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Behind the Book: Murder at the Beauty Pageant

Murder at the Beauty Pageant is book 12 in the best-selling Miss Underhay series. Set in 1930’s Devon, England the mysteries have a golden age feel, and are based in the area around Greenaway, Agatha Christie’s home. All of the books can be read as standalones, Although, if you enjoy series reading you may prefer to start with Murder at the Dolphin Hotel which is the first in the series.

During the 1930’s beauty pageants were very popular in the UK. Most towns and villages had their own beauty queens. Many industries had them too, with breweries, factories and businesses all having their own beauty queen to promote them.

For the young women taking part, it was seen as fun and there was often a financial incentive too. The finals of Miss Europe 1935 were held in Torquay, won by Miss Spain and many contests were held nationwide to celebrate the silver jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary.

I discovered a fabulous original Pathe news reel of the Miss Europe final which was very helpful for research. If you search Youtube you can view it for yourself. The contestants parading in what today would seem like very modest swimsuits, twirling their Chinese style parasols. The cadets from the nearby Naval college whooping and cheering them on as they walked past. The mayor in his gold chain of office looking mightily pleased with himself as he crowned Miss Spain the winner.

It seemed obvious then to set a book around a fictional beauty pageant held in Dartmouth to celebrate the royal jubilee. Dartmouth is a picturesque small-town set on the river near the coast with an ancient castle. With a small group of contestants who all had a motive to murder the victim, and an anonymous bible thumping letter writer the plot was born.

Many of the pageants at the time focused not just on appearance but the modesty and talents of the contestants. Their behaviour had to be seen as modest and refined as they were representing their town or industry. The winners of the contests held to celebrate the silver jubilee often presented the town’s children with commemorative gifts or sat on floats dressed as Britania as they went around the streets.

The winner of the Miss Dartmouth silver jubilee crown in the book was promised a substantial cash prize and a hamper of meat. The contest is sponsored by the local butcher. The aim of the contest was to raise money from the admission fees to pay for a street party and gift for the children of Dartmouth. This was another common aim of the contests held at the time.

The publication date of May 2nd had been set when I originally signed my contract several months before. Sadly, while I was writing the book our own much-loved monarch passed away.

The outpouring of national grief demonstrated the high regard for Queen Elizabeth’s duty and service held by the nation. A similar level of affection was held during 1935 for King George and Queen Mary so it helped to see the background against which I could set the events of the book.

The coronation of King Charles is set to take place just a few days after the release of Murder at the Beauty Pageant and coincidentally almost 88 years to the day after the silver jubilee celebrations of 1935. I doubt that anyone will be holding a beauty pageant to celebrate the coronation. Indeed, the idea of beauty pageants today has changed completely from what was considered desirable and acceptable back in 1935.

Helena Dixon was born and continues to live in the Black Country. Married to the same man for over thirty years she has three daughters, a cactus called Spike, a crazy cockapoo and a tank of tropical fish. Helena was the RNA winner of the Romance Prize in 2007 and Love Story of the Year 2010.


About Murder at the Beauty Pageant – Kitty Underhay is awarding first place… to murder.

Spring, 1935. Newlywed Kitty Underhay has been enlisted by her old nemesis Mrs Craven to help organise the Miss Dartmouth Jubilee pageant at the Dolphin Hotel. Being bossed around by her arch enemy is not quite what Kitty had in mind for the start of her married life, but she’s excited to launch the glamorous show. Sparkling smiles are quickly replaced by audible gasps however, when one of the girls goes missing during the interval…

When pretty Peggy Blaine is discovered dead. Kitty can’t help but notice that none of the other contestants seem particularly shocked. Can jealousy over a sash and a diamante tiara be a motive for murder?

But when she discovers the threatening notes the young women have received, Kitty enlists her husband Matt to figure out who’s scaring the competitors. However, before Matt can speak to them, another entrant turns up dead after an apparently accidental overdose. Taking part in a beauty pageant seems to have turned into a fatal occupation!

The daring duo are sure that someone close to the girls is responsible. But can they sort the harmless face powders from the fatal poisons before it’s too late? Or will Kitty and Matt find they are next to be crowned… with death?

Bio: Helena Dixon is the author of the best-selling Miss Underhay murder mystery series and lives in Devon. Married to the same man for over thirty-five years she has three daughters, a cactus called Spike, and a crazy cockapoo. She is allergic to adhesives, apples, tinsel and housework. She was winner of The Romance Prize in 2007 and Love Story of the Year 2010 as Nell Dixon.



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