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, the Liberation of Paris, the London Blitz and the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. 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.
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 when 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 girls’ dresses, Pat’s 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. Pat passed away in 2017, aged 83. The dress went with her to the grave; however, a cutting from it was sewn into her granddaughter’s unitard - she is training as a competition rower.
'The Girl in the Spotty Dress: Memories from the 1950s, and the Photo That Changed My Life' By Pat Stewart and Veronica Clark, can be found in our reference collection, in the Blackpool History Centre.