Histories of Women

In British Film and Television


Too often, the contributions of women are under-represented within existing historical accounts of film and television in the UK. Thousands of women employed in 'below-the-line' roles such as production assistants and negative cutters are barely acknowledged at all.

This study looks at the history of women who worked in the British film and television industries in the years between 1933 and 1989.

Melanie Bell

Academic, historian, writer.

My research focuses on gender representation, both on and off screen, and I’m particularly interested in the careers and histories of women who make film. 

Author's Note

We are particularly concerned with 'below-the-line' roles such include continuity ‘girls’, production secretaries/assistants, negative cutters, editors, wardrobe assistants, make-up artists, researchers, librarians and many other roles.

This study has access to new statistical data on the recruitment of women to the film production workforce, and first-hand accounts from women themselves about their professional careers and working lives. This unique project will finally provide a fuller picture of the significant contribution women have made to the making of British film and television.

This can be in any role – from costume designer to editor, director to writer – and any form (short film, feature, animation, documentary). What’s interests me is the relationship between gender and the production of culture and how women’s work in historical creative industries is recognised, conceptualised, valued, theorised and archived. This interest stems from a deep-seated commitment to social justice and to challenge the absence of women from history. I also want to help young women and men working in the creative industries today to understand more about the women who went before them, the challenges they faced and their successes. At a time when the creative industries are struggling to achieve equality and diversity the past can help us understand the present and perhaps build a better future.

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Bell

An unnamed British negative cutterworking in the studio during the 1950s (Image courtesy of BECTU)

Costume Designer Beatrice ‘Bumble’ Dawson working with Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl in 1957.