Memories of Gosta Green by Joyce Hawkins, Costume Designer

Gosta Green Studio. Photography by Roger Davis, no reproduction without permission.

I am anxious for this not to be a paean of self-praise, but a celebration of achievement by all Staff who worked at Gosta Green Studio Birmingham, prior to the opening of Pebble Mill, so…

This is my much-abbreviated personal History of Gosta Green Studio, Midland Region, 1958-71.

The studio, a former cinema, opened in 1955, being situated two bus-rides away from the administrative centre at Carpenter Road.

I joined in December 1958 as Wardrobe Supervisor and sole member of the Costume Department. I had a small room with sink, an industrial sewing machine, a telephone and a cupboard containing a box of assorted aprons, a coat circa 1930 and just one Elizabethan sleeve.

The Make-up area had only one member in residence, Neva Bunford, but the two set Designers, Margaret Peacock and Charles Carroll were based at Carpenter Road.

Network Dramas were already in production under the guidance of Peter Dews and during my 13 years there we transmitted 64 single plays and remain justly proud of the reputation given us by renowned critic Kenneth Tynan, who said: “The Mecca of Television Drama is in the Midlands”, (our London colleagues never quite forgave us).

In addition to single plays, both period and contemporary, we made four serials, eight series of differing lengths and five twice-weekly ‘soaps’ all black and white and live.

Rehearsal rooms, Directors, Actors and Costumiers all being centred in London, I spent many hours on trains reading and working on scripts, which on arrival at Paddington would be deposited in a left-luggage locker to save my carrying them around. The I.R.A. then put a stop to this as their activities caused the lockers to be closed for security reasons. On three separate occasions in the early seventies I happened to be very close to their explosions while working with Ian Carmichael on the Peter Wimsey series. One was at St James’ Palace close to Lockes Hatters, where we had been fitting just before.

I attended rehearsals, met actors for fittings at Costumiers, took actors shopping and carried all my purchases back to Brum. (London Designers enjoyed a follow-up system to collect and carry their goods to TVC…). This became a weekly routine during the “Soaps”. On the return journey I read the following week’s scripts.

Our network output was not solely confined either to drama or to the studio, and recalling it all now I am amazed at the variety of programmes we transmitted. Being responsible for both regional and London productions whenever they came into the Midland area, I travelled widely, to Cosford and Bridgnorth RAF stations for the Charlie Chester Shows, somewhere into the countryside for Children’s Caravan, to Nottingham Ice Rink for Cool Spot and Hot Ice and Nottingham Theatre for Treasure Island, Leeds Playhouse for Barney Colehan’s Palace of Varieties and spent a week each year in Great Yarmouth for End of Pier Shows. Another annual event, nearer base in Birmingham, was Barrie Edgar’s Chipperfields Circus. I provided costume for Beaulieu Motor Museum, including an early policewoman’s uniform which I was obliged to wear myself when the artiste failed to arrive, and a docudrama on the history of Westminster Abbey.

Back at Gosta Green studio a series of six Beverley Sisters shows recorded in one week needed alterations to each of the twenty-one dresses they provided to wear per day. I worked until midnight with no assistance. When at last I was able to employ occasional freelance help, I was grateful for talented girls from the Handsworth School of Dress Design. After this early start several of them continued their careers in Costume and became TV Designers. Male dressers were sent on request from London for several years until I was granted an in-house secretary and three permanent wardrobe staff in 1964. Before this all paperwork, orders, invoices etc went from Carpenter Road.

We regional Designers occasionally stood in for one another, so I went to Cardiff when Mary Husband was unavailable, and Joan Wakefield came from Bristol to cover for my two maternity leaves.

On Christmas Eve 1961 I gave birth to my son, Stephen and became a rare member of Staff. The BBC did not have many working mothers in those days! In 1965 Stephen’s sister, Caroline arrived. This latter occasion was during the run of The Flying Swan, with film star Margaret Lockwood, a charming and very professional lady who took delight in speculating on the sex of my expected baby. She was good fun and a pleasure to work with. Another set designer, Michael Edwards, came at this time, but no costume designer joined me until Pebble Mill.

We were kept busy with the many musical programmes, classical and pop. We had the Midland Light Orchestra whose grey jackets were my responsibility, as were the choristers’ surplices for Xmas Carols from Kings College Cambridge, dipped to the requisite mixture of Elephant Grey and beige after laundering, pure white being unacceptable in those days.

