Miss Meccano

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In 2001 National Museums Liverpool held an exhibition, at the Museum of Liverpool Life and the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Meccano: Twentieth Century Toys, to celebrate one hundred years since the invention of Meccano.

As part of the exhibition we put out a call for former employees to come in and be interviewed about their working lives at Meccano’s main factory in Binns Road, Liverpool.

Many people responded and we have a wonderful set of interviews covering work in the factory from the 1930s up until closure in 1979. We spoke to people who worked on the production line, in the offices, as salesmen; we talked to people whose families had all worked at Meccano, who met their partners there and who loved their time spent at work with great friends and colleagues.

women working in the Meccano factory

One gentleman brought in a box of photographs related to the Miss Meccano competition. It was full of amazing images of the competitors and the judges, many of them local celebrities. We put a selection in the Liverpool Echo and asked for any former contestants to come forward. We were really lucky and several ladies got in touch, with others mentioning the competition in passing in their interviews.

We think the competition ran for around twenty years and most commonly took place at the Grafton Rooms in West Derby Road.

Miss Meccano finalists and judges
Miss Meccano 1971, Susan-Basnett,with judges and finalists

Famous judges

Carolann only worked at Meccano for a year but was persuaded by her supervisor to enter the competition. She recalls wearing a full-length halter neck dress and her long dark hair up in a ‘bubble fashion’ which was all the rage at the time. She wore ‘black eye liner make-up, the blue eye shadow, false nails.’ Carolann didn’t win the title but said ‘It was all entered for fun and for the enjoyment of the night. It was good fun afterwards, we all had a good dance and a good laugh afterwards.’ 

Many famous people did their turn as judges in the competition and Carolann remembered Julie Goodyear (Bet Lynch from Coronation Street) as a lovely person who put them all at their ease before the contest began.

Other judges over the years included Pat Phoenix and Kenneth Farrington (also from Coronation Street), local hairdresser Andre Bernard and footballer Billy Liddell.

Miss Meccano beauty contest judges sitting at a table
Miss Meccano judging panel, including Billy Liddell

Fun and romance

Catherine entered the contest in 1975 and came in the top six. She took preparation for the competition seriously “I went into town and got my hair done at Herbert's and then we all went to the Grafton. It was like a brown dress and it had 2 side pockets in and it had like a brown and cream scarf going round the front with cream shoes, big platforms.”

Comedian Stevie Faye was one of the judges on this occasion and stood out in Catherine’s mind as he was making jokes all the way through talking to the contestants.  The whole event was a lot of fun and especially stands out in Catherine’s mind as she met her future husband, who also worked Meccano Ltd, after the show at The Grafton.

A young winner

Patricia wearing Miss Meccano crown and sash
Patricia McCool crowned Miss Meccano

Patricia was only 17 when she took part in the competition and lied about her age to enter it. Patricia describes what happened “It was the 6th November 1970. That was on a Friday night and I had only worked there a few weeks and it was the ladies in my line put my name down for it because there were 30 women on a line, so each line was in competition with the others to win. They filled the form in and you had to be 18 and I was only 17. They had put down I was 18 to go in for it.

Patricia wore a lilac mini-dress that she went with her Mum to buy from Richard Shops and remembers Kathleen Winstanley, who was Miss Great Britain at the time, being one of the judges.

On becoming Miss Meccano Patricia won £15, this was nearly two weeks wages so it was quite something to win.  The company also bought her a dress to go to the Miss Triang competition in London and paid for the hotel and travel for her and her Mum.  

A fitting crown and throne

magazine cover showing Miss Meccano winners and runner up on a carnival float
Miss Meccano on Meccano magazine cover, December 1971

During the year that followed she also appeared on a Meccano Ltd float in the Lords Mayors parade as shown here on the front of Meccano Magazine from December 1971. The winners crown and the throne were made from Meccano and I was once contacted by a lady who said she had rescued the crown when the company closed down, but she couldn’t find it in the end and thought she might have loaned it to someone. Do you know where it is? We would love to see it!

I have also know the man who designed the throne shown in the image, who loved working with Meccano and enjoyed the challenge of making a practical but attractive throne.

Patricia was only small and had to sit right on the edge of the throne as her legs wouldn’t touch the floor otherwise! The other two ladies on the float were runner up Barbara and the previous years’ winner Mary.  The girls had been given money by Meccano Ltd to buy yellow dresses to match the float from Kay Nelson in Wavertree.

 All contestants had to sign to say that if they won they would stay working at Meccano for a full year afterwards to fulfil their obligations in terms of appearances and marketing. Patricia stayed for two years in total and loved working at the factory, she said it was ‘all girls together having fun.’

Do you have a Miss Meccano story?

If you have any more information about the Miss Meccano contest please get in touch - especially if you know what happened to the throne and crown! You can contact us using this contact form or through the Museum of Liverpool's twitter, facebook or Instagram accounts.