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Going Postal: Accessory worn and cherished by Hollywood legend David Niven features in Water Lane Theatre Company production – thanks to its costumier



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The cast of Bishop's Stortford's Water Lane Theatre Company's Going Postal are being dressed for success by Braughing-based Anne Styles. Chris Carter talks to the costumier about her career working with some big names...

It may surprise fans of suave Hollywood legend David Niven that if he had been asked to choose his favourite accessory it's likely it wouldn't be a cravat, but a red, home-knitted, woolly scarf.

The woman who introduced the British star to the item of clothing was costumier Anne Styles, who was providing the wardrobe for 1970s TV movie The Canterville Ghost.

Anne Styles is making the costumes for Water Lane Theatre Company's production of Going Postal. Pic: Vikki Lince. (52873250)
Anne Styles is making the costumes for Water Lane Theatre Company's production of Going Postal. Pic: Vikki Lince. (52873250)

Anne – who at the age of 80 is still making actors look "pretty", designing the costumes for Bishop's Stortford-based Water Lane Theatre Company's upcoming production Going Postal – recalled dressing Niven for the Oscar Wilde short story when she spoke to the Indie.

"The story is about an American family who comes to stay and the ghost [played by Niven] comes out to haunt them," she said.

"He [Niven] appears in various costumes, and I got my cleaning lady to knit a red, woolly scarf. It took her forever, but David Niven loved it."

Anne Styles dressed David Niven for the 1970s TV movie The Canterville Ghost. Pic: Vikki Lince. (52873247)
Anne Styles dressed David Niven for the 1970s TV movie The Canterville Ghost. Pic: Vikki Lince. (52873247)

Anne, who reused the scarf for actor Bill Owen when he played a tramp, got into costume design after she trained as a dress designer in Nottingham. She joined the ITV broadcaster ATV in 1967 and dressed various pop stars and entertainers of the era, including Jimmy Tarbuck and Engelbert Humperdinck.

She went on to London Weekend Television, where she worked on various classic TV shows including On the Buses, before she went freelance.

A stint with Anglia TV doing Play for the Month followed before she went to the BBC, where her job involved a lot of period dramas.

She is well aware there are plenty of armchair critics out there ready to spot any error.

The red scarf David Niven took a shine to (52882560)
The red scarf David Niven took a shine to (52882560)

"Especially when you're switching genres, you have to be an expert on them and you've got to be on top of everything," said Anne, but she stressed that sometimes viewers' memories were "faulty".

After being a full-time designer for 30 years, Anne stepped back and became an interior designer for a while, but has been enjoying various freelance jobs, including dressing the cast of her local panto in the village of Braughing.

Although with panto bling is the thing, with most other jobs for Anne it's key the costumes do not jump out at people.

"If the costumes are showy the audience aren't looking at the actors," she said, adding: "The actors have to be comfortable with what they're wearing."

She's relishing being involved in Water Lane's production and has been busy genning up on the Terry Pratchett Discworld novel on which the play is based.

It tells the story of conman Moist von Lipwig who is condemned to be hanged, but has the chance of a reprieve if he agrees to take over Ankh-Morpork's ailing postal service.

Amanda Green, who plays four parts in Going Postal, wearing the red scarf that was much loved by David Niven
Amanda Green, who plays four parts in Going Postal, wearing the red scarf that was much loved by David Niven

Anne's made most of the costumes, which she says should be late Victorian/turn of the century, and it has stretched her resources.

"I collect fabric and raided my stock," she said. Part of the art of dressing actors is being resourceful and juggling items, so whereas she will change the cast's tops, she might reuse their trousers.

She took on the job after feeling at a loose end following the death of her husband a year ago and, on seeing a post on Facebook, she sent the company an email offering her services.

She's full of praise for the Water Lane team, who she says are very professional. "I'm loving it," said Anne.

* Going Postal is on at the Charis Centre, Water Lane, Bishop's Stortford, from Thursday to Saturday, November 18-20. Tickets priced £9.50 from the Tourist Information Centre in Market Square and online from www.ticketsource.co.uk/waterlane.

Jack Stevens as Moist von Lipwig (52772893)
Jack Stevens as Moist von Lipwig (52772893)


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