The T-Room
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Tales From the T-Room

An Informal Chat with Costume Designer Raymond Childe

Raymond Childe 
Raymond trained and worked as an actor before joining Thames Television in the wardrobe department and working his way up to designer. Although he is very versatile and can design costumes for any occasion (including "a bunch of old prostitutes on "The Bill""), he really shines when dealing with glamorous historical productions or fantasy and pantomime costumes. "And rags - I'm very good at rags" he points out.

Raymond has worked on many programmes, both for adult audiences and children's shows. He has designed costumes for shows as diverse as "Rainbow" (he did a lot for Rod, Jane and Freddy), "Polterguests", "Mike and Angelo", and "Miss World", but also for dramas such as "The Bill", and sitcoms such as "Let There Be Love".

When working on the T-Bag series, he got on very well with Leon Thau, the first director. He really liked everything that Raymond did and consequently gave him lots of space to get on with his work. Raymond likes to be given lots of rope, and he explained that "If somebody is employed to carry out a certain task (such as costume design), then they should be trusted to get on with it." This made a lot of sense - you wouldn't employ a builder to build your house and then build it yourself!

The look of the original show came largely from Raymond. The original idea for the character of T-Bag was to be an old hag dressed in a brown square of cloth, but Raymond thought that this would have been incredibly boring. At first he thought of an archetypal witch, but then he decided that he wanted her to be glamorous and imposing. This is just my opinion, but I feel that this is probably where the character as she appears on screen came from. The costume was glamorous making the witch glamorous, imposing and vain. This gave a much greater scope for comedy, and the writers could employ the old mantra "pride goes before a fall" over and over to get big laughs.

The children in the original series were supposed to be dressed in jeans and t-shirts, etc. Raymond decided that this would be very dull, and dressed them in fantasy costumes that fitted very well with the other characters. This, I think was a very wise decision because fashions change. We've all seen the "Red Hand Gang" cavorting around in their 70's stripy skin-tight dungarees and flairs and winced in agony. T-Bag, however, is timeless purely by dint of the costumes.

Fantastic though the costumes were, they were not without their teething troubles. Raymond remembers how he thought the original T-Bag costume was lovely, a vision in shot taffeta, but it rustled too much for the sound department. The Velvet dress that was made for "T-Bag Bounces Back" that ran for two series, Raymond thought all the gold was "tacky and over the top" looking back at it. "I would have designed it differently now," he explains, "I never stand still - I think that I could do T-Bag much better now than I did then".

The dress used in "Turn on to T-Bag" was made from heavy silk chiffon in bright red. "It was lovely, but it bled a lot on camera - I don't think that I would use bright reds again for television". The only dress for Tallulah that Raymond felt was absolutely spot on was the purple "Star Dress" used for "T-Bag and the Revenge of the T-Set". "This was really the glory of glories - the best costume that I made for Elizabeth" he says.

Things changed when Georgina Hale took over the lead role. Raymond only designed two costumes for her. "Nobody knew how the show would last with a different actress in the lead, so we used the same costume over and over again". Indeed, the popularity of the show waned considerably over the next few years, until it finally died out altogether.

The costumes were designed and made very rapidly by Raymond and his assistant (notice no plural). Often, they were put together at the last minute. The script would call for a certain costume, so Raymond would dash off a design sketch, scoot off to Borovick's in Soho in the West End of London for the fabric, and also to Ells and Farrier (or Creative Beadcraft) not far from Borovick's and he and his single seamstress (Sylvia Juren) would make the costumes ready for the rehearsal.

The phenomenal and frenzied speed at which the costumes were put together to meet the tight schedule sometimes led to mistakes. Raymond points to a photograph of Major Happy's costume and says "The musical notes were stuck on the night before filming, and my assistant stuck them on back to front. I had letters from an angry music teacher telling me off for that!"

The key costumes came with a bit more warning, and so more time could be spent in their design. For some parts of the costumes (for instance T-Bag's tiaras and the intricate trims and girdles for the main costumes), he would enlist the help of his prop maker in Dorset (Roger Adhampstead).

I commented that he must have commanded a huge budget to make all of these elaborate and sumptuous costumes, but he quickly put me straight, telling me that he had very little money to play with, despite the huge ratings the show was getting.

So, what had happened to all of these fantastic costumes? Most of them were kept in storage in the Thames wardrobe department, but over the years, he re-cut and recycled some of them, and others were used for other productions. "The most important thing, though, is that the costumes were all captured on film when they were at their best. That is what they were designed for. They were never made to last in the real world."

The costumes may have been scattered throughout time and space like so many silver spoons, but Raymond's impressive portfolio of photographs and sketches remains, and he went against his better judgement and sold them to me, along with Elizabeth Estensen's "Merry Pippins" jacket - one of the few pieces that he still had access to. He was astounded at the reverence with which I treated the jacket, after giving it close inspection and being too afraid to fold it up. "Just fold it up, it's just a piece of fabric at the end of the day" he said as I slowly fell to pieces as I held this piece of my, and thousands of other T-Bag fans across the world's childhood in my hands. A piece of fabric that had once been worn by the most powerful and evil witch in the history of children's television, and a piece of fabric that I was scared to death of damaging.

I felt bad about taking all of this away from Raymond, but as he said, "Sometimes I wonder why I have been keeping all of this stuff. Sometimes it has come pretty close to the bonfire." I assured him that I would keep the sketches safe forever, and I would never part with them. "Fine, but if I find that you have made your fortune with them at Sotheby's in years to come, I'll hunt you down and kill you." So it looks like I'm stuck with them whether I like it or not. Good job that I like it then, really!

Raymond has just finished working hard at designing and making costumes for the Questors production of Nicholas Nickleby.