It all began with green stripes on my face
15 Nov 2016 0 comments. tbs.pm/10166
From the TVTimes for 15-21 November 1969
Two or three nights a week, always around 10.30 p.m., a chocolate-brown Rolls-Royce stopped outside a South London theatre and picked up a vivacious, dark-haired young actress. The journey that followed was little more than two miles — but it spanned a whole generation in time.
The girl in the Rolls was helping to make television history. For her journey ended at the Crystal Palace, where John Logie Baird conducted closed-circuit experiments in colour transmission. That was 31 years ago [from 1969]. Baird was by then already famous as the father of British Television. And the young actress was to become one of Britain’s most televised personalities. Noele Gordon, whose record of more than 10,000 television appearances includes over 1,000 performances as the star of Crossroads, one of ITV’s most popular serials, remembers how it all began.
❝In the summer of 1938 I was a student with a repertory company run at Penge, South London.
One day, one of Baird’s young men came to the theatre looking for a girl with definite colouring to help them with their tests. I was chosen because I had blue eyes, a fair skin and very dark hair (she has since become a redhead).
We arranged for a local milliner to get up a series of pretty hats in striking colours and then I was ready, though I didn’t know for what.
After the second evening performance at the theatre, off I went in the chocolate Rolls-Royce to take part in something I thought was a bit potty.
Baird was enchanting, always kind and gentle, and he always gave me the full star treatment. He seemed rather vague. But he wasn’t really vague at all.
The tests went on throughout the late summer of 1938 and into 1939, I sat in front of a camera, wore those Dolly Vardon hats and just talked.
I particularly remember having my face painted with broad green vertical stripes. When I looked at myself in the monitor screens, it was hilarious. The stripes made me look as if I were behind bars.
The stripes weren’t very satisfactory and they soon took them off. But many of the other Baird pictures were as good as those we see today.
While working for Baird, I was paid at film extra rates, between £3 and £4 a night. Between ‘takes’, I drank bottled beer and ate sandwiches with those gorgeous young men Baird had working for him. It was great fun, but I sometimes used to wonder what the neighbours thought when I was delivered back at my digs in a chocolate Rolls-Royce at six o’clock in the morning.
I envy those actors who will see themselves in colour for the first time.
I can remember so vividly seeing myself in that Dolly Vardon hat. When I looked at myself in the monitor, I nearly fell down.❞