Make-up and Wardrobe 

9 November 2023


Cover of Ariel

From Ariel, the BBC house magazine, for March 1960

THE PROBLEM of dressing television programmes night after night is a stiff one. For a single West End show there may be three months of preparation; but in that period scores of television programmes have been planned, dressed, televised, and forgotten. They may be historical or modern, frivolous or fantastic, decorative or sinister; and there must be continual variety in the costumes seen by the viewers, for some are very regular in their viewing. Where would you begin?

This was the problem which faced Johnny Bradnock after the war, when television started up again and little stock of value was left from the ‘thirties. By building up a wardrobe, on the one hand, and hiring from theatrical costumiers, on the other, the constant and expanding needs of television have been met.

In the pressure of the immediate, the Department have little time to count their stock. It is packed in dozens of brown, clearly labelled boxes lining their walls or ranged on line after line of hangers. Twenty thousand items, including jewellery, headgear, and miscellaneous items as well as garments, is a very rough guess. What is more significant is the sort of things which are worth stocking and why. There are items which can be used over and over again, either with adaptations or as they are, such as cream (not white for technical reasons) shirts, high-heeled court shoes, and cloaks which are suitable for historical plays of several periods. They are kept in many sizes, in quantity, and in the case of shirts, for example, in extra numbers to allow for laundry. And then there are items which are difficult or impossible to hire, or to hire separately, such as trick and monster costumes. So that there is method in the madness which is suggested at first sight by the labels (‘cheetahs’, ‘reindeer’, ‘maids’ frilly caps’), and the contents are of either or both categories.



As soon as a programme of a type where wardrobe planning is needed is scheduled, a Wardrobe Supervisor is allocated. From the first meeting with producer, lighting and other technical experts, she starts to make her plans. Sketches are made, doubtful points discussed. Suitable items are taken from stock, assembled on a special rack, and labelled with the wearer’s name. The gaps arc gradually filled in by hiring from theatrical costumiers. The Wardrobe Supervisor may have as many as half a dozen programmes on her hands at a time, all in different stages as their transmission dates are nearer or further ahead. She has a good knowledge of the history of costume, but exceptionally obscure points may require research, which she herself carries out. The dressing of the programme is her responsibility.

Pamela Glanville is the Assistant Manager, Wardrobe. In addition there are fourteen Wardrobe Supervisors. A team of male and female dressers is headed by a Wardrobe Mistress and Master who work a shift pattern and a workroom. Here there are tailor’s dummies, sewing machines, large tables, and brightly coloured materials. A team of seven under a Head Dressmaker spends most of its time altering and adapting, but a steady stream of new garments also comes from the Workroom week by week.

There are a hundred and forty staff in Make-up and Wardrobe Department as a whole. In addition to servicing all television studios in London, they give help to the Regions when asked. The second section of the Department deals with Make-up, under Tommy Manderson, Assistant Manager, Make-up, and she in turn has twelve Make-up Supervisors (each in charge of individual productions) and thirty-two Make-up Assistants. The Assistants are allocated to individual productions under supervision. An Administrative Assistant, and Clerks to keep an eye on items in and out from hire or from the laundry, among other jobs, complete the Department.

The main difference between television and film makeup is this: in films the lighting, make-up, and anything else involved can be rearranged before each shot. If they are less than satisfactory, they can be altered and retaken as necessary. Television suffers from obvious limitations in this respect.


Tommy Manderson

Tommy Manderson, Assistant Manager, Make-up


Corrective make-up is an important part of the job: conditions of the face which are not ordinarily conspicuous are often revealed by the camera. A red, flushed skin, which would appear dark on the screen, is quickly and carefully toned down.

‘What’s My Line?’ and similar programmes require, of course, little advance planning: all that is needed is straight or corrective make-up. Where an OB is televised from a theatre, an Assistant attends to advise the cast on any necessary alterations. No make-up is normally required for interviews out of doors.

Inventiveness plays a part in both sections. On one occasion a hat which looked like a typewriter was asked for. The imagination boggles at the sort of dramatic situation which would demand just this, but with a piece of buckram and considerable ingenuity one of the department made a hat which did, in fact, look remarkably like a typewriter. And to devise a being from outer space, as in the comic opera ‘Hands Across the Sky’, requires a strong imagination as well as skill.

Creating visual illusion is one of the attractions of working in Make-up and Wardrobe; dealing with human beings is perhaps a greater one. Both help to maintain enthusiasm and give the job variety. But more important than either is the fact that most of the staff have worked in other branches of the entertainment industry, and the traditional feeling that ‘the show must go on’ is as strong here as elsewhere.


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