Call the Midwife costume designer on award nominations, suffragettes and life imitating art

By Francesca Montero
October 30 2019, 17.25

A Call the Midwife costume designer has been nominated for a Royal Television Society (RTS) Craft and Design Award celebrating her work on the much-loved show.

Claire Lynch, 41, will find out if the BBC show, filmed on location at Longcross Studios, Chertsey, will take home the drama category costume design prize at the RTS awards ceremony in London next month.

Claire started work on the drama, a moving look at midwifery and family in the East End of London in the 1950s and 1960s, at the Christmas special leading in to series eight.

Claire said: “It’s so incredible to be nominated, when you’re in your world working away, you’re so passionate about what you’re doing, just focusing on paying attention to the detail.

“Nobody does it thinking what award can I get, you just want it to be right, I’m such a perfectionist. It’s really exciting and lovely for the show to be recognised.”

Claire joined the show, adapted by Heidi Thomas from the bestselling memoirs of Jennifer Worth, was seeing out the final days of 1963 and her work on series eight captures the look of 1964, a pivotal time for fashion as the sixties begin to swing.  

Claire said: “When I came in, it’s very much starting to get into the swinging sixties. I wanted to reflect that but at the same time, it’s the East End, so although Mary Quant had already opened up her store, not everybody has quite discovered the mini skirt.

“The poverty in the East End means there’s still quite a lot of late fifties’ looks. There’s a bit of artistic licence with the three main girls creatively, making them look good, but you still want it to feel real.

“I think what Call the Midwife does is weave real events of that time into the drama so that people can remember that particular event and the costumes help with that. I think people like looking back at the fashions in a period drama.”

Through painstaking research Claire and her team recreated iconic looks of 1964 across the whole of series eight, which aired earlier this year.

She sources costumes for the show from a wide range of places such as Portobello market, Bijou & Vintage in Liverpool, Frocks A Float off Brick Lane and specialist vintage sellers on Ebay as well as making some of the costumes herself.

In the summer of 1964 Barbara Hulanicki founded the Biba Fashion brand.

This followed the huge success of a pink and white gingham dress that she sold mail order in The Mirror newspaper for 25 shillings and received 75,000 orders.

Claire said “That pink and white gingham dress, everybody wanted it. There’s an episode in the last series where I recreated it. There’s no reference to it, it’s just there in that Valerie has obviously been one of those people who got the dress.

“I made Valerie’s version from photographs and I got in touch with Barbara Hulanicki via Instagram and she sent me a lovely message back. For viewers who really know their fashion and the sixties, they might have noticed it.”

The costumes and visual appeal of the show provide another layer of appreciation for fans.

Some of the storylines are hard hitting and very affecting, so the show’s colourful fashions provide some levity.  

A memorable storyline from season eight was the neglected suffragette, Clarice Milgrove, played by Annette Crosbie, who could no longer look after herself and was being forced by authorities into a home.

Claire said: “We suddenly realise towards the end of the episode that she had fought for women and how she’s almost been forgotten by society, so I very subtly dressed her in Suffragette colours with greens, purples, lilacs.

“When designing the costumes, we are thinking about everything.  At the end of the day people watch the show to be entertained. What’s also lovely about Call the Midwife is that all the leads are women, which is quite unique.”

Claire literally had to call her own midwife in January this year when she gave birth to her daughter, Pearl, now nine months.

She said: “I found out I was pregnant on Call the Midwife, so life was imitating art. I am a single mum and I’m not in a position in which I can chose not to work. I thank my lucky stars that I have a career that I love.

Call the Midwife is a show about women helping other women and literally having their back. What is so incredible about working on the show is that their ethos is the same on and off camera.

“We may be filming over 50 years ago, but that ideology and ethos is at the forefront of an industry that sees women have to choose one or the other. Call the Midwife have made it work for me and Pearl and for them.”

Claire originally hails from Liverpool and after a degree in Fashion and Textiles from Northumbria University, began her career in costume on Channel 4 soaps Brookside and Hollyoaks.

She has worked on several BBC shows: Dr Who Christmas specials, The A Word and the adaptation of David Walliams’ popular children’s book The Boy in The Dress, which featured Kate Moss in a cameo role.

Claire confides that the costume truck had never looked so fabulous; fit to bursting with designer dresses and dazzling diamonds to dress the supermodel.

A fortnight ago she completed work filming series nine of Call the Midwife and the show will next be on our screens with the Christmas special on Christmas Day.

She said: “I really can’t wait for viewers to see 1965 in series nine, we’re in the swinging sixties, Biba’s opened its doors now, Mary Quant’s got her two shops, and alongside that portraying the poverty in the East End allows viewers to really take a breath and a moment to appreciate that. It’s going to be beautiful to watch.”

Related Articles