In 1951, Eric Morley organised a bikini contest as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations that he called the Festival Bikini Contest. The event was popular with the press, and was dubbed "Miss World" by the media. The swimsuit competition was intended as a promotion for the bikini which had only recently been introduced onto the market, and which was still widely regarded as immodest. When the 1951 Miss World pageant winner, Kerstin "Kiki" Hakansson from Sweden, was crowned in a bikini, it added to the controversy.
The pageant was originally planned as a Pageant for the Festival of Britain, but Eric Morley decided to make the Miss World pageant an annual event. Morley registered the "Miss World" name as a trademark, and all future pageants were held under that name. However, because of the controversy arising from Håkansson's crowning in a bikini, countries with religious traditions threatened not to send delegates to future events, and the bikini was condemned by the Pope. Objection to the bikini led to its replacement in all future pageants with what was accepted as more modest swimwear, and from 1976 swimsuits were replaced by evening gowns for the crowning. Håkansson remains the only Miss World crowned in a bikini. In Miss World 2013 all participants wore a one-piece swimsuit plus a traditional sarong below the waist as a compromise with local culture.
In 1959, the BBC started broadcasting the pageant. The pageant's popularity grew with the advent of television. During the 1960s and 1970s, Miss World would be among the most watched programs of the year on British television. However, in 1970, the Miss World contest in London was disrupted by women's liberation protesters armed with flour bombs, stink bombs, and water pistols.
In the 1980s, the pageant repositioned itself with the slogan Beauty With a Purpose, with added tests of intelligence and personality. However, there have been various objections to the contest. Although it still "enjoys success worldwide, it was no longer broadcast in BBC since 1980 and last broadcast on UK televisions in 1988."