A cut above

A cut above

By Michael Pickard
May 21, 2024

Job Description

Hair & make-up designer Lisa Parkinson takes DQ inside her Bafta-winning job on ITV true crime drama The Long Shadow and discusses working on a budget and being mentored by a Hairy Biker.

Seven episodes, 156 cast members, 1970s design – and one Bafta.

Lisa Parkinson may not have had the grandest budget in television history when she came on to oversee the hair & make-up design for ITV period drama The Long Shadow, but her efforts and those of her team were rewarded when she beat competition from her peers working on Netflix’s  The Crown, Apple TV+’s Slow Horses and ITV’s Three Little Birds to win her category at this year’s Bafta Television Craft Awards.

“I’ve always thought there should be two categories, one with money and one without. I’m not saying they’ve got absolute masses, but I’m sure they’ve got a hell of a lot more than I did,” Parkinson tells DQ. “Because I ran out of money, a lot of the stuff [we needed] we made ourselves. I had some wigs made, but myself and everybody else just ploughed in. We made all our own facial hair and stuff like that.

Lisa Parkinson

“It was a time [in the industry] when it was so, so busy that we were getting cast really late, and it was [set in the ] 1970s, but we were also making them [the cast] look like the original people, where we could. David Morrissey doesn’t look anything like George Oldfield, but we aged him up, made him look slouchy and we put the teeth in to make him change, and he bloody loved it. They [Bafta] saw the amount of passion in the work from every person in that crew and cast, and it couldn’t have been done if they hadn’t let me just go for it.”

Airing on ITV in September last year, The Long Shadow depicted the desperate five-year hunt for serial killer Peter Sutcliffe between 1975 and 1980. Notably, however, the seven-part true crime series focuses on the lives of the victims who crossed Sutcliffe’s path and the officers at the heart of the investigation.

Toby Jones plays DCS Dennis Hoban, who initially led the inquiry, with Morrissey as DCS Oldfield, who took on the case. Lee Ingleby is DCS Jim Hobson, with Katherine Kelly as Emily Jackson, Daniel Mays as her husband Sydney Jackson and Jill Halfpenny as Doreen Hill. The series is produced by New Pictures and distributed by All3Media International, with Sundance Now airing the show in the US and Canada.

“Jack Deam let me shave the top of his hair, so he just had the back piece that was very ‘in’ in the 70s. The cast were just like, ‘Do what you want,’” Parkinson says, “and I was consciously trying to make it not too posh, like they were real people in Leeds.

“It meant a lot to me to have as much attention to detail as possible because I’m from that area. I remember it; I remember my mum having to be walked home from bingo because [Sutcliffe] was on the loose. It wasn’t a great time, and I just wanted to show that.”

Parkinson warned the cast that they wouldn’t be getting any glamorous treatment. In fact, it was quite the opposite, as their hair and make-up was “broken down.” “The amazing thing was every single one of them was very much up for it. And you can see that. You can see every line in their faces, which is obviously quite scary for an actor to do, but they absolutely went for it.”

Toby Jones (left) as DCS Dennis Hoban alongside Lee Ingleby as DCS Jim Hobson

Reuniting behind the scenes with director Lewis Arnold – they worked together on Dark Money – Parkinson says she wasn’t given a brief for the kind of look he wanted for the cast. Instead, she told him she wanted to make the hair & make-up as accurate as possible.

“I said I would try my utmost to make that person look like that person, because it was so important to do that,” she says. “I’m very lucky that he trusts me implicitly, which is amazing. I couldn’t ask for more in a director.”

Making the actors look as much like their real-life counterparts was “massively important” for Parkinson. “I don’t know if that’s because I’m from Yorkshire,” she jokes. “But what we did was enough to make them look like them, but not hinder their performance, where they were constantly worried about what they looked like.”

David Morrissey also stars

One character that presented some particular challenges was Sutcliffe himself, played on screen by Mark Stobbart. Parkinson and her team chose not to change Stobbart’s real look, “because who wants to walk around looking like that,” and chose to dress him up on set instead. Meanwhile, in one early scene, Kelly’s character is supposed to see someone who looks like Sutcliffe in a bar. But Michael Parr, the actor playing the doppelganger, didn’t look anything like Sutcliffe.

