Maggie Coombes describes the design process on a drama programme

I think the first thing I worked on was Sam,which was a long-running drama series that John Finch wrote, and I was working for somebody called Colin Pocock. I think the first thing he asked me to do was to design a wall for somebody’s back garden – they needed something for an actor to sit on, so that was very exciting, a wall, and it just went on from there. And I guess most of the time my working life was in drama. I mean, I did do a few other things when I was an assistant, a trainee, or starting out… I did a bit of current affairs and the news, but it tended to be drama, and that’s what I really loved doing and I always angled, if I could, to do drama …

I think when I started there were 12 designers in the department and six assistants. They were all men except me, and again, some of the designers worked in drama, some of them worked in light entertainment, and some of them did factual stuff. And there was one designer who just did Coronation Street, as far as I can remember. So if it was a drama, there was generally a designer and an assistant, and the designer had the big ideas and worked things out with the director and the producer, and as the assistant you would do all the technical drawings and liaise with the workshop because Granada at that stage had its own construction shop with carpenters and painters and construction managers, it was fantastic really. And that was a large part of an assistant’s job – getting a set built. I mean, obviously the designer came down and oversaw it, so yes. And then getting it into the studio, and if you were lucky, you got to go and do some propping with the designer, which meant going to look for all the bits and bobs that you fill the sets with to make them look real. And there were about three prop houses in Manchester, and that was obviously the first port of call, and if you couldn’t find what you needed there, and you’d got enough budget, then you’d go down to London – and that was always great fun, because there were a lot of prop houses down there and it was a bit like going into all these amazing Aladdin’s caves… and just learning by watching designers and seeing their different tastes and their different takes on whatever drama you were doing, which was fantastic.



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