Interviewed by Judith Jones, 4 November 2015.
Okay. Can you begin by telling me how you came to be employed at Granada, how you joined Granada?
This is going to be quite a long story! I was always very stage-struck. I was brought up in Manchester. Even during the war I can remember going to the Robert Atkins, the open air theatre from Regent’s Park coming up to the Whitworth Park. I think I was six and I saw Merchant of Venice and it might have been As You Like It and I was absolutely mesmerised by it. I remember in the tea tent afterwards some of the actors were there, and one of the things I always remember was the lace at the cuffs. For some reason, it stuck in my mind. I used to go to the theatre a lot, especially the Library Theatre where Joan Littlewood was.
I was going to go to Oxford or Cambridge but then I saw you could do drama at Bristol, so I read French and Drama at Bristol University.
But before that I got a job. I went to the Playhouse Theatre in Hulme, next door the Hulme Hippodrome, and went round to the box office, burst into tears and said, could I see the manager, and ask if they could give me a job. They let me come in and I just used to help. But it started everything off.
After I finished at Bristol, the manager Michael [White? 02:20] had started a company at Croydon. So I went down and he employed me and the stage manager was Howard Baker. I think it was about that time he was applying for trainee directorships at Granada. He was great friends with Caspar Wrede and Michael Elliott. They started a company called the 59 Theatre Company at the Lyric Hammersmith. I didn’t work there very long but I worked there for a bit. And then I didn’t see Howard for ages and I was working rep and acting, stage managing and doing all sorts.
Then I thought perhaps I better start doing something a bit… I wanted to still be creative but I didn’t want to stage manage or anything, so I got a job at one of the costume houses and I’d become friends with a girl, Sue Phillips, who was the costume designer at Granada. At that point Granada hadn’t moved its drama and stuff up to Manchester. She was working at the Chelsea Palace. She’d had one baby and she was expecting another, so she obviously couldn’t go on doing it because it would have meant travelling up to Manchester. So she phoned me up one day and said, “Oh, Esther, write in to Granada.” I didn’t own a television set. I’d never been in a television studio. So I wrote to Granada. I can’t remember who I wrote to. Any rate, it turned out that Howard Baker who I had known was doing inheritance, so I went up there, they interviewed me and I got the job.
What year was that?
That was in ’67. And then I was on a rolling contract for about seven years. I was never not employed. There were always interesting jobs. I didn’t think when I went up that I would carry on working there, but they just kept on offering me interesting work. And eventually after about seven years I thought perhaps I’d better go on not just the payroll but the pension. So I joined the pension scheme. Then I was there till ’89 when there was this big cull of anybody over 50.
So were they mainly one-off dramas?
Both. There were quite a lot of series. There was Persuasion, Judge Dee, Rogue’s Gallery, Country Matters, Shabby Tiger... But then there were also quite a lot of one-off dramas written by very interesting people. I don’t know whether I ever did any Jack Rosenthal but there was Faye Weldon, Trevor Griffiths, James Cameron; there were a lot of very interesting writers who were around there. There were others but I can’t remember their names at the moment. The whole place was really buzzing. This is the late sixties, early seventies. And they also started the Stables Theatre Club. Most of the plays they put on at the Stables were then filmed.
What was the Stables Theatre Club?
It was a sort of repertory. They’d change the plays about every three weeks. One of the people there was Maureen Lipman, and that was where she met Jack Rosenthal and saw that romance blossom. Richard Wilson was there. Nigel Havers. There were a lot of people who went on.
I: Were they open to the public?
It was open to the public. It was in the Stables block. There was also a bar at the stables because there was never a bar in Granada itself. And when the Stables closed we all used to go up to the Film Exchange.
Thinking about your job at that time, what was involved from the very beginning? Say if somebody said you were going to work on a particular programme, can you take me through the stages for you?
It was my job to clothe the show. So I would start with the script, or sometimes I would actually start with the book. I certainly did with Jewel. I read the book before I read the scripts. Not always because sometimes it could be confusing. You’d work it out on two levels. There were the practicalities of what was needed when, where, and how. You’d also have to work out what the characters were and how you were going to show the character through the costumes. That was the bit that I found very interesting. And I used to enjoy doing the research into, you know, what mill workers wore, or [when we were? 08:20] in India, you could tell by what everybody was wearing, especially the poorer people, you could tell what religion they were, what part of the country they’d come from. Working all that sort of thing out was very interesting.