There were regional opt-outs, magazine programmes with items of local interest and news, and all this was scheduled to fit in between the dramas. I believe Pot Black and Top Gear originated with us, Percy Thrower’s Gardeners’ World came from a tiny little area outside. Eileen Fowler had her team of housewives appearing in a programme called Keep Fit.

My first drama production in Birmingham was Pinero’s The Magistrate on December 20th 1958 followed by So Many Children on December 27th.I had costumed these during my probationary period in London.  In January we transmitted the six-part series The Nightwatchman. Next Peter Dews directed the six-part serial Hilda Lessways, starring Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins. My costume designs being made at costumiers in London, we relied on them and British Rail to deliver on time and in finished condition, but …as Judi entered the studio her elaborate cascading bustle fell to the floor in a heap of satin and lace….as the direction “standby studio” rang out, I was on my knees frantically pinning it back up. Judi remained calm and I spent the scene huddled behind a sofa on set.

November 1959 saw us filming on War Office territory in Thetford for The Case of Private Hamp, the story of an execution for cowardice in WWI. This necessitated the use of army cadets from a public school as extras. The bleak and cold conditions were exacerbated by firemen using their hoses so the boys showed initiative by making a fire from wreckage timber to dry their sodden uniforms. Called for action, they rushed out in a cloud of steam. The khaki dye made pretty patterns through their string vests!

In 1961 came Spycatcher, a series based on the wartime experiences of Lieutenant Colonel Pinto and then fourteen single plays, including Waiting for Godot and She Stoops to Conquer, in which Derek Jacobi made his first TV appearance, playing Marlow, a character with a stammer. He told me later that his aunt thought this due to his nervousness but that she understood better before he played Claudius! Part of a costume designer’s job I discovered, is to calm and reassure artists making their first appearance before the cameras. Amongst these I remember Vladimir Ashkenazy before he gave a superb virtuoso performance in one of our classical concerts. Nervousness also overcame the actors in The Newcomers, one of our twice-weeklies, when we went into tele-recording. They thought all their little hesitations and fluffs would be shown over and over again and not edited out!

I enjoyed designing period costumes, and there were many opportunities, including the interesting serial Alexander Graham Bell starring Alex MacCowan and Francesca Annis, but we were soon to be plunged into the era of ‘kitchen sink’. At Gosta we were pioneers of innovative stories, being the first in 1967 to examine the lives and problems facing our immigrant population with a play, The Dark Man,  starring Earl Cameron and a series Rainbow City featuring Gemma Jones and Errol John in a mixed-race marriage. These were location film and studio, followed by the twice-weekly footballers’ United, Newcomers, Swizzlewick, The Doctors and Owen MD. These last two caused very long hours for Costume folk. Finishing in studio at 10pm, we packed costumes, travelled the thirty miles to Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds, unpacked and were ready to start filming at 5am, every week! I escaped this routine twice, leaving the series in the capable hands of my assistant, Ann Brown, and went with Bernard Hepton to Cambridge for The Life of A. E. Houseman, and with Freddie Jones for David Jones’ Omnibus series, John Clare – I Am. This latter filming had the unit involved in an actual murder in Epping Forest!

We can also claim to have been an irritant for Mary Whitehouse’s campaign … although undeservedly, with an innocent and very funny scene in Swizzlewick, one of our soaps.

The studio was sometimes used as a try-out, and after the success of a pilot episode, we were disappointed that the subsequent production would go to London. We found however, that once artistes discovered the journey to Birmingham ended in the friendly intimate atmosphere of our small studio and staff, they were pleased to return. Michael Caine came twice, and Thora Hird more than once, the first time reducing those of us in the gallery to tears by the pathos of her character. I can also claim to have recognised star quality in a performance of Michael’s with Sheila Burrell in Jonny Speight’s drama, Playmates. On no other occasion watching from the gallery have I felt I was intruding into the privacy of others. A brilliant script and extraordinary performances from them both!

This is only a brief account of the output from Gosta Green Studio, which should not be allowed to pass without due recognition. I have correlated it all from my person notebooks, diaries and BBC copyright photographs and believe it to be an accurate and honest account.

I could not have enjoyed being a working mother without the support of my husband, Robert, and the understanding and encouragement of senior staff at Carpenter Road.

My colleagues at Gosta Green were without exception friendly and cooperative. Together we were a great team, taking pride in our work, sharing and helping to alleviate problems and rejoicing together at our successes; a splendid example of collaboration between all skills. Sadly, we left this small studio for the larger ones at Pebble Mill …


The greatly anticipated day duly arrived when the first sod was to be cut for our new home at Pebble Mill.

