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Village Hall - 'Miss Health and Beauty' (1975)

Village Hall - 'Miss Health and Beauty'

'Miss Health and Beauty' is episode one in the seven-part, second series of comedy-drama anthology Village Hall, which is a Granada Television production. The episode was first broadcast on Sunday 11 May 1975 (ITV, 10:15-11:15pm).

On the left Zo is pictured as Shirley in a screen capture from the programme. Below is the photo of Zoe that accompanied her 1975 TV Times interview, which was published to coincide with the programmes broadcast. Below that are several more screen captures and a video clip.

Overview

Gentle comedy-drama 'Miss Health and Beauty' was originally broadcast just a couple of days before Zo's 26th birthday. Interviewing her about her role in the programme, the TV Times tipped Zo for stardom, praising her as 'one of the brightest young TV acting talents' of the time. Just five years after completing her studies at London's Central School of Speech and Drama, Zoe was clearly well on her way to becoming a well-known television actress.

As The Stage pointed out, she is among 'the leading players' in this episode of Village Hall. The anthology series focuses on the ups and downs of village life, with a village hall at the centre of each community it depicts. In 'Miss Health and Beauty' a village hall in the North West plays host to a beauty contest. The episode's events unfold entirely within the building.

Ruffling feathers in the local Mothers' Union is its newly elected chairwoman, posh vicar's wife Maggie Snape. Sour-faced Hilda Barnes sits in the village hall grumbling to other Union members about Maggie and her motorbike-riding husband, the 'London la-de-dahs' intent on shaking things up in the community. Strong-minded but well-meaning, Maggie has decided to replace the village's traditional May Queen gala with a more modern event: a competition to find the local lass most deserving of the title 'Miss Health and Beauty'.

Hilda's eldest daughter was due to be May Queen; now she will have to compete with other local women for a beauty queen title, much to her mother's annoyance. Hilda also complains that the contest is being held ten days too late the village hall was booked for another event on May Day itself. (The contest evidently takes place on the same day as the programme was broadcast, 11 May: a nice touch on the part of the episode's writer, Tim Aspinall.)

Like a force of nature, Maggie bursts into the village hall as final preparations are being made for the contest, sweeping aside Hilda's complaints about the 'degrading' event and those helping to organise it. 'We've got more important things to worry about [than in-fighting],' Maggie emphasises not least the fact that she has not yet been able to find a celebrity compere for the contest. Will the audience have to settle for ex-Redcoat Ray Groves?

Young Ray fancies himself as a ladies' man and wastes no time in cosying up to the contest's entrants. He makes a beeline for sharp-tongued glamour puss Doreen Price, a seasoned contestant on the beauty contest circuit. He offers to fix the outcome of the competition in order to ensure that she wins the star prize an all-expenses-paid holiday in Majorca if she agrees to let him accompany her on the trip. Doreen may have a high opinion of herself and a low opinion of Ray but she is desperate to win the prize. As she mulls over his offer, he gets carried away, imagining their 'two beautiful bodies lying together on the beach'.

At that moment, his fiance, Shirley Chatsfield (Zo, who gives an endearing performance), arrives unexpectedly at the village hall. She has come straight from her job at a local canteen, wearing a hairnet, drab overcoat and large, blue rimmed glasses. 'I thought I'd give it a go,' Shirley says of the contest. Realising that her presence at the event will spoil his fun with the more glamorous contestants, Ray angrily tells Shirley to leave: 'Shut up! Now, you're going straight back to the canteen, because you can't enter.' Determined to take part in the contest, the young woman refuses to be browbeaten and instead puts Ray firmly in his place. 'You're only a standby compere in case they can't get somebody better,' Shirley snaps at him.



Speaking to the TV Times, Zoe candidly described her character in 'Miss Health and Beauty' as 'a dowdy North country girl, simple and not very clever'. Although no-one could mistake Shirley for a beauty queen on her first appearance in the programme, it is clear that she has put a great deal of thought into the competition. She has bought contact lenses especially for the event, as well as an elegant evening dress from fashionable high street brand Chelsea Girl. In addition, she worked overtime the previous evening, just so that she could leave the canteen early enough the following day to enter the contest.