So would you then design those costumes?
Yes. Often, of course, on the practical level you couldn’t afford to have everything made. When I first started there were a lot of costume houses in London that would supply costumes that were already made, so you’d have a mixture with stuff you’d designed and was specially made.
Sometimes I did not want to have stuff that was specially made and new. When I did Tolstoy with Peggy Ashcroft who was playing Tolstoy’s wife, I can remember getting terribly worried because she was such a big star and I thought she was going to want to have everything made. Because she was a fairly ordinary woman, I thought it would be much better if she just had clothes that had already been worn, so that everything wasn’t new. Any rate, I went up to her house and we talked it through and I was so relieved when she said that was what she wanted; she didn’t want stuff specially made. So I then had to find appropriate used, old clothes. I used to like finding old clothes and that sort of thing.
And at what stage would you meet the actors? Because presumably you would have these ideas for their clothes but you wouldn’t necessarily have the person in front of you and their measurements.
This would be a problem. One always had a problem with this, especially if you needed to have stuff made. Say, with military uniforms, and things like that, where you’d have to measure people and it would take two or three weeks for them to be made. So my deadline for casting would be three weeks before. However, the directors’ deadline was three minutes before the read-through! And it was perfectly understandable. I’ve got a theory about this – that a lot of the time you couldn’t make up your mind until there was no time and you had to make a decision. So I was always fighting time. I used to have to do quite a lot of pre-preparation to make sure, because sometimes you didn’t see people almost until they were going on the set. There were other times when I would be the first person to see them. Sometimes when you were doing a modern thing or something where they weren’t going to have a lot of rehearsal I would actually see the actor before they’d started rehearsals. They sometimes had very short rehearsal times. I remember one actor said, “Well, I can play the part now. I’d have been turning up, just going on and not knowing what was happening.” It was quite interesting.
And did you work closely with makeup?
Yes. I mean we obviously both had to get on with our own thing but yes. Especially with hats and things. I would often have to say, she’s got a certain hat. Especially Edwardian or Victorian hats, the wig or the way the hair is dressed, the hat can’t sit on a modern hairstyle. So you’d need to have it built up in a certain sort of way. You’d need to liaise in that sort of way.
Once you were in production, once you were filming or in the studio, what were your responsibilities then?
Well, I liked to be around when the filming was going but obviously I couldn’t. But what I always liked to do was if there was an actor and they were wearing a new dress that hadn’t been seen on camera before, I liked to be there that was seen. When I first started working I didn’t have an assistant, when I was doing something like Country Matters, one just had to go and do it. But often I had to go down to London to be fitting ahead of times. So I was often one jump ahead. But I did like to be around as much as possible on the set. Probably more than a lot of designers. I used to enjoy that. I enjoyed getting all the extras dressed up. Often designers would leave that, but I liked to have the overall things right.
And were you responsible for the continuity, making sure costumes on one day looked the same on the next day?
Basically, yes. Often technically one should have left it to one’s assistant. But yes. That was something ones assistant should have been in control of. Before we had Polaroids, because when I first started to work Polaroids didn’t exist, you actually had to do little drawings and things like that. It was more making sure you had all the right stuff there. One would often liaise with the PA who would also make sure, for example, to note that someone put his hand in his pocket as he was going out, that sort of thing. So again one needed to liaise.
Were you ever responsible for doing the laundry if you were filming for a long time? Had costumes ever gotten dirty in the evening or needed repairing or whatever?
Oh, yes! Hopefully one’s assistant and the dressers would, especially the male dressers. The men’s stuff, their shirts would be washed every night, and all that sort of thing. Some things it was very difficult to wash because a lot of it was silks and things like that. You couldn’t. And the worst thing was blood. If people got shot or stabbed or that sort of thing because blood does not wash out and if you’ve got it on a silk garment or something like that, and then they want to shoot it again, you’re stuck. I knew if there was something like that it would bump up my budget like mad. You’d have to have the garment made, and have, say, four of them, alike. I used to have to say to the director, “You’ve got four goes at this! Because you’ve only got four garments, and once the blood it on it, that’s the end of that.”
So were you given a budget as a round figure, or would you say how much each production would cost?
