Peter Ling watches Pam Elliott wield a panstick for Rediffusion in 1958
‘Sit back in the chair, please… Lean against the head-rest… That’s right.’
You almost expect her to add: ‘And open a little wider’ – but Pam Elliott’s overall is a rosy pink instead of a dental white. Reassured, you relax, and put yourself in her hands for the next ten minutes. ‘We start with a base of pan-stick all over the face,’ Pam explains briskly, setting to work at once. ‘There – now look up. We have to light the eyes underneath, to wipe out any dark shadows.’
For just over five years, Pam has been working as a television make-up artist. Ever since she was a little girl in Ealing (where she still lives) she has been interested in make-up; like most little girls, she used to practise with her mother’s powder and lipstick when she got the chance – though this was not encouraged. There was no family tradition of greasepaint; in fact, Mr. Elliott is a department head at Negretti and Zambra, the scientific instrument makers. But Pam wanted to deal with people instead of barometers, so she took a firm grasp of her mother’s lipstick – and made up her mind.
When she left school, she enrolled in the Barrett Street Technical College, taking a course in Beauty Culture and Hairdressing which lasted three years. She wasn’t so keen on the hairdressing side of it, but she couldn’t take one without the other – and now she is often grateful for that early training. ‘You see, I never had the slightest intention of going into this sort of work,’ she says. ‘Sit forward and look in the mirror.’ She stands back and surveys her handiwork critically, then picks up a powder-puff and returns to the attack.
‘I really wanted to go into a Beauty Salon,’ she continues. ‘But when I was due to leave, I found it was impossible to get that sort of job without further training – and anyway, I was too young. So they asked me if I’d like to go along to the BBC for an interview. I didn’t want the BBC job at all, but I was desperate – and I certainly didn’t want to be a hairdresser – so off I went.’
‘I had to do a couple of test make-ups; one straight, and one character. It was just a question of ageing somebody, but I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do – we’d never done any TV make-up at the college. I just had to guess and invent as I went along. I was so determined to avoid the trap of overdoing it that I don’t suppose I did nearly enough… Still, they must have been able to tell the difference between the character and the straight make-up, I suppose, because I heard a few days later that there was a job for me if I wanted it.’
She began as a trainee for about a year, then as a make-up assistant for another fifteen months. And right from the start, Pam worked with Mrs Barrie Hansard – now head of Associated-Rediffusion’s make-up department. ‘If it hadn’t been for Barrie, I don’t suppose I would have come to A-R; but when Barrie moved over, I moved with her. We started in July, 1955, doing dummy-run shows. On the opening night, I was working at the Mayfair Hotel; I remember my first real job for an A-R programme was to make up the American singer, Marti Stevens, who was appearing in the cabaret… ‘Shut your eyes, please.’
You blink and obey, as Pam brushes your eyebrows and darkens them slightly. ‘That’s better… I suppose the shows I’ve enjoyed working on most were the Peter Sellers series. They were certainly the heaviest from a make-up point of view, and the biggest challenge… All those plastic noses…’
Another of her favourites was Cyril Coke’s production of ‘Yellow Jack’. ‘We had to do a lot of research beforehand into the symptoms of yellow fever; a medical consultant helped and advised us, because patients look different at different stages of the disease… It was great fun’ she concludes brightly, with the real enthusiast’s gleam in her eye. ‘Oh, it’s a wonderful job. I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else. Of course, it does get a little hectic sometimes. Once, on the “Butlin” series at Clacton, when we had a real rush job to do, we actually made-up several people who weren’t appearing on the programme at all!’
‘But that wasn’t so embarrassing as an awful moment after a costume drama, when I hurried on to the floor to collect all the beards and moustaches from the actors… Well, I suppose it was a tribute to our work in a way; after all, TV make-up has to be convincing, even from a few inches away… Yes, that’s right; in the confusion, I tried to remove a moustache from one man – and he’d grown it specially for the part.’
She dabs a damp sponge over your face to take off any excessively ‘matt’ appearance.
‘You don’t want to look as if you’re made-up,’ she explains, then whisks away the overall that covers you. ‘There – that’s finished… Good luck!’ You stand up and admire the result in the mirror; pink and glowing with health, your eyes sparkling, your eyebrows beautifully brushed. And you think – ‘Is that really me?’ Well – no. Not really. It’s mostly Pam Elliott…