I had already discovered that my wardrobe would be in ‘Phase 2’ of the development, and “temporarily” was in the basement with no access to natural daylight. I later found out that the small ‘drip-dry’ area had an electric point at floor level! My office, to share with Make-Up, was several floors distant and had no telephone….

Back to the grand opening. It rained. All staff assembled, for Gosta, Carpenter Road and Broad Street news studio (which was situated above a car showroom in central Birmingham). Charles Curran, Director General, was due to arrive at this wet marquee where an oblong space had been cut in the carpet (!), to allow him access to the turf to be cut with an purpose-made long-handled silver spade.  Minutes before his expected arrival someone decided that the exposed strip of muddy grass did not look green, so Design Department was called upon to rectify this with a spray-can of green paint.

Just in time…before the DG arrived to tell us how proud he was to be “Opening these new premises for the BBC. The only building in Europe to be built containing both Radio and Television Studios here in MANCHESTER …..”

Perhaps prescient: Pebble Mill has returned to the turf….Gosta Green Studio building remains, an annexe to Aston University.

Joyce Hawkins

Senior Costume Designer Head of Department (retired)

Hilda Lessways 1959

Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission





















Thanks to costume designer, Joyce Hawkins, for making this photograph of Judi Dench, playing Hilda Lessways, in the eponymous role, in the 1959 studio drama, from Gosta Green, available. Hilda Lessways was a six part adaptation of Arnold Bennett’s novel, ‘Clayhanger’. It was produced by Peter Dews, dramatised by Michael Voysey, and designed by Margaret Peacock. Note that Violet Carson, who went on to become Ena Sharples in Coronation Street, played the character, Auntie Hamps.

Below is the entry from the Radio Times, courtesy of the BBC Genome project:



A serial in six parts.
Based on ‘Clayhanger’ and ‘Hilda Lessways’ by Arnold Bennett.
Dramatised by Michael Voysey.

[Starring] Judi Dench, William Squire
With Brian Smith, Violet Carson
From the BBC’s Midland television studio


Author: Arnold Bennett
Dramatised by: Michael Voysey
Producer: Peter Dews
Designer: Margaret Peacock

Hilda Lessways: Judi Dench
Mrs Lessways: Beatrice Varley
Mrs Grant: Alison Bayley
Clerk: Philip Garston-Jones
George Cannon: William Squire
Florrie Bagster: Jacqueline Wilson
Janet Orgreave: Miranda Connell
Sarah Galley: Nancie Jackson
Mr Karkeek: David Lytton
Edwin Clayhanger: Brian Smith
Auntie Hamps: Violet Carson
Maggie Clayhanger: Eileen Atkins
Darius Clayhanger: Chris Gittins
Post Boy: Paul Taylor






Lez Cooke – Gosta Green Revisited

Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission



















The blog below is from academic researcher, Lez Cooke. It was posted on the Brum Pic website:

Although BBC Television began broadcasting in the London area in 1936, television did not come to the Midlands until December 1949 when the Sutton Coldfield transmitter was opened. Initially television programmes transmitted in the Midlands came from London and it was not until late 1951 that TV programmes started to be produced by BBC Midland. Initially programmes were produced using an Outside Broadcast unit, which was shared between BBC Midland and BBC North, and one of the first outside broadcasts was an amateur boxing contest, live from the Delicia Stadium in Gosta Green. Four years later the Delicia Stadium, which had also been a cinema, was converted to become the first television studio in the Midlands.

Although plays were broadcast from the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1954-55 the first television drama to be produced at the Gosta Green studio was a half-hour play called Story Conference, performed by the Alexandra Repertory Company, which included Leslie Sands and Leonard Rossiter, making his first appearance on television. It was broadcast live on 13 March 1956. In fact, all plays were broadcast live from Gosta Green until 1960, when they started to be pre-recorded. The first full-length play to be broadcast from Gosta Green was The Miser by Moliere, adapted by Miles Malleson, on 19 July 1956. Albert Finney made only his second screen appearance in this and he was also in Willis Hall’s The Claverdon Road Job (27 August 1957), a play which was broadcast from the BBC’s Carpenter Road studios while Gosta Green was being re-equipped.