When I first started to work, I don’t think I thought in terms of budgets. But when I worked at the costumiers’ Nathan’s, when I used to send stuff out to the various production companies, I used to pride myself. I did know pretty well what it cost. But I don’t remember there being much discussion, in fact the first time I remember there being much discussion about costs was bumping into Peter Eckersley one day in the reception in Granada and we were halfway through Hard Times and he said, “Oh, we’ve cast Edward Fox.” And Edward Fox was one of the big stars of the day because he’d just made Day of the Jackal. Peter said they’d spent all the budget paying for him so there was no budget for costumes. I thought, well he’s got to have some. Peter said, “Well he can have three outfits.” There was a brilliant tailor I knew. I went to him and said I’ve got Edward Fox but I’ve got virtually no money and we can get away with three outfits. It was the fabric that was very expensive. I said I needed a hunting outfit and something else… and he went away to his back room and came out with offcuts from the National Theatre. He said, “The National Theatre have just done a production, these won’t be used so you can have them.” So that was how I managed to dress Edward Fox in Hard Times.
At the time when you first started work, television was in black and white. What kind of challenges did that bring for you?
Well the big thing with black and white was something called the grey scale. You had to know. It all had to be done in shades of black, white and grey. If you had a bright orange or red or green, you had to know what colour they were going to come out. You might have something that, to the eye, looked different, but everybody might end up looking the same muddy shade. It was a very interesting exercise. I’m very glad, in a way, that I started that way. It was quite a good training and it got your eye into things. It was quite interesting.
And what happened when it moved to colour?
Oh god, there were so many discussions about what was going to work. Would blues start shouting out? Because of course the cameras weren’t all that good and they were video cameras, mainly, that we were using at that point. Whites would sing out. So you tended to have to dim things down to take the edge off things. Most whites, you would have to make them be cream, and things like that. I think it was more fear, actually. When we came to doing it, we very quickly seemed to manage.
One of the worst things is strobing. Sometimes a tweed jacket at a certain point clashes with the number of lines and it will start to strobe, but it won’t strobe at every point. All that sort of thing could be quite tricky.
We used to have terrible problems doing Crown Court with the sound men because they always used to say that the starched tabs and collars they were wearing were interfering with the sound. I used to get very cross because they used to bully some of the lower-down people working on it and they couldn’t really stand up to them. I had had enough. Then I realised they were using Sellotape to stick the mics on and all that sort of thing. And it was that making the noise. And they went on complaining. Then I discovered that the wire, the poor chap was treading on it. It was the sound men who were… Sometimes it was a problem because silk can “shoosh” and can be problematic, and it is difficult for sound men.
What would happen to the costumes at the end? Did Granada keep them?
No, most of the costumes Granada didn’t own. They had to go one of the costume houses, and they had a system of ‘made new for hire’. They would make them up to your designs and they would not be allowed to hire them out until the show had been shown, but then they would go into their general stock, and it’s to everybody’s advantage. They built up their stock and they would then be re-used. Or often what would happen was you’d re-trim them, and they’d be almost re-made sometimes.
I can remember on Hard Times, Arthur David, this tailor, had made a lot of the men’s garments. So Granada owned those. And May, who was the wardrobe mistress, said to me very brightly one day, “Oh, I’ve had Berman’s up and I’ve sold all those costumes.” Which was fine. But I said, “But I hope you did tell him that the show hasn’t gone out yet and they’re not to be used until the show has been aired.” Because the copyright is with Granada.
One of the biggest productions you worked on was Jewel in the Crown. Were you the costume designer?
Yes. I didn’t do all of it because when we were out in India I got a very bad chest infection and I had to come back. In fact, by that time virtually everything had been set up. So I didn’t do the filming when it was back in England but most of it had actually already been set up and done by that time.
Was that one of the first programmes you did abroad? Presumably that brought its own challenges.
Well, I’m trying to think. I think the first one I did abroad was Greenhill Pals where we took all these old men to the Somme. I think that was the first time I went abroad. But the first big one and the one that was done as a test to see if one could film in India was Staying On, with Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. We did it first but story-wise it’s about an old couple who have stayed on in India after partition, after independence. It was done really as a trial run to see if we could do it. And I must say it was like a step into the unknown. When I got to India I was bombarded. I’d never been there before. All these sights and sounds and smells. I think I went out two weeks before we started shooting. It was a learning curve like there’s no tomorrow! But it was rather wonderful. I could see all this stuff.
Obviously for background crowd one needed old clothes and I could see all these beggar types and poor people and I thought, how on earth am I going to reproduce this? The Cecil Hotel is now very posh but I think at that time it had been closed and they’d opened it up specially for us. There was a waiter, and this waiter and I went out and I bought some new clothes, sort of pyjama trousers and shirts and things, and I went round looking at beggars and I swapped; I said, “I’ll have your clothes. If I give you these new clothes, will you give me your old, raggedy bits?” And that gave me a great start. I also found an old clothes shop which was very useful. A lot of the stuff I bought there I used on Jewel. There was the Nawab. I remember seeing this sort of nehru coat which was quite tattered and worn. And the Nawab was supposed to have this tattered [rag? 26:16]. And the minute I saw it I thought, that is the Nawab! This was for Jewel but it was about two years before we were filming it. That is what he wore in the end. But I didn’t know who was going to play it at that point.
So tell me about the very detailed file that you’ve just shown me that everybody referred to.
Well that was the references. I broke down the script scene by scene. I think there were about thirteen episodes. I always liked to do my own breakdown. I didn’t like to use… the PA obviously had to do it, but I always liked to do my own because it got it into my head and I could see. It was a way of thinking as one was working it out. I’d read the books and I’d made a note when there was any costume reference. Then I tied up the costume reference in the book to the different scenes and it would often apply – as I said, there were thirteen episodes – it might apply two or three times. It might be episode one and in the last episode. And then I had to break down what each character was going to wear and where they were going to wear it, because I think we were filming in four different parts of India so we had to work out whereabouts in India those clothes were going to be, and so it was very complicated.
I think when we were talking about Hard Times, I don’t know if it was the same for Jewel, but you used costume as a way of placing someone in terms of time and perhaps their background, but also their position as a character, or how they felt.
I always used to feel that the clothes reflected whatever was happening to them. You were building up. So when somebody sees the character when they first come through the door, you actually help the viewer to work out what this person is about, what they are, how they are. I know I had a terrible time with Hard Times. They re-jigged the order. There were four episodes. It was episode three; it was the death of the heroine’s mother, Gradgrind’s wife. They changed the order of when it happened chiefly because of the advertising breaks so that that death happened on an advertising break. But of course it made total nonsense of the continuity of the story. It’s when Edward Fox sort of rapes her. I said, “You realise that is now happening two days after her mother has died?” And in Victorian times if somebody’s mother dies they should be in deepest black. And it doesn’t make sense. And there was a whole subplot that made absolute nonsense of it. But everybody told me to shut up. We got round the black by putting her in grey. But often I would be the person who would have to point out that sort of thing because nobody else would have thought about it. And they mostly used to get quite cross with me if I did point it out. But actually if you watch the third episode of Hard Times, the continuity, time-wise, of half the story, does not hang together. I think I was the only person who would notice it. [laughs]
So thinking about when you joined Granada in the sixties, what was the company like at that stage? What was the ethos and the feeling? How important, for example, was Dennis Forman?
The Bernsteins were important. At that point I don’t think I knew about Dennis Forman. There were one or two other people about but I can’t remember their names. I wasn’t really conscious of Dennis Forman until about the mid seventies. Obviously he was around. There was also a thing where quite a lot of people like Forman were probably working down in London and most of the programmes by that time were being made up in Manchester. There were offices in Manchester. The girl whose job I took over, Sue, said to me, “They’ll probably offer you an office in London. Don’t take it because they’ll know here you are.” So when I was down in London I used to work from home. I was at home then. I’ve nothing to compare it to. I’ve worked in theatres and I found it a bit strange, the difference to theatre. I found it quite strange. With the theatre, especially when you were in rep, they were very small, tight-knit companies and I actually found it quite strange not being with… Though actually by the end, fairly soon, it did become like home.
Certainly a lot of the shows that I did like Inheritance and Shabby Tiger, there were a lot of plays at the beginning, and Hard Times, where doing it up in the North made a big difference to being in the South. You needed to have the feel of being in the North, the weather and the mills and all that sort of thing, whereas down in the South people hadn’t got a clue what it was like. Manchester when I first started hadn’t been cleaned up. Manchester was still like it was when I was a little girl. Some of the bomb damage had gone but some of the buildings were still pretty black. I remember when they started cleaning the buildings and it was, “My golly, Manchester’s a red brick city!” Because I’d always thought of it as a black city.
So you are saying that a programme like Shabby Tiger couldn’t have been made by another company?
I don’t think so, no. I mean Yorkshire started a year after; Yorkshire could possibly have done it. But Yorkshire didn’t do the plays and the drama like they did at Granada. They didn’t have the writers. I think a lot of it starts with the writers and if you’ve got something well written or interesting… But also they couldn’t have been made in the South. The feeling down here is very different to the feeling in the North. Certainly, with Inheritance, there were still quite a lot of cotton mills going. We filmed in working mills. I think you’d have a problem now, apart from the fact you’d have to go to Quarry Bank to find a working mill.
When we were filming Hard Times we were filming in a working mill. Patrick Allen was playing Gradgrind and we were in the mill and there was this big house, it was probably the mill manager’s house, and it was in a terrible state of dilapidation and there were all these wonderful fireplaces and Patrick Allen had quite a lot of money in building and he bought these fireplaces and things. I don’t know how he was going to use them. I remember there was a lot of stuff in there. We just took it. I don’t know where it is. There was some lovely cotton floss. There was another place I went to where I got a lot of old clothes in bin liners. We just took them. We shouldn’t have done, probably.
So one of the things that other people have said was about the social element of Granada, and I don’t know if that was something you found?
ED: When I first went up, because I was doing so much work down in London, I actually wasn’t part of it. When people went out for drinks at the end, which I was used to with theatre, it sort of didn’t happen to begin with. But then I met Tommy Mann, I don’t know if anyone has mentioned that name to you. Did he have a bar at that stage? He’d got a restaurant. He’d been a wrestler and had lived in Paris, he was quite a character. I became quite friendly with Tommy. My social life looked up then. And then of course once one had got going with that and with the Stables, then it really was. Everybody used to meet up together. And what was good was, say, the cameramen and the sound men worked on everything, on World in Action and on dramas, and you knew what was going on. We were all sort of inter-involved.
And gossiped, yes!
Costume design was a female occupation, is that a true assumption?
Yes. I mean, obviously there are male designers, but yes, it was, and we were very much underpaid. It was also part of the sweatshop thing that we were in a way the lowest of the low and when I first went up there, there actually was not a grade for a costume designer. And it was ages before I actually got a credit as costume designer. I remember at the end of Inheritance I think they came to me and said, “Oh, we’ll give you a credit at the end: wardrobe.” And I said, “In the business when you know, wardrobe is not that. I don’t want my name down as ‘wardrobe’.” So I used to be down as ‘costume’. It was ages before ‘costume design’ was acknowledged as you being a designer and you were paid accordingly. I was not paid anything like as much as set designers were paid.
And presumably most of the set designers were male?
Most of them were male. Not altogether. But it was a male thing. Some of this is historic because in the theatre the set designer would also design the costumes. At one time they weren’t two different people.
There were different unions. For ages I wasn’t in a union because there was NATTKE and ACTT, and really I should have been in ACTT, but there wasn’t a grade for me. Equally, there was not a grade in NATTKE. I joined NATTKE in the end simply because of the fact I was embarrassed that I was paid reasonably well and the dressers and a lot of the people who worked in wardrobe doing shows, especially modern shows, they were taking a lot of responsibility, and to begin with they were only being paid as dressers. It was quite a fight to get them to be paid. And often people in the department didn’t help. The head of our department, May, who was an amazing character, did not help. It was power for her.
And it was unusual for Granada that you weren’t in a union.
Everybody was. I got away with not being in the union for quite a long time. I think it was about seven years. But it was only because there was no grade for me.
That was presumably nationally, it wasn’t just you.
Yes. I think Granada were particularly bad about that, actually. The BBC had always given their costume designers recognition. But I was doing more interesting shows than most people! I wasn’t going to rock the boat too much.
Tell me a bit about your BAFTAs and your external recognition that you got.
In a way that was when it started. When I got the BAFTA for Hard Times, there hadn’t been craft awards before. I remember being very excited watching the awards when it was Country Matters and Derek Granger got the award for the best series, and we were jumping up in the air. I was in my flat but leaping round cheering that he’d got that. I had no idea you could get one. And again, I bumped into Peter Eckersley in reception or somewhere. A lot of stuff was just done with bumping into people. And he said, “Oh, they’re having some awards and you’ve been nominated for the costume award.” And that was the first I’d ever heard of it. I went down to London. It was all very haphazard. There was no party. I think I went with a friend. And I got the award. I was the first one to get it and it was very nice.
When I went up to Manchester, it must have been over the weekend and I went up presumably on the Monday, and I thought one thing I must make sure is that one thanks everybody who’s worked for you. So I went in with some bottles of champagne. All the dressers and the other people who’d worked, I wrote them little letters to say thank you because really nobody took very much notice. So we started having a party. And then, was it Bill Tomlinson, or Stuart [Aidison?], came down and realised. Nobody else had had an award. I was the only one. I think makeup got it but I don’t think she was employed. I was the only Granada employee who got an award. So they were a bit embarrassed. It was quite a party, and then I can remember going on to the Stables. Again, there was somebody who came over and was quite ashamed that they hadn’t made a bit of a… There used to be a magazine, how well we’ve done this year, and there was something about how we’d won these awards, but of course we don’t make a big show of it. One was almost being put in one’s place. Don’t think because you’ve won award that you’re going to… It was quite interesting. They were very ambivalent.
Did you go on to win other awards?
Then for Jewel. Then I was also nominated for an Emmy for Jewel, which was in America. Again, I knew I would not win that but I thought, sod it, I’d like to go! We used to have a travel desk, I don’t know if you remember the travel desk. I phoned somebody up and said, what about it? The craft awards were different to the major ones, and at a different time. I remember phoning someone up and asking if I could go. They said we were not having a representative at the craft awards. I said, “I’m not a representative, I’m a nominee.” And a whole load of them were going out to the major ones. I can remember phoning the desk. I almost had to pay my own way. In fact, I shamed them. They did pay my air ticket but I think I had to pay my hotel. She booked my hotel. But it was terribly boring. It was a dreadful ceremony. But I’m glad I went. One’s only time in Hollywood or Beverly Hills!
Did you think you got the recognition from Dennis Forman and the Bernsteins? Did you ever feel that they acknowledged your contributions?
Certainly, by the end. You saw that note that Forman sent. But to begin with, no. It was quite weird. They sort of didn’t quite know how to cope with it. Often it was the managers who didn’t really like… There was a bit of a split between the programme makers and the managers. I think that might be some of it. But certainly people like Bernstein, I didn’t often meet him, but I did once travel down on the Dove – have you heard of the Dove? They had a plane! It was while they were still electrifying the West Coast Main Line and most of the trains used to go through Miller’s Dale and it’s like that song by Flanders and Swann, ‘Through Miller’s Dale’. It used to take quite a long time to go up by train. So they had a plane. A dove. It was a little eight-seater plane. And it used to go up and down between Manchester and London twice a day. And one time I was booked to go on the dove and so was Bernstein, so there I was on the dove with Bernstein. It landed at Heathrow and there were about four or five of us on it, and there was the question of who was going to share cabs. So I had to share a cab with Bernstein and he’d obviously been primed who I was because he talked to me about paintings and things. And I remember as we went on the M4, which was also in the process of being built, was a service station they’d just built. We just had to wind down the windows to have a look at the service station.
That was something I liked, all the paintings that were around. I thought that was amazing that he’s got this collection of modern paintings.
Were there any that you particularly remember?
Obviously I remember Francis Bacon’s cardinal. There was one outside the wardrobe door, I can’t remember who it was by, and it was in totally the wrong place because you needed to be a way away from it to look at it, it was a very expensive painting. It was so thick with paint. There was another one that I think was by Alan Jones. It used to be on the stairs going down. It had writing on it and I always used to read it as ‘pus’. In fact, it wasn’t ‘pus’, it was ‘bus’. You could just see a bus coming through.
Then at one point they bought a whole load of costumes. Some of the costumes were the Diaghilev costumes. They’d arrived and nobody knew what they were. They brought them down into wardrobe and they were hanging up and I said, “These are museum pieces, they shouldn’t be here! We can’t use them.” I don’t know what happened to them or where they ended up.
They must have been very old.
They weren’t quite a hundred years old then but they were Stravinsky, Nijinsky, you know. I don’t know where they went in the end, but why on earth somebody thought they should go into our store I don’t know.
Did you have much to do with David Plowright?
Again, I didn’t have a lot to do with David Plowright. I saw more of his son, Nick. He was a cameraman. The one I probably saw more of in the end was Dennis. But I didn’t see that much of them.
People have said that Dennis used to walk around the building.
They all did. It used to be terribly funny. Bernstein used to walk round the building. He always used to walk round the building in a white shirt with rolled up sleeves. So all the managers used to walk round the building with white shirts and rolled up sleeves.
