Lime Grove’s ‘Mrs. Mopps’ 

28 March 2022 tbs.pm/74954

 

TV Mirror cover

From the TV Mirror for 17 July 1954

LONG before most viewers have started to think about the day’s TV programmes — before many of them are up, in fact — a small army of women is already at work cleaning the rooms behind the scenes at Lime Grove.

These are the “Mrs. Mopps” of TV. There are forty-six of them, though a half-dozen work at the Television Theatre.

These cheerful Shepherd’s Bush housewives, many of them with families — and some with TV sets — arrive every morning at seven o’clock and leave at 9.30. They dust, they clean, they polish, and when they have finished, the Lime Grove staff finds everything spick and span to start its day’s work.

But the “Mrs. Mopps” do not clean the studios. They are done by the “browncoats” — twelve men who do the heavier cleaning duties — so called because of their distinctive clothing.

There is one studio however, which a “Mrs. Mopp” does look after. That is the Announcers’ Studio, housed in the presentation suite. And there, on her hands and knees scrubbing away, I found Mrs. Doris Flynn, who has been working in the suite for nearly a year.

On a wall on one side of her was the famous weather map, in front was the desk that the announcers use when facing the camera, and, trailing over the floor were a series of wires leading to a television camera and some light-stands.

“It always gives me a thrill to see the very studio on my TV set that I have cleaned earlier in the day,” said Mrs. Flynn. “But I have never seen any of the announcers in real life. They arrive at the studio during the morning, after I have gone home.”

Sarah Knapp

Mrs. Sarah Knapp, fourteen years’ service at Lime Grove, is assistant chargehand

She has a family of three — two girls and a boy — who are just as excited about watching that TV screen as mother is. Mrs. Flynn also cleans the two announcers’ dressing-rooms, both of which are situated near their studio, and provide the resting-place that announcers go to between appearances on the screen.

Up on the top floor Mrs. May Everitt, of Hammersmith, was busily tidying one of the offices the same way as she has done for the last twenty-three years. And, besides being the longest-serving of the “Mrs. Mopps,” she is a veteran of the film days at Lime Grove, when the studios were geared to the rolling of a different type of camera.

“In all that time I’ve only been off sick for two weeks,” she told me. “When these were film studios we used to see the stars coming in and out, because we also worked in the evening, which is impossible with TV programmes. I have often seen Margaret Lockwood, Phyllis Calvert, Patricia Roc and Robert Donat. Sometimes, in the old days, they started work at six o’clock in the morning.

“Once Arthur Askey’s goat Lewis chewed through his rope and chased me along the corridors. I ran into an office and closed the door until someone collected him.

“Another time, before the BBC took over Lime Grove, the lift got out of control. I managed to get out of it just before it hit the top of the shaft and crashed down to the bottom and broke into smithereens. I was very lucky to get out in time.”

“It was a temptation”

Mrs. Sarah Knapp, assistant charge hand, herself a Lime Grove veteran with fourteen years’ service recalled: “We shall not forget those wartime days here. When there was an air-raid we used to be taken to the basement shelter, and sometimes we spent a whole night down there.”

Pouring litter into a sack in the make-up department on the ground floor, Mrs. Madeleine Cross, who has been a cleaner at the studios 4½ years, told me what those rooms look like first thing in the morning. “They are usually pretty dirty when I arrive, because they have been very busy places the night before.

“There is a lot of powder on the floor, and cosmetics strewn about, but by the time I leave, things are tidy again for another day.”

The nearby wardrobe-room would be “just the job” for many women. Here, hanging together from large stands are the costumes used in TV productions, ranging from the bustle of bygone days to the cocktail gown of modern times.

And there are outfits for men too—anything from a dress suit to a G.I.’s tunic.

Mrs. Violet Hunter has been cleaning this long, well-stocked room every morning for nearly four years.

“I’m quite used to it now,” she told me. “At first there was a temptation to try on the dresses and coats, but I always resisted it, though I must say it would be nice to wear some of the clothes I see hanging here.

 

A woman scrubs a floor on her hands and knees

Mrs. Doris Flynn hard at work cleaning the Announcers’ Studio. All the other studios are cleaned by men.

 

Their favourite day

Not far from wardrobe is a smaller room called the machine room, where dresses are specially made for TV performances. When I looked in, Mrs. Rene Doughty, who has two daughters, aged eight and six, was dusting a table over which hung a rail of fairy-like white frocks.

 

 

Controller of the “Mrs. Mopps“ is a man. He is Mr. J. K. Johnson, Lime Grove’s foreman-cleaner, and he has been a BBC employee fourteen years.

Like most other workers, TV’s “Mrs. Mopps” always look forward to Friday — pay day! Then, as 9.30 approaches, they queue in the wages office for their money, swapping stories about the morning’s work as they wait.

 

Women queue to be paid by a man

The nicest job of all – queueing for their wages. Paying them is Mr. A. Kelly

 

Their tasks at Lime Grove finished for the day, they leave for their homes — most of which are within walking distance. And as they walk down the road who knows! — perhaps they sometimes think about the day when TV stars arrive at Lime Grove early one morning and they meet them in the flesh.

 

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