The Girl in the Spotty Dress: ‘Eat your Heart out Marilyn!’


Marilyn Monroe in 1954 (Public Domain Photo)

Just four years before Marilyn Monroe was seen in an iconic pose, stood on a ventilation shaft with her skirt blowing up, Pat Wilson a 17 year old ‘Tiller Girl’ was also caught on camera with her skirt blowing in a Blackpool breeze.

What became an iconic Blackpool photograph in July 1951 was seen across the world on the front cover of Picture Post magazine, itself an iconic journal of its time.

The picture was taken by an enterprising, professional photographer Bert Hardy, using his inseparable Leica camera. Hardy had been a successful war photographer covering the D Day Landings, Liberation of Paris, the London Blitz, the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, the London Blitz. He also covered the war in Korea for Picture Post. The Daily Mail described Hardy as ‘One of the greatest photographers of his time’. He died in 1995.

Copyright Photos & full Story HERE.

Although Pat was photographed many times, the ‘Spotted Dress’ picture was  taken almost by chance. Pat, a young Tiller Girl at the time was walking on the Prom with friend Wendy Clarke, Hardy asked the girls to sit on the Prom railings, to get a photo. Just as they settled precariously on the railing, a gust of Blackpool breeze fluttered both the girl’s dresses, Pats to waist high. Hardy got his shot.

The photo courted controversy. In the first place the breeze exposed Pat’s swimsuit. Before publication, the swimsuit was filtered out, so that it looked as though Pat was not wearing underwear!

A further controversy occurred when the photo was shown recently on the BBC show with a lady purporting to be ‘the girl in the spotted dress’. The programme was seen by Pat’s Grandson, who raised the issue with her. Pat contacted the show and was given air time to put the record straight.

Pat went on to a glittering career in show business, working with some of the most famous names in the business. She married comedian Johnny Stewart. Her death was widely reported earlier this year, aged 83. The dress went with her to the grave, however a cutting from it was sewn into her Grand daughter’s unitard. She is training as a Competition Rower.

August 2017 (Written for & Published in ‘Blackpool Heritage Newsletter’ Issue 19, Sept 2017)

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