Clothes-Line (lost early BBC fashion talk show; 1937-1938)

From The Lost Media Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Issue 732 of Radio Times listing the second episode.

Status: Lost

Clothes-Line was an early BBC fashion talk show. Known for being the first fashion television show, it documented and illustrated fashion history, primarily from C. Willett Cunnington's collection.


Clothes-Line was conceptualised following a meeting between BBC director Mary Adams, dress historian James Laver, and artist Polly Binder, with the trio sharing a close friendship.[1] Particularly, Adams and Binder had worked on an episode of The World of Women that starred the latter.[2] Clothes-Line saw Laver as its presenter, providing commentary on the clothes provided, with Binder being responsible for sketching and providing illustrations on large sheets of paper on an easel.[3][1] Initially, theatrical costumes from Clarksons were to be harnessed, but when a deal to hire them was shot down, the show made a deal with Dr. C.W and P. Cunntington to provide authentic garments from their historic collection, with live models wearing the clothes.[1][3] The selection of models proved difficult, when considering the models needed the correct period faces and body shapes to be suitable.[1] While Binder noted in her diary this did not always work out, on some occasions the full package was successfully achieved, stating when detailing an episode where models wore Victorian dresses "Thanks to Cunnington... this is the raiment angels wear."[1]

Another challenge faced was that Binder was pregnant as while working on the show's planning stages.[1] As her pregnancy progressed during the show's running, BBC officials became more concerned due to how obvious her pregnancy was and how it violated many of its gender taboos regarding how women were shown.[1] Clothes-Line may therefore hold the distinction of being the first television show to feature a heavily pregnant woman.[1] Binder gave birth to her daughter Josephine a few weeks following the final episode of the original show.[2]

The Episodes

Episodes were broadcast on a biweekly basis, and lasted around 15 minutes. Most Radio Times descriptions are rather vague; the first episode, simply titled "Clothes-Line", was broadcast on 30th September 1937.[4] A review by The Listener noted that it found the combination of a poetry-reading, a lightning-artist display, and a mannequin parade was confusing, but accepted that Clothes-Line had in essence created a new television genre by doing so.[5] Episode 2 was broadcast on 14th October, featuring fashion that helped establish "The Sporting Woman".[6][7] Episode 3 appeared more historic, broadcasted on 28th October with a focus on fossilized clothes.[8][9] Cunnington took over for commentary in the fourth episode, broadcast on 9th November, which looked at a collection of his hats and headgear.[10][11] Episode 5 examined how fashion provided influences at work, being aired on 19th November.[12]

Finally, Episode 6, titled "Grandmama Looks Back", was broadcast on 9th December 1937.[13][14] It featured a comparison of fashion between generations, with Nesta Sawyer and Micheline Patton appearing on the show portraying a grandmother-granddaughter pairing respectively. During the broadcast, Patton wore a 1937 backless evening dress, with her Sawyer being requested to reminisce about the clothes she wore at Patton's age, some models wearing Edwardian clothes appearing for illustration purposes.[1] According to Binder, the backless dress was filmed from behind, leading to several complaints from viewers, some of whom expressing outrage of what they perceived to be public nudity being presented.[1]

Nevertheless, the show proved popular during its run, leading the BBC to provides re-works of some episodes in 1938, under Clothes Through the Centuries.[3] The first two episodes, "Grandmama Looks Back" and "The Sporting Girl", were broadcast on 10th April and 2nd May respectively.[15][16][3] The third and final episode, "Legendary Loveliness from Nefertiti to Lilly Langtry", appeared to be an original episode, being broadcast on 3rd June.[17][3]


Like most early television programs, Clothes-Line was televised live and there were limited viable means of recording television prior to the Second World War, resulting in recording seldom occurring until video tape was perfected in the late-1950s.[18] Thus, all episodes of the show are now permanently missing. A few photos of the show were included in the book Establishing Dress History.[1]



See Also

Early BBC Television

Early BBC Sports Television


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Establishing Dress History detailing how Clothes-Line was established and the controversies it faced. Retrieved 3 May '22
  2. 2.0 2.1 BBC detailing Adams and Binder's roles in establishing Clothes-Line and the latter's pregnancy. Retrieved 3 May '22
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Costume Society detailing Clothes-Line and Clothes Through the Centuries. Retrieved 3 May '22
  4. Issue 730 of Radio Times listing the "Clothes-Line" episode. Retrieved 3 May '22
  5. The Listener reviewing the first episode of the show. Retrieved 3 May '22
  6. BBC Genome archive of Radio Times issues listing "The Sporting Woman" episode. Retrieved 3 May '22
  7. Issue 732 of Radio Times listing "The Sporting Woman" episode. Retrieved 3 May '22
  8. BBC Genome archive of Radio Times issues listing the "Fossilized Clothes" episode. Retrieved 3 May '22
  9. Issue 734 of Radio Times listing the "Fossilized Clothes" episode. Retrieved 3 May '22
  10. BBC Genome archive of Radio Times issues listing the "Fossilized Clothes" episode. Retrieved 3 May '22
  11. Issue 736 of Radio Times listing the "Hats and Headgear" episode. Retrieved 3 May '22
  12. Issue 738 of Radio Times listing the "Influences at Work" episode. Retrieved 3 May '22
  13. BBC Genome archive of Radio Times issues listing the "Fossilized Clothes" episode. Retrieved 3 May '22
  14. Issue 740 of Radio Times listing the original "Grandmama Looks Back" episode. Retrieved 3 May '22
  15. Issue 757 of Radio Times listing the remade "Grandmama Looks Back" episode. Retrieved 3 May '22
  16. Issue 760 of Radio Times listing the "The Sporting Girl" episode. Retrieved 3 May '22
  17. Issue 764 of Radio Times listing the "Legendary Loveliness from Nefertiti to Lilly Langtry" episode. Retrieved 3 May '22
  18. Web Archive article discussing how most early television is missing due to lack of directly recording television. Retrieved 3 May '22