Airey (above with Billy Butlin) was the very first winner of the Glamorous Grandmother Competition. In her mid forties Stella entered a competition - just for fun - at Butlins in 'Skeggy.' She beat the competition easily in this preliminary round and then went on to beat all the other grannies in the finals at the Butlin's Hotel near Brighton.
Additional information on Stella Airey, including some more photos from the competition, can be found at http://www.leicesteroverseas.com/Stella_Airey.htm
Butlins, Most Glamorous Grandmother of Great Britain Competition.
|1955||Stella Airey, Leicester||1956||Joyce Wheeler, N. Ireland||1957||Emily Williams, Dublin|
|1958||Bertha Griffiths||1959||Iris James||1960||LynnPage, Doncaster|
|1961||Daphne Jones, Sandwich, Kent||1962||Jessie Gilpin, Chelmsford||1963||Mary Salus, Islington, London|
|1964||Grey Clelland, Bristol||1965||Stella Munday, London||1966||Peggy Banaghan, Macclesfield|
|1967||Rose Woosnam, Chelmsford||1968||Mary Clarke, Coppull, Lancs||1969||Maisie Dunn, Chingford|
|1970||Doreen Moore, Liverpool||1971||Dallas Hadfield, Chesterfield||1972||Mabeth Wagstaff, Leeds|
|1973||Corinne Mooney, Scotland||1974||Patricia D'Amico, Blackpool||1975||Mary Page, Sutton Coldfield|
|1976||Jean Jaconello, Weybridge||1977||Pamela Burnell, Cardiff||1978||Patricia Stables, Brigg|
|1979||Verona Sampson, Coventry||1980||Judith Bardwell,Chingford||1981||Lilian Close, St Annes, Lancs|
|1982||Wendy Peters, Harrogate||1983||Patricia Mitchell, Plymouth||1984||Julie Kesby, Southampton|
|1985||Susan Brown, Coalville, Leics||1986||Susan Aspinall, London||1987||Alice Foster, Chorley, Lancs|
|1988||Margaret Boyd, Darwen, Lancs||1989||Victoria Dickson, Bristol||1990||Ann Starkey, Sevenoaks, Kent|
|1991||Patricia Moller, West Molesley||1992||Joyce Whitfield, Wallasey||1993||Diane Chinn, Bristol|
|1994||Annetta Smith, Bury||1995||Vivien Kain, Gateshead|
Butlin's Super Gran Competition
|1996||Ida Foster, West Bromwich||1997||Joan Harrison, Lytham St Annes|
1998/1999 No Competition.
Grand Hotels, The Most Glamorous Grandmother of Great Britain
|2000/1||Linda Goodinson, Sheffield||2001/2||Sylvia Jackson, Bolton, Lancs|
(Grand Hotels dated their winners with the year of the reign following the Final, not the previous year when the weekly heats were held)
Click on each image for a larger view