Bitchy Doreen casts quizzical looks at Shirley's unkempt appearance, sizes up the other hopefuls Hilda's gawky teenage daughter Barbara, gregarious barmaid Olive Hall, mousey trainee typist Eileen White and pretty secretary Sharon Mobley and is confident about her chances of winning. When good-natured Olive jokingly presents herself to the other contestants 'in all my gaudy glory', Doreen whispers cattily, 'I should've entered my mother!'

The village school's strict deputy headmistress, Dorothy Melford, wanted the contest to be called 'Miss Health and Wisdom'. She insists on testing the contestants' intelligence with an exam, and it falls to Maggie to break this unwelcome news to the young women as they congregate in the hall. 'It's not for Mastermind!' the vicar's wife reminds Dorothy; but poor Shirley and the others still find themselves being compelled to complete the challenging exam. 'It's very hard,' moans Shirley, chewing her pencil during the test.

When journalist Sally Trotter and the village GP, Dr Mabel Williams, arrive at the village hall, they soon discover that they have opposing views about the beauty contest. Feminist Sally wants 'to attack' the competition in the women's page of the local newspaper. By contrast, the doctor supports the event, explaining to the journalist that she intends to use it as a platform for promoting her family planning clinic. Sally respects Dr Williams's aim and is persuaded to help her cover the hall in posters about contraception.

Meanwhile, the contestants' dreadful exam results are leading Dorothy to suspect that despite devoting her life to her profession, she has failed to teach generations of village children anything at all! Olive thinks that a question about Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' is perhaps referring to a film starring popular heartthrob Tyrone Power; Shirley isn't even sure who Tyrone Power is, let alone Beethoven. Dorothy declares that only Eileen and Sharon (who was educated outside the village) possess the level of intelligence required to take part in the competition, causing uproar among the other contestants. In an effort to keep the peace (and ensure that the contest has more than two entrants), Maggie reinstates the unsuccessful candidates.

Thankfully, the next task is more enjoyable for everyone involved. The vicar's wife attempts to teach the contestants how to walk elegantly around a Maypole on the stage, before the audience arrives. The young women can't help but be amused by Maggie as she struts around the hall repeating loudly, 'We are beautiful today!'

Later, as Shirley and the others put on their make-up and best dresses backstage, their nerves about the contest are beginning to show. Shirley worries that she will embarrass Ray. Gazing into the mirror, she mutters despondently, 'I look like a bloody drowned rat. I'll never be ready in time.' Kindly Olive helps Shirley with her eye shadow, and Doreen sneaks off to the toilets in order to stuff tissues down her bra, clearly determined to cheat her way to victory.


On-stage, the evening's entertainment begins with opera singing from Maggie, followed by comedy act Reg Goodall, who turns up in a gorilla suit, ready to play music and sing old favourites. 'The only concertina-playing gorilla in the world!' quips Ray, who is confident that the contest's compere role will be his, in the absence of any more high-profile candidates.

In the dressing room Olive passes around a bottle of brandy 'for Dutch courage', and Shirley fumbles with her tinted contact lenses. 'Tiger green... like Ursula Andress',' she says proudly about their colour. Doreen kicks up a fuss, arguing that the contact lenses will give Shirley 'an unnatural advantage' in the competition but the other women don't agree. What's more, Olive is aware of Doreen's underhand tactics and refuses to let her bully anyone.


Thanks to Dr Williams, who remembers that a couple of her patients work in the entertainment industry, Maggie manages at last to find a celebrity compere. TV actor and presenter Cedric Ellis, in a sparkly jacket, frilly shirt and bowtie, arrives at the village hall in the nick of time, bringing some gameshow-style glamour to the proceedings. Cedric, an elderly lothario, hopes that some of the contestants will fall for his charms. As he introduces the women to the audience, he whispers to Ray that Olive is 'a bit of all right'. Shirley looks anxious when it is her turn to face the crowd but receives a warm welcome. She has succeeded in transforming herself from dowdy canteen worker to elegant young lady. 'She's a cracker,' remarks Cedric. Ray is taken aback by this comment he is beginning to see Shirley in a new light.

