May 5th | ‘Frock Horror’ – talk by Pauline Baker

Our speaker in May was Pauline Baker, a dress designer who had gained her qualifications at Leicester College of Art. With her love of the performing arts she got a job at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where to begin with she was a “finisher”, working on ballet costumes as part of a team. Here, she sometimes got to see some of the rehearsals in between sewing tasks, including at one time Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn!

After this she worked as a maintenance wardrobe master, responsible for supervising all wardrobe-related activities during the course of a theatrical run including the care and proper maintenance of all costumes, shoes, undergarments, hats and personal props such as gloves, jewellery, boots and wigs.

She became a dresser again and was back to sewing costumes, working at the BBC Studios at Shepherds Bush as well as at Ealing Studios. After a break in her career to have her family she decided to go freelance and worked for different television companies on various drama series in a number of locations.

Pauline recounted several anecdotes about her experiences. She told how she once had to go with a female impersonator to buy him a pair of stilettos, much to the embarrassment of the girl in the shop. On another occasion one of the actors went home with the costume earrings on and lost one. Pauline went out and tried without success to buy a similar pair, which meant all the camera angles for the next day’s filming had to be changed so that only one side of the actor’s face could be seen at a time, or else the actor had to have their hand up to cover the naked ear! She once had to borrow an item from one of the guests staying in a hotel where they were filming, and keep her fingers crossed that all the takes filmed that day were good ones that didn’t need re-doing, in case the guest left with the item before the end of filming!

Continuity was very important and sometimes difficult to maintain, as the limited use of a particular location meant that all the parts of the story in that location had to be filmed at the same time, even though it might be months apart in the narrative. Thus the costumes had to be fresh in some scenes and the worse for wear in others. When the costumes involved had to appear old or crumpled, Pauline had to “break them down”, sometimes by putting them in a bin liner and jumping up and down on them. Once she asked the mechanics at a garage near the studios to “wear-in” some overalls needed for the filming, so she often had to use her own initiative to come up with what was required. Altogether it was an amusing and interesting talk which opened our eyes to some of what goes on behind the scenes in the world of entertainment!

Future entertaining activities for Capel Ladies include our Summer Social, Fun Day Stall, evening river cruise and a walk at Felixstowe. See anything you like? Then join us!

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