The Brontės - 100 Years On TV Times, 29th September - 5th October, 1973

The Brontės - TV Times cover

Working from contemporary pictures, in particular Branwell Brontė's famous portrait of his three sisters, and descriptions written at the time, Mary Griffiths, Yorkshire TV's make-up supervisor, set about bringing the Brontės back to life.

Alfred Burke (l) and Patrick Brontė (r) The Rev Patrick Brontė (Alfred Burke, far left). Mrs Gaskell, contemporary biographer of the Brontė family, said of the girls' father: "Even in his old age, Mr Brontė is a striking-looking man, above the common height, with a nobly-shaped head and erect carriage." Later, she wrote: "He is a tall, fine-looking old man with silver bristles all over his head."

"Alfred Burke," says Mary Griffiths, "was so obviously right for the part that he really didn't present any enormous make-up problems. He has to age from a man in his late 40's over a period of 30 years, so apart from lining his face, he had three different wigs to help him.

Vickery Turner (l) and Charlotte Brontė (r) Charlotte Brontė (Vickery Turner, far left). In 1850, after meeting Charlotte for the first time, Mrs Gaskell wrote: "The little lady worked away and hardly spoke. She is, as she calls herself, under-developed, thin, more than half a head shorter than I am, with soft brown hair, not very dark eyes - very good and expressive, looking straight and open at you - a large mouth, the forehead square, broad and rather over-hanging."

"Charlotte," says Mary Griffiths, "was 4ft, 9in., whereas Vickery Turner is 5ft, 2in., but that was a problem for the wardrobe department. Vickery is a lot like Branwell's painting of Charlotte, we had little to do."

Rosemary McHale (l) and Emily Brontė (r) Emily Brontė (played by Rosemary McHale, far left). Ellen Nursey, a family friend, wrote of Emily: "She was the tallest, except for her father. Her hair was naturally as beautiful as Charlotte's, but it was worn in the same unbecoming light curls and frizz. There was the same want of complexion. She had very beautiful eyes, but she did not often look at you."

"I didn't reproduce Emily's bad complexion," syas Mary Griffiths, "I don't think you can go to the extent of putting spots on people's faces. Rosemary McHale looked right for the part without heavy make-up. She has a couple of wigs, one to resemble Emily in the portrait by Branwell (left) and another with ringlets."

Ann Penfold (l) and Anne Brontė (r) Anne Brontė (played by Ann Penfold, far left). "Anne, dear gentle Anne," wrote Ellen Nursey, "was quite different in appearance from the others. Her hair was a very pretty light brown. She had lovely violet blue eyes, fine pencilled eyebrows, almost transparent complexion."

"We did not change the colour of Ann Penfold's eyes, which are hazel," says Mary Griffiths. "Apart from wigs there was very little that was needed to be done. Both Anne and Emily grow ill; this we dealt with by user paler and paler make-up. The important thing with all three girls was to keep the fragile look of the period; to stress the points of similarity, and minimise features less similar."

Michael Kitchen (l) and Branwell Brontė (r) Branwell Brontė (played by Michael Kitchen, far left). Branwell Brontė's friend, Frances Grundy, said of him: "He was almost insignificantly small - one of life's trials. He had a mass of red hair which he wore brushed off his forehead to help his height, I fancy. He had a great, bumpy, intellectual forehead, small ferrety eyes, deep sunk and still further hidden by spectacles, a prominent nose but weak lower features."

"This unflattering description hardly applied to Michael Kitchen," says Mary Griffiths, "but once we dyed his hair and eyebrows red we had made a start. We didn't use a lot of make-up to produce that 'great bumpy forehead', because Michael would have to live with that while he was acting. Anyway, people end up gazing at what has been done in the make-up room instead of listening to what the actor is saying. Our main aim in make-up was to create an illusion, which we have done.

"In his decline through drink, drugs and tuberculosis, Branwell changes. There is a description of his sunken eyes 'glaring with the light of madness', and Branwell himself told how he had five months of 'utter sleeplessness' with a violent cough. We changed the flesh tints, making them paler, reddened his eyes and put heavier shadows around them. With opium poisoning, apparently, you have vivid lips and cold, clammy skin. That was easy enough for us to reproduce."

Many thanks to Telemagman for finding the magazine.