In 1959 a six-part adaptation of Arnold Bennett’s Hilda Lessways was broadcast, directed by Peter Dews, one of many productions he directed at Gosta Green from 1956-62, although Dews is probably best known for directing An Age of Kings (BBC, 1960), an adaptation of Shakespeare’s history plays for which he won a Bafta. The title role in Hilda Lessways was played by Judi Dench in one of her earliest television appearances and Eileen Atkins was also in the cast. Hilda Lessways was broadcast live and like most of the drama produced at Gosta Green it does not survive. Even the first pre-recorded drama from Gosta Green, Willis Hall’s The Larford Lad (20 May 1959), no longer exists, having been junked, or possibly wiped if it was recorded on videotape – the fate of much television drama from the 1950s through to the 1970s.

In fact, out of 781 plays and series episodes produced by BBC Midland at Gosta Green from 1956-71 only 38 survive, and 21 of these are episodes of the daytime serial The Doctors (1969-71). The earliest surviving play from Gosta Green is The Fanatics, written by Miles Malleson and broadcast on 13 March 1960. Nothing else survives until the first episode of Swizzlewick (18 August 1964), a 26-part serial about a Midlands town council, created by the Birmingham writer David Turner; the rest of the serial was wiped. Two episodes survive from The Flying Swan (March-September 1965), a serial set in a hotel on the River Thames. This was an attempt by the BBC to compete with ATV’s Crossroads (1964-88), which had started the previous year, but despite having Margaret Lockwood in a leading role The Flying Swan lasted for only 25 episodes. It was immediately replaced by United! (1965-69), a twice-weekly serial about a fictional Midlands football club (some of the exteriors were filmed at Stoke City FC) which ran for 147 episodes, but none of the United! episodes survive, the tapes being wiped to be reused for recording other programmes, such as The Newcomers (1965-69), a serial about a family who move out of London to a new town in the country. The Newcomers was broadcast from London from 1965-67 but production moved to Birmingham when United! ended. 430 episodes of The Newcomers were broadcast from Gosta Green, but only three survive.

Considering Gosta Green was just a small regional studio its television drama output was prolific. In addition to long-running serials such as United!, The Newcomers and The Doctors, which began immediately after The Newcomers ended, a number of original dramas were produced there in the 1960s. One of these was the six-part Rainbow City (May-August 1967), five episodes of which have survived. Created by John Elliot, who also wrote, produced and directed several of the episodes, three of which he co-wrote with associate producer Horace James, who also had a leading role in the drama, Rainbow City was about a West Indian lawyer, John Steele (Errol John), and the people he represents, all of whom are from Birmingham’s immigrant communities. Much of the series was filmed in Birmingham, although it also features some scenes filmed in Jamaica when Steele returns to his home country on a visit. There is a subplot involving Steele’s English wife, Mary (Gemma Jones) and their young daughter, who Mary agrees, in the final episode of the series, should go to live with her grandparents in Jamaica in order to experience both her parents’ cultures. Rainbow City was the first British television series to feature a predominantly black cast and the depiction of an inter-racial marriage was quite progressive for the time.

The three-part Packers End (March-April 1968) also dealt with racial issues, featuring a Jewish youth worker who decides to leave London to take up a new job in Birmingham. The serial was shown as a regional opt-out and only the first episode survives. Sinking Fish Move Sideways (5 August 1968) was a half-hour drama, essentially a two-hander, which was shown as part of a short series called Television Theatre From … This was also a regional opt-out and the surviving copy shows that even a drama which was not networked was produced to a very high standard at Gosta Green. In 1969 seven plays were produced at Gosta Green for the series Plays of Today, including Scenes from Family Life (25 September 1969) by Barry Bermange and A Voyage Around My Father (16 October 1969) by John Mortimer, both of which survive, though the others in the series do not. There was also a drama documentary about the poet John Clare, featuring Freddie Jones, which was shown as part of the Omnibus arts series on 5 February 1970 – this also survives.

Gosta Green’s drama production ended on 17 June 1971 with the final episode of The Doctors, episode 162. The BBC’s television drama production in Birmingham moved to the new Pebble Mill studios, along with many of the people who worked at Gosta Green, and a new era of drama production began in Birmingham. While much of the drama produced at Pebble Mill has been rightly celebrated, the considerable output of Gosta Green has been largely forgotten, perhaps because so little of it has survived.

On Saturday 15 October 2016, three of the dramas produced at Gosta Green – the first episode of Rainbow City, an episode of The Newcomers and Sinking Fish Move Sideways – will be screened as part of a tribute to this pioneering regional television studio, sixty years after drama was first produced there.

Lez Cooke (Honorary Research Fellow, Royal Holloway, University of London and Co-Investigator on the AHRC-funded project, The History of Forgotten Television Drama in the UK)