The making of Dame Barbara Windsor’s Queen of Bingo dress
In celebration of National Bingo Day, Jackpotjoy is auctioning dresses worn by the late Dame Barbara Windsor in their Queen of Bingo TV adverts, in a bid to raise funds for life-changing dementia research. Award-winning costume designer, Vin Burnham, who designed the intricate period-piece costumes, looks back at the making of Dame Barbara’s iconic costumes.
Designing Barbara’s costume was right up my street, being period, with roots in Queen Elizabeth l. But because this design was for an advertising campaign, it gave me scope for invention, not straight out of the history books. Because it was for Barbara, I needed to give it an element of fun while keeping it elegant and beautifully constructed, to ensure it fit her like a glove, so it was a question of getting the right balance.
When costume maker, Sten Vollmuller and I went to fit Barbara with a ‘toile’ (a pattern), we were delighted when she said she loved wearing corseted costumes and that her mother had been a seamstress, so she understood the process. Like a true professional, she was happy for it to be the real thing, and not a fake made with stretch fabric for comfort – so it was an authentic fully boned bodice which was indestructible! The skirts and petticoats consumed many meters of fabric too, so it was not the lightest of weight.
The dress was hard work for Barbara to get into and have laced up, to wear all day on set (because she was in almost every shot) and to carry it around. But because it fit her so well, it made it more comfortable and well balanced.
Whenever there was a shot with only her top half, she didn’t need to wear the skirts, and even though you barely saw the high heels she wore with it, she always wanted to wear them for her character. She was an absolute trouper!
Good quality fabric was important for me, as was colour. I found a beautiful ecclesiastical (church) fabric from Watts of Westminster, with a big bold pattern in a blue that echoed her eyes, so it looked historic, but it made a fashion statement at the same time. Then on top of this, to fit the bingo theme, we sewed tiny, coloured bingo balls, like pearls, all over the dress, along with a good sprinkling of Swarovski Crystals for a bit of subtle bling!
Barbara loved her tiara which was made by milliner Jane Smith, and having such dainty hands, I had her gloves made to measure by the Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge’s glove maker, Cornelia James.
Overall, Barbara’s costume needed to be fun but quality, not tacky in any way. She looked a picture in her dress, and I was happy because she was so happy with it.
The other two dresses were worn for individual campaigns. The black beaded ‘Casino’ dress was made by costume maker Debbie Phipps, and her final costume had a little more of a ‘Red Carpet’ look in deep blue duchesse silk satin, made by costume maker Gwen Russell, with accessories by Sean Barrett, and I did the trellis of beading on the bodice myself as I love doing it!
A ‘big’ costume only works if the actor can carry it off, or the costume could dominate and wear them! Barbara carried all these dresses off with aplomb and panache as only she could. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Barbara and her husband, Scott, a true double act, and privileged that our costumes were worn by such a wonderful person and iconic national treasure, Dame Barbara Windsor.
To be the proud owner of any of the costumes worn by the late Dame Barabara Windsor and designed by award-winning costume designer, Vin Burnham, place your bids from 6 July. To view the catalogue of dresses, visit: July Collectables, Antiques and Textiles Auction – WEBCAST ONLY – VIEWING BY APPOINTMENT ONLY (hansonsauctioneers.co.uk)