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Production Notes

Production Design | Costumes + Makeup

Production Design

Dan Peggotty's houseboat and more

There was a black barge with an iron funnel sticking out of it for a chimney and smoking very cozily... I could not have been more charmed with the romantic idea of living in it...

     -- David Copperfield, when he sees the Peggotty's houseboat
         at Yarmouth in Norfolk for the first time

If people remember one thing about David Copperfield, it is the boat that Dan Peggotty and his family lived in. It was recreated on Benacre beach, near Southwold in Suffolk.

"It was amazing. It was a location which took on its own mood," says art director Anna Deamer. "A lot of people remarked on it. Every day, as it was being built and painted, it became more and more alive in its own world."

It so enchanted the young boy who lived in a farmhouse near the location that his father was going to try and rescue the little turret at the top to put in their garden.

Anna adds: "There were lots of discussions which way up the boat should be. The production designer, Roger Cann, decided it should be the right way up. In illustrations, it is depicted both the right way up and upside down, but there is a famous painting of Dickens dreaming with a picture of the boat upright. That boat looks pretty similar to ours."

There was a strange thing about the remote Benacre site. Location teams had traveled all over Great Britain looking for a suitable site to build the boat. It was only after the production was committed to Benacre that they discovered it was exactly the same location as that chosen for the houseboat in the 1970s film version of David Copperfield.

The book's great storm scene at the end of the story was shot at Benacre with two wind machines, rain generators and thunder and lightning effects... and a real storm blowing too. The finale to the scene was shot in the famous outdoor water tank at Pinewood Studios in London.

Other David Copperfield locations include Elstree Film Studios, where the interiors of the boat, David's childhood home and Aunt Betsey's house were built. The Micawbers and Heep left for Australia from Liverpool docks. The area around Wisbech's Museum Square in Cambridgeshire was the location Wickfield's and Steerforth's houses. Interiors of the debtor's prison were shot in King's Lynn, Norfolk. London EC4 was the postcode for exteriors of the prison and other city scenes. Rotherhithe's Bombay Wharf was the location for the blacking factory, David and Dora's cottage was in Hampshire, and David's childhood home, The Rookery, was at Great Tew in Oxfordshire.

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Costumes + Makeup

In search of Tommy Traddles

'Do you know what I can't help thinking of, Traddles, as I sit here looking at you?' I asked him. 'No,' said he.
'That sky-blue suit you used to wear.'
'Lord, to be sure!' cried Traddles, laughing. 'Tight in the arms and legs, you know? Dear me! Well! Those were happy times, weren't they?'
'I think our schoolmaster might have made them happier, without doing any harm to any of us, I acknowledge,' I returned.

     --from David Copperfield

Tommy Traddles, the Dickens character who hair stood on end like a "fretful porcupine," may have been cut from the adaptation, but costume designer Mike O'Neill used the David Copperfield color scheme to reinstate one of his personal favorite characters.

David Copperfield covers a huge fashion span, from late Georgian and Regency to early Victorian years, from 1812 (Dickens's birth year) to 1846 (David Copperfield's marriage to Agnes and the birth of their first child). Rather than risk audience attention being diverted from the story by what O'Neill calls a "costume show-reel," he went for basic period shapes, but with the individual characters being defined, like the individual locations, by their own color palette.

So the Peggotty family in Yarmouth have clothes defined by the local landscape -- soft greens of the dune grass, sandy hues and natural clear colors representing people who live an honest, working life. London scenes find the well-to-do tinged with harsh, vibrant colors while London lowlife wears exactly the same colors but "dirtied, smoked, fogged, grubbed and oiled." Canterbury characters come in well-to-do rusty/olive/classic hues. The "sinister" characters, such as Edward Murdstone, Uriah Heep and headmaster Mr. Creakle, are drawn in black.

And what O'Neill calls "soulless areas" of the story (the blacking warehouse and the schoolroom) come as virtually colorless. But if audiences look carefully at the classroom scene, they will see a splash of color with two pupils wearing pale blue jackets.

And that's the clue. Dickens wrote that Traddles was wearing a "tight, sky-blue suit."

O'Neill, who started his career as a theatre assistant at the Royal Shakespeare Company working with the likes of Ben Kingsley, Helen Mirren, Ian Richardson and David Warner, says: "Traddles is never in these sorts of adaptations. So I thought I would slip a bit of him in. It's a personal thing. It's only for me. The blue jackets are just symbols of Traddles."

Of wigs and wefts
"Basically, the period is a no makeup look," says makeup designer Caroline Noble, fresh out of Africa and a Kim Basinger movie, "so we really only used makeup to create character, aging or youth."

"Some of the major characters have to age by as much as nearly 35 years. I could have done incredibly complex makeup, taking four hours to make someone look very old. But that sort of time wouldn't have been popular with the production -- or the actors!"

"So," says Noble, "it was a case of haircuts, wigs, wefts of hair linked to actors existing hair, period low-parting comb-overs for actors with gaps in their hair, and lots of wigs. Most leading actors had two."

"Most aging is done with wigs," explains Noble. "Someone going from brown to grey can make a big difference."

Noble says that the cost of some wigs, especially those made by the stars' own wigmakers, meant they were often too expensive to buy. The David Copperfield production had some wigs especially made but rented them for the production, returning them to the wigmaker for use on other productions.

The best wigs are made with real hair, and each hair is individually knotted into its foundation. "Wigmakers are amazing," says Noble. "They have to work with magnifying glasses and what looks like a tiny crochet hook. They have to put in thousands of hairs, in some cases as many as you have on your head!"

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