MORLEY, Eric 1918-2000. Impresario. Born in Holborn, his father died when he was two and his mother and stepfather died of tuberculosis when he was eleven. The London County Council sent the orphaned boy to the Royal Naval training ship Exmouth, but in 1934 he transferred to the Royal Fusiliers as a boy bandsman, playing the French horn.
After the war he joined Mecca as a publicity sales manager, and in the following years created some of Britain’s most enduring popular entertainments. In 1949 he devised Come Dancing, which went on to become the world’s longest running musical television programme and was later revamped as Strictly Come Dancing. From the fashion shows which he also held in Mecca dance halls, he developed the idea of the Miss World contests in competition with the rival American Miss Universe. Originally conceived for the 1951 Festival of Britain, Miss World was first televised in 1959; by 1995 there were 1.5 billion viewers in 115 countries. He led Mecca into several new activities, introducing commercial bingo to this country in 1961. He became managing director in 1968, but two years later the company was taken over by the leisure group, Grand Metropolitan, and he left in 1978.
He was an assiduous worker for charity, an active supporter of the Variety Club of Great Britain, and the driving force behind the Club’s largest undertaking of the time, the building of the new King’s College children’s hospital, opened in 1985. For a short time he turned to politics; he stood as the Conservative candidate for Dulwich in 1974 and 1979, when he was defeated by Labour’s Sam Silkin (qv) by just 122 votes. He lived in College Road for much of the last half of his life.