Monty Berman, costumier - Born: 16 February, 1912, in London Died: 15 July, 2002, in Monte Carlo, aged 90.
MORRIS Berman - always known as Monty - was born in London’s East End and after service in the RAF during the Second World War (rising to the rank of squadron leader) he joined his father in the family tailoring business. He instigated a diversification into hiring costumes and very soon, through his enterprise and energy, the firm was acknowledged as London’s largest - and best equipped - theatrical costumiers.
Berman had a wide knowledge of military history and uniforms. So when those British war movies were being made in the Fifties - The Colditz Story, The Wooden Horse, I Was Monty’s Double, Ice Cold in Alex, The Dam Busters, etc) - the producers sent the entire cast along to Berman’s offices just off Cambridge Circus to be kitted out in the correct uniforms.
Many of the great names in theatre went to Bermans either for theatrical costumes or for private consultations. These included Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Ingrid Bergman and Vivien Leigh. They also did a fine line in Santa Claus outfits, panto costumes and could fit Napoleon’s army in an afternoon.
Theatrical designers also relied on Berman’s expertise. Cecil Beaton went to him with his designs for My Fair Lady (1958) and the famous Rex Harrison costume (tweed hat and knitted tie) was created: as was Julie Andrews’s ballgown. Other long-running musicals with which his firm was associated included The King and I (with Yul Brynner), West Side Story, Les Miserables and Miss Saigon.
Displaying his customary business acumen, Berman opened an office in Hollywood in the Fifties. It greatly prospered in the Sixties when many US films were made here. Bermans provided the costumes for all the Bond movies and award-winning films such as A Man For All Seasons, Darling, The Railway Children, A Bridge Too Far and Star Wars.
In the Sixties, Berman formed a close business partnership with Lew Grade and this led to the company to supplying all the costumes for TV dramas such as Brideshead Revisited, Upstairs Downstairs, Edward and Mrs Simpson, Dad’s Army and for the sketches in The Morecambe and Wise Show. There was also an unusual sideline to the television division as many of the audience for the BBC’s The Good Old Days hired their exotic outfits from Bermans rather than knock them up themselves.
The firm rapidly gained a name for reliability and accuracy: military decorations and dresses had to be totally authentic. They supplied costumes for galas when singers or dancers were flown in at the last moment and were always on hand to help out amateur dramatic societies. Many an Edinburgh Fringe production started life in Bermans’ Cambridge Circus studios with the odd costume being smuggled up north "just for good luck".
The firm merged with Nathans in 1972 and has continued to have the finest array of costumes in its vast wardrobes. Recently the firm took over Wig Creations, the long established makers of wigs, hairpieces and facial hair, and moved to North London, simply to create more storage space.
Berman was a delightful man who was passionate about the theatre and showbusiness. He devoted much time to helping the Variety Club and helped raise funds for handicapped children. He received the Queen’s Award for Industry in 1990 and, in that year, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Film Institute.
Berman retired in 1985 to Monte Carlo but continued to be involved with the firm on a consultancy basis. