Esther Dean describes the challenges she faced to recognition and equal pay

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.

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