“I had an afro wig we ended up putting on the back of his hair and laying it on his own hair, and also making a beard. It was an epic look. Then Lewis said he looked too much like him, so we took the beard off and just had the tache,” Parkinson says. “Every day, it was all a massive challenge. We had wigs that we were doubling up for different characters because we’d just run out. Dot Atkinson, who played Hoban’s wife, had the same wig as Katherine Kelly, just styled differently. There was one guy who we put Liz White’s wig on but turned it around back to front.

“It was getting crackers, because everyone’s [style is] modern day and the 70s is mental. But the SAs [supporting artists] were amazing. We’d got hold of the key ones really early on and all the boys grew their facial hair and kept it the entire time, so they were brilliant. That helped a lot.”

Breaking into the film and television industry more than 20 years ago, Parkinson’s numerous credits include Cobra and Ackley Bridge, while she has also worked on period dramas including Shane Meadows’ The Gallows Pole and All Creatures Great & Small. Teaming up with Meadows in particular was a “bucket list moment,” she says, comparing the production to a live theatre performance.

Jill Halfpenny is Doreen Hill in the fact-based ITV series

“It’s incredible to watch, and to be on one of his shows was a pinch-me moment,” she says. “When I first came into this career, to work with these kinds of people was just so far beyond anything I could think of. It’s brilliant. I’ve been very fortunate in my career.”

Priced out of hair & make-up courses in London, Parkinson initially put her plans to work in the sector on the back-burner, until a new programme started up at York College, much closer to her Yorkshire home. Then she began working her way up, starting out in theatre before she was introduced to David Myers, a make-up artist and prosthetics expert who trained her up from a trainee to an assistant. The late Myers, who died earlier this year, would go on to become one half of famed TV cooking duo The Hairy Bikers.

“He saw something in me that a lot didn’t,” Parkinson says. “I didn’t fit the mould at all. I was quite a blunt northern person, and I just didn’t fit the mould of this industry. I had to fight my way through really. It’s not been easy and I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but hopefully I’ve been kind to people, which is my main thing. I’ve always wanted to have teams around that are happy and not miserable throughout the whole job because I’ve been there. It’s just not a way I would ever want to work.

“Every job I’ve done, even The Worst Witch when I did children’s TV, it’s such a massive learning curve. It really does make you think outside the box because you haven’t got anything on kids’ TV, and The Worst Witch was like a mini-Harry Potter without any money. It makes you think.”

Parkinson notes that the biggest change she has seen in the industry during her career is shortening production times. For example, 1990s drama Where the Heart Is would film six episodes over 20 weeks, whereas a similar episode order would now be shot in 14 weeks.

Working with Shane Meadows on The Gallows Pole was a career highlight for Parkinson

“Six weeks is a lot to skim off the top. It does feel a little bit like you’re speed-dating half the time,” she says. “In some ways, filming’s harder because it’s so fast now. It sounds silly because you’re waiting around a lot but it’s so fast paced, you don’t have time to make mistakes. You can’t say, ‘That was rubbish so we’ll film it again.’ When you’re on dramas that have tight budgets, it’s much harder.”

But the designer does say it’s now easier for new hair & make-up artists to break into the industry through organisations such as ScreenSkills, Film Buddy and Screen Yorkshire.

“You do have to do your time, though,” she adds. “A lot of people think they’ve done it all, they’ve done three years, and they need to design. But I do think because of Covid and the industry being saturated after Covid, people are jumping a bit too quick at the moment. To be fair, it’s not just about your skill level but being put in a really pressurised situation and being able to say, ‘Well actually that doesn’t work,’ and being able to hold up your own and not crumble. People need to work their way up.”

Her advice to aspiring hair & make-up artists is to be really helpful and support your team – and the actors you work with.

“We pride ourselves on being a happy bunch and people like to work with us,” she adds. “What happens on the truck stays on the truck and, with the actors, it’s really important because we’re their first port of call. If they go out miserable, then everybody else is on the back foot straight away. It’s really important to get people out in a happy, timely way. That’s part of the job as well. We’re half psychologists, half make-up artists.”

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