Melanie Bell

Academic, historian, writer.


This study looks at the history of women who worked in the British film and television industries in the years between 1933 and 1989. Its particularly interested in the lives of the thousands of women employed in ‘below-the-line’ roles as hairdressers, continuity ‘girls’, production secretaries/assistants, negative cutters, editors, wardrobe assistants, make-up artists, researchers, librarians and many other roles.

The contributions of women in these roles barely feature in existing historical accounts but this study has access to new statistical data on the recruitment of women in 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 women’s contribution to the film and television industries.

As part of our research we interviewed women who worked in British film and television in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 1980s.

We’ve spoken with the Make-Up Artist Linda DeVetta who developed the iconic ‘cats-eye’ lens for David Bowie’s character in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). In her interview Linda talks about the prosthetics she used to develop Bowie’s look and some of the challenges she faced to be accepted professionally in the film industry in the 1960s.

There are interviews with Costume Design Assistants such as Caroline Hutchings who worked on many of the BBC’s iconic costume productions including Elizabeth R and Anna Karenina (both 1970). We’ve also interviewed the Sound Recordist Elaine Drainville who worked for the Amber Film Collective in the 1980s, and the Model Maker Joy Cuff who made the puppet heads for the British television series Thunderbirds (1965/1966) and the sets for 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968).

You can listen to these and other recordings on ‘Women and Work’ history project hosted by ‘Learning on Screen’.

History of Women

In British Film and Television

Did you know that nearly one-third of the film and television production workforce were women (in the decades between 1930 and 1990)?

Women made a significant contribution to film production during the Second World War, when they worked as camera operators, editors, negative cutters and sound recordists. 

Many were employed as Sound Wave Operators – a job which involved soundtrack quality control – whilst some like Jill Craigie and Ruby Grierson moved into directing for the first time, especially documentaries.

Five out of the last eleven Academy Awards for Costume Design were won by British born/trained women (2004-15).

 The British animation studio Halas and Batchelor was a major employer of women in the 1950s where women animators, painters and tracers worked on classics as Animal Farm (1954. The studio’s co-founder Joy Batchelor was a significant creative force in British animation. 

 The script supervisor Renee Glynne has the longest career in the British film business, spanning 74 years (from 1942 to the present day).

Now published as Movie Workers: The Women Who Made British Cinema

(University of Illinois Press, 2021)