DAWSON, Beatrice

Costume Designer. Nationality: British. Born: 1908. Career: Begin as costume designer in the theatre, 1945. Died: 16 April 1976.

Films as Costume Designer:


Night Beat ; London Belongs to Me ( Dulcimer Street )


Dear Mr. Prohack ; Trottie True ( The Gay Lady )


State Secret ( The Great Manhunt )


The Reluctant Widow ; Pandora and the Flying Dutchman


Penny Princess ; The Importance of Being Earnest ; The Pickwick Papers


Macbeth (for TV); Grand National Night ( Wicked Wife )


Footsteps in the Fog ; Svengali ; Dance Little Lady


The Prince and the Showgirl


A Tale of Two Cities


Faces in the Dark ; Expresso Bongo ; Macbeth (for TV)


The Full Treatment ( Stop Me Before I Kill! ) ( Treatment ); The Day the Earth Caught Fire ( The Day the Sky Caught Fire )


The Adventures of Sir Francis Drake (for TV); Waltz of the Toreadors ( The Amorous General )


The Servant ; The L-Shaped Room


The Beauty Jungle ( Contest Girl ); Woman of Straw


The Intelligence Men ( Spylarks ); Life at the Top ; Masquerade ( Operation Masquerade ) ( A Shabby Tiger ); Where the Spies Are


Promise Her Anything ; Modesty Blaise




Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter ; Guns in the Heather ( The Secret of Boyne Castle ) ( Spy Busters ); Only When I Larf


The Assassination Bureau


The Man Who Haunted Himself ; The Last Grenade


Zee and Co. ( X, Y and Zee ) (+ wardrobe designer)


The Merchant of Venice (for TV); A Doll's House


Brief Encounter (for TV)


The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones

Other Films:


The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas ( The Snow Creature ) (dress designer)

* * *

Beatrice "Bumble" Dawson, the prolific and versatile British costume designer, began her career in the theatre with a production of The Duchess of Malfi at the Haymarket Theatre in 1945. She started her film work with the 1948 postwar drama Night Beat for British Lion Film Corporation. Dawson continued working for both film and the stage throughout her career. With Trottie True (1949), the lavish costume musical about a Gaiety Girl who graduates from the stage to marriage with a peer, Dawson herself found the success that elevated her to the top rank of Britain's designers. Actress Jean Kent, a lovely redhead, was the first of the screen beauties to be showcased by Dawson's elegant costumes—the film itself is chiefly noted for its brilliant use of Technicolor.

Dawson's next major assignment was Pandora and the Flying Dutchman , remarkable for its exquisite star, Ava Gardner, and it marked Dawson's first collaboration with cinematographer Jack Cardiff. While a critical failure, Pandora gave Dawson true international exposure. Selected for Anthony Asquith's definitive version of Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest , Dawson's designs artfully used applied floral motifs made popular by British designer Norman Hartnell. Other prestige projects followed, with Dawson gaining a reputation for period costume at a time when Britain (particularly through the agency of J. Arthur Rank) used handsome, expensive prestige productions to penetrate the American market and boost Britain's sagging film industry. Her work in the film adaptation of Dickens' The Pickwick Papers garnered an Academy Award nomination for black and white costume design, and she would similarly produce memorable designs for the classic Tale of Two Cities in 1958. Reunited with cinematographer Jack Cardiff for The Prince and the Showgirl , her resourcefulness helped on an admittedly difficult shoot. One costume, a slinky beaded white gown, had to be replaced several times because Marilyn Monroe spilled food on the front repeatedly. Dawson remade the dress in two parts, with a front that could be quickly replaced if it was soiled.

Another significant and successful working relationship was with writer/director Val Guest, who directed Dance Little Lady (a ballet drama cashing in on the Red Shoes craze) and Expresso Bongo , meant to sell the career of rocker Cliff Richard (in the latter, some costumes were provided by Balmain). Dawson showed a flair for modern dress which served her well in the British film industry of the 1950s and 1960s, which began to turn from literary adaptations to working class dramas ( Life at the Top , The L-Shaped Room ) and later to sleek, pop-influenced confections like Masquerade and Modesty Blaise. Dawson worked nonstop throughout these years, in one high profile film after another, for eminent directors such as Joseph Losey ( The Servant , Accident ), as she and the British film industry were the beneficiaries of American investment in British films in the 1960s. Waltz of the Toreadors (starring Peter Sellers), an international success, showed her to be as skillful designing for color as she had been for black-and-white, and made her work better known to a wider audience. British fashion had finally come into its own, and 1968 found her back at work creating turn-of-the-century attire for the stylish hit The Assassination Bureau , where she dressed the willowy Diana Rigg, who looked as comfortable in Dawson's creations as she did in a leather catsuit on television's The Avengers. Despite their excellent work, British designers were occasionally snubbed by foreign stars: sometimes a star would require her own designer for a production, as was the case in I Could Go On Singing , where Judy Garland's wardrobe was by Hollywood design diva Edith Head. For 1964's otherwise unprepossessing Woman of Straw , Dawson received professional acclaim for her work with a BAFTA nomination for color costume and also one for black-and-white for Of Human Bondage. Star Gina Lollobrigida consented to make the film if she could be dressed by Dior, a common practice by European actresses used to acquiring a designer wardrobe in exchange for making a mediocre film.

Continuing her highly successful interpretation of 19th century period costume, Dawson created the wardrobe for 1973's A Doll's House (the version starring Claire Bloom—Jane Fonda and Joseph Losey's version of the Ibsen play was made the same year) and received another BAFTA nomination. Her last film, the unfortunate The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones (1976)—described as "a nudie musical" and "dull" by critics—at least allowed her to costume British actress Joan Collins in the role of highwaywoman Black Bess. Beatrice Dawson continued her theatre work (dressing stage great Dame Judith Anderson among many others), did films for television (the remake of Brief Encounter [1974]), and remained professionally active until her death at 68.

—Mary Hess

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