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Newsletter - November 2013


Please help!

We desperately need members who would like to be involved in helping to run our Society to volunteer to shadow existing members with a view to taking over their roles. We do not have a Vice Chairman at the moment, so there is no one to step into Liz Pierce's shoes when she steps down. Also we will need a Treasurer next October as Geoff Westwell is retiring then. Surely we have a member with experience of banking or book keeping in our 350 members who could take on this role? Without volunteers our Society will cease to be viable; please contact Liz at if you can help.

Anna Pavord lecture

Norfolk Gardens Trust have given us details of a talk by Anna Pavord that will take place in Norwich next March. Details below:

The Flowering of Tuscany – Best-selling garden writer and columnist Anna Pavord examines the fascinating garden-making in and around Florence at the beginning of the 20th Century. A time when one in six of the people living in Florence were either British or American, all striving to re-invent themselves in some way and an important part of that process was to restore a garden, preferably one with Medici connections. This talk tells their story.

2pm Wednesday 12th March 2014, John Innes Centre, Norwich (parking available)
Tickets are £4 for members of Norfolk Gardens Trust, £5 for general public. To book, please send a SAE together with a cheque payable to Norfolk Gardens Trust to: Mrs Joanne Kidd, The Ringers, The Green, Shipdham, Thetford. IP25 7LA. Booking closes 14 February 2014.

Designing Historical Costumes

Anna Buruma gave us a fascinating visit ‘backstage’ into the world of the costume designer, talking to us about her own experience in theatre, television and film designing garments for period dramas. The three main productions she focused on were Cariani and the Courtesans, The Hour of the Pig, and Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Anna explained that the process of designing costumes started with a thorough familiarity of the script. The other stages of the process were research into the period; deciding on styles, presenting the designs; and deciding where to get the costumes.

The script is the key, all the character have to be considered, as well as the time frame of the plot. Even extras have to be dressed in period. The costumes convey the background of each character and Anna showed some beautiful costumes from Death on the Nile (1978) designed by Anthony Powell. Costume designs move with fashion cycles – is it to be accurate or stylized? The costumes in Gone with the Wind, set in 1860 but designed in 1930s by Walter Plunkett, showed that the contemporary shoulder shapes influenced the costumes. The designer can confer with a team of brilliant people who know about cutting and design, and have to understand how clothes are made.

The research can consist of days in museums and galleries collecting images of the period and then these can be presented on a board which include photos and sketches as well as the designer’s own sketches. The designer must meet the actors for fittings, and work with and involve the actor. Sometimes there are difficult differences of opinion if the actor feels the costume does not suit them. Compromises may have to be made. Anna revealed that men do not like wearing tights, but love wearing leather!

Venetian woman

Then the decision of whether to make the costumes of buy or hire them is made. The budget decides some of this. Sometimes it is possible to buy, say, a 1960s dress, and then remake it in a modern fabric. Hiring can be cheaper if you can find the correct item.

Cariani and the Courtesans was made for BBC television. Cariani was a painter in 16th century Venice played in the drama by Paul McGann; he was a contemporary of Lotto, whose portrait of a Venetian woman was useful as a costume inspiration and a real Renaissance look.

The Hour of the Pifg

The Hour of the Pig starred a little known Colin Firth, made as a film in 1993 and set in mediaeval times. Paintings of the Flemish school of the 15th century provided inspiration, but very little of the period was available in costume houses. The cast ranged from aristocrats, to townsfolk to peasants and gypsies and each class had to be immediately recognizable. The peasants wore no colour, but homespun handwoven looking clothes, and were very dirty. For the gypsies Anna had to decide on reality or romance; and decided on romance. She had visited Nepal just before and chose Indian and Asian looking decorated clothes – historical accuracy was out of the window! The aristocrats wore bright, jewel like colours, as they were the class who could afford expensive dyestuffs.

Portrait of Giuseppe Verdi by Giovanni Boldini, 1886.Portrait of Giuseppe Verdi by Giovanni Boldini, 1886

Love’s Labour’s Lost was a Kenneth Branagh film made in 2000. It was updated to a classic 30s musical and Anna spent happy hours watching Fred and Ginger films! The ‘King’ and ‘Princess’ and their companions were colour-coded to remind the audience who was in love with who. One actress was convinced by Anna that her silk dress was actually viscose, as she refused to wear animal products! There was also an Esther Williams swimming scene, which for practical reasons used lycra although this was not available in the 30s.

The talk ended with a lot of questions from the audience – showing how interesting and entertaining we had found Anna’s lecture. It helped us appreciate the talents of costume designers and will add another dimension when we watch period dramas in the future.

The Big Draw

Julia Sorrell gave a presentation after the lecture to thank us for our donation to this event organized by the Norwich 20 Group, which took place in the Forum last month.

Anyone who would like to see more images of this can go to