YOU'VE probably seen the work of
Jenny Tate and Caroline Middleton hundreds of times without even realising it. They design
the costumes for lots of TV shows, from "Opportunity Knocks" to "Rock
And both girls were hard at work in their light and airy studio, in the
Thames TV complex at Teddington, near London, when Watch Out went along to see them.
We found Caroline sketching a few ideas for the Victorian heroine in one of
magicians David Nixon's elaborate illusion sketches.
"The only trouble with this job is that the costumes keep
disappearing!" she joked.
Meanwhile, Jenny was sewing Essex constabulary badges onto heaps of
"We have to be careful with uniforms," she explained.
"The costumes mustn't be exact replicas of real policemen's outfits so I;m busy
providing the wrong badges."
Both girls usually work individually on shows, but they did team up to
provide the dazzling costumes for "Rock Follies".
How did the girls set about dressing this show?
"Well, first we carefully read all the scripts," Caroline
explained. "Then we discussed it with the writer and attended planning meetings
to get a good idea of what everyone was attempting to do.
"Then, once we'd got our budget, £2000 per show, we sat down with our
sketch pads and a huge pot of black coffee!"
"Yes, it was a question of drink, doodle, drink, doodle," Jenny
added laughing. "Of course we also had to take into account what the actresses liked
"For instance, Julie Covington's crazy about pink, Rula Lenska loved
greens, blues and purples and Charlie (sic) Cornwell wanted lots of yellow,"
MANY of the clothes,
worn in the series, were bought in London shops like Che Guevara, Bus Stop and Peter
"We went shopping with the girls and kind of dragged them down the Kings
Road," Caroline said, smiling at the memory.
"But it was very interesting to see the kind of things they went
for," she continued. "Julie almost lives in tight jeans and skimpy T-shirts.
Charlotte loves sporty shorts and sneakers, whereas Rula tends to be more feminine"
"Actually though," Jenny added, "we suggested camisole and
frothy lacy petticoats for Rula, which she hadn't really considered until then. And she
discovered she loved them!"
But, naturally the clothes the girls enjoyed the most in that particular
series were those they designed themselves.
"I must say I've got a soft spot for those Carmen Miranda outfits the
girls wore in that outrageous advert in the first episode," Caroline grinned.
"We watched masses of Busby Berkeley 1930's musicals to get in the right mood and
then just let our imaginations run loose!"
"That's the best part of being a designer - when you can let your
imagination run riot," Jenny agreed enthusiastically. "And funnily enough, there
aren't always that many opportunities.
"You see, with historical dramas, the costumes have to be so accurate
that they're basically just copies of the fashion of the time. And with most modern
series, you can just go out and buy the right clothes in the shops."
But what kind of clothes do Caroline and Jenny like themselves!
"I'm rather a bad advert for my job!" Jenny confessed. "I tend
to be rather cautious in the way I dress and just go for practical things like
"whereas I'm the complete opposite!" Caroline grinned, "I live out my
fantasies in my clothes. I love them.
"When I wake up in the morning I might be feeling like a carefree gypsy
or a conscientious career girl, so I dress accordingly."
"I mean, for my gypsy fantasy I might wear an antique lace dress and
masses of jewellery, but I'm also into very smart suits with high heels. Though I think
wearing a bowler, like the Rock Follies girl, might be going a bit far!"
OBVIOUSLY both girls
are very knowledgeable about and involved with clothes and fashion. After all, they have
to dress some of the top stars in TV. So I asked them if they had any advice for Jackie
readers on how to look your best.
"I think the most important rule is to know yourself,"
Jenny said decidedly. "Get used to your own body and get used to what you can wear
and feel really confident in.
"That means being pretty tough with yourself," she continues.
"You really have to look at your own figure critically, then try to emphasise your
good points and draw a veil over the not so good.
"For instance, if you're a big girl you shouldn't begin to think about
"Yes, I agree," Caroline said. "But I also think you should be
prepared to experiment. Nowadays in fashion, anything goes, so you should take advantage
"OK, occasionally you may look ridiculous, but you learn by your
mistakes, and you could discover something you never suspected, makes you look
girls obviously find their work as costume designers in the busy, informal wardrobe
department at Thames, totally absorbing and fascinating. So how did they get into it?
"I went to Hornsey Art College, hoping to be a fashion
designer, " Jenny explained. "But there weren't any jobs in fashion going.
"So I started work as a wardrobe assistant at the Royal Court Theatre in
"From there, I went to the Royal Opera House, which sound very grand,
but all I did was wash hundreds of tutus! Next I did the costumes for a couple of films,
freelanced for a while, and then joined Thames."
Caroline also started in the theatre, working as a set builder, then for
Berman's, a theatrical costumier and finally as a wardrobe lady at the Shaftsbury and
Regent's Park Open Air Theatres.
So, how should a Jackie reader interested in becoming a costume designer for
"First go to art school and do costume design or fashion," Jenny
said. "Then try to get experience in the theatre before applying to a TV company.
Well, it worked for me!"
As I left Jenny and Caroline to their sketches, I asked them which TV stars
they'd really like to see wearing one of their designs.
"Cilla Black," Jenny said, without hesitation. "She has a
marvellous figure for clothes and always sets them off beautifully."
"Barbara Dickson," Caroline said thoughtfully, "I admire her
whole approach, her colours, her style, the way she experiments with her make-up and hair.
"Yes, I'd love to see her in one of my dresses!"
So watch out, Cilla and Barbara, two very determined young ladies have
designs on you!