'I couldn't see anything! My lenses are all misted up,' Shirley tells the other hopefuls after returning to the dressing room. When Ray escorts the contestants back to the stage, it is Shirley's turn to be taken aback. Her fianc remarks quietly that she looks 'quite nice'. Clearly, she is unaccustomed to receiving compliments from Ray, however meagre.

Shirley is shocked and delighted when she earns a place in the final, alongside Doreen and Sharon. The winner will be the finalist who offers the judges Cedric, Maggie and Dr Williams the most persuasive reason as to why she wishes to be crowned 'Miss Health and Beauty'. One by one, the women address the audience. Doreen trots out an over-rehearsed, insincere response, and then Sharon struggles to find any coherent reason at all. Finally, Cedric coaxes Shirley into stepping up to the microphone so that she too can speak to the crowd, with Ray watching her from the side of the stage.


As shown in the clip from the episode below, Shirley delivers a heartfelt speech about her relationship with her fianc. Clearly very nervous, she admits to the audience that 'I've been on the Pill for five years since I've been engaged to my Ray. And although he likes people to think he's always going after other girls, he always comes back to me.' She adds tearfully: 'I know I'm not really and truly the flashy type he fancies, but I think if I won ''Miss Health and Beauty'', he might realise that other people do appreciate me, and he could tell his mates that I was a beauty queen, and, well, you never know...I mean, us could get married.'

As Shirley flees the stage in tears, Dr Williams declares that 'It's victory for truth and the Pill!' The judges have found their winner. Doreen can't believe that she has lost.

'Miss Health and Beauty' is soon sitting proudly on her throne with Ray by her side. Shirley has been justly rewarded for the time and effort she invested in preparing for the contest. What's more, her involvement in the competition has brought her to a turning point in her relationship with her fianc. Ray is confident that the couple will travel to Majorca together and enjoy a romantic stay there. 'Not unless I get that ring on my finger, we won't,' says the young woman firmly, before smiling broadly as Sally takes the couple's photo. Marriage before Majorca!

'Eminently watchable,' concluded the Observer about 'Miss Health and Beauty'. Shirley's story is at the heart of this humorous, touching programme. Zoe's sensitive portrayal of an unlikely beauty queen is reminiscent of her first leading role on TV, that of a prim housekeeper in Lorna and Ted (1973). Neither Shirley nor Lorna could be described as conventional, glamorous heroines but Zoe imbues each of them with a quiet dignity and strength, qualities which help to ensure that the characters earn viewers' sympathy and respect.

Cast

Ray Groves ... Gerard Ryder
Shirley Chatsfield ... Zo Wanamaker
Eileen White ... Janette Legge
Doreen Price ... Bridget Brice
Hilda Barnes ... Liz McKenzie
Dorothy Melford ... Antonia Pemberton
Lilly Sands ... Betty Hardy
Olive Hall ... Sue Nicholls
Barbara Barnes ... Veronica Doran
Maggie Snape ... Elizabeth Spriggs
Sharon Mobley ... Elaine Donnelly
Sally Trotter ... Sheila Kenney
Dr Mabel Williams ... Kathleen Michael
Reg Goodall ... Bernard Wrigley
Cedric Ellis ... Gerald Flood
Wilf ... Eirwyn Davies
June Barnes ... Angela Brown

Crew

Writer: Tim Aspinall
Director: Baz Taylor
Producer: Michael Dunlop
Designers: Denis Parkin, Colin Rees
Theme Music: Jim Parker

Notes

When interviewing Zo about playing an unglamorous character in 'Miss Health and Beauty', the TV Times asked for her thoughts on being a character actress. 'I'm not complaining I can never be typecast,' she emphasised. Zoe's incredibly diverse career, both in the 1970s and beyond, is proof of the validity of that observation.

Merchandise

'Miss Health and Beauty' is available on Region 2 DVD.

Related links

Bernard Wrigley, who plays Reg Goodall, shares his memories of making 'Miss Health and Beauty' on his website (to find the relevant details, scroll down to the section about 1978).

IMDb: 'Miss Health and Beauty' programme details

BFI: 'Miss Health and Beauty' programme details


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