He always used to eat in the canteen. Most places had a posh place for the posh people to eat but at Granada there was always just the one canteen, which was eventually closed. When he was there he would always eat in there.
The other thing we used to have to do, we used to have the penthouse flat upstairs and obviously there were clothes there and stuff, and there was a housekeeper. And the housekeeper used to come down every so often with a pile of white shirts which were Sidney’s white shirts. One of the women who used to work in the wardrobe department had started life as a machinist making shirts. It was the old days. I remember my mother doing this for my father but it stopped happening, you’d have a pile of shirts, especially with white ones, and the collars would go, so you’d use one shirt to make a whole load of new collars. So Marjorie in the wardrobe department, one of her jobs was to put new collars onto his shirts.
You would think they could have afforded that.
I know! But I think they quite liked doing it. So then Marjorie retired. I can’t remember what the housekeeper was called but she came down one day with a pile of Sidney’s shirts and we all just sort of turned round and said, “Look, tell him to buy some. We’ll buy him some new ones. This has got to stop.” It was quite funny.
What was the most memorable programme you worked on?
Oh dear, it’s difficult to say. There are so many. There are certain ones. The two big ones were Hard Times and Staying On/Jewel. Of course latterly the Sherlocks became my baby in a way. And Country Matters. The ones that nobody’s ever heard of would be Greenhill Pals and All the King’s Men. All the King’s Men was this big opera with children, written by Richard Rodney Bennett. We had a full orchestra in Studio 6 conducted by Charles Mackerras, I think. That was quite difficult because of getting the music right so that they could sing. I think there were two conductors. And of course it was quite primitive in those days. Nobody ever saw it I don’t think, which is tragic.
What costumes do you feel most proud of? Or is that really difficult?
It’s difficult. It’s always the last show that you did!
When do you think there was a change in ethos? What do you think the ethos was and how did it change?
I think by the mid eighties it was beginning to change. They acquired the bonded warehouse. We had a wonderful proper wardrobe which was really for filming and stuff, and we had it for about 18 months, and it got taken, you know. We were then shoved into a corner. I don’t know when I started to feel that it was not… And the stuff that we were doing was not of the same quality. As I say, they weren’t using the writers and it was becoming much more humbdrum in a way, I would say. When I started doing the Sherlocks, to me they were bread-and-butter things. But by the time I was finishing they were about the most prestigious thing, which wasn’t good. Later on I was there when thing like Prime Suspect was on and it had become all about cops and robbers.
It wasn’t really period dramas.
Or interesting modern things.
You never worked on Coronation Street?
I think I once sort of ran it but one was very conscious of it because they were in and out. One knew them all. It was nice. Pat Phoenix would always sit at my desk and use my phone because it was the first one as you came through the door. And she was wonderful because she’d waft through, there were two entrances, and you’d know she’d been in because she’d always have lots of scent and you could always smell the scent. That was what was quite nice. People would come in and ask where their things were and you would go and find them. You all muddled in together like that. But I never actually did it.
I suppose for costume it wasn’t too challenging, was it?
No. It was the sort of thing that if they’d started it while I was there, getting it set up would have been quite interesting, but not once it’s set up.
You said before about filming thing like Hard Times in the North West. Do you think there is any other significance of Granada being in Manchester?
I think Manchester being that much smaller than London, you felt part of the city. One was quite proud to be part of the cultural life of the place. I don’t know what it’s like now. I’ve not been up since Salford Quays has opened and all that sort of thing. I was brought up in Manchester, and you know, what Manchester thinks today, London thinks tomorrow! One was always a bit… I didn’t think that I would come back to Manchester to work but I’m glad I did. And I don’t think any of the other ITV companies had that. I think it stood out. It was Bernstein who was the only begetter really of it. He was the one.
What was it about Sidney Bernstein?
I didn’t know him but I think he was a very interesting man. He was Jewish and he was left-wing, and I think that was important. So he was a slight outsider. I think the main spark came from him.
It’s interesting that you say about him being left-wing and how that might link in to what you said about the canteen.
Well all of that, yes.
He was deliberately doing that, saying, “I’m one of the workers, and I wear my sleeves rolled up!” In that sort of way he was. I think it came from him. He got round the Formans and the Derek Grangers. It was him who got them in there. So I would say it came from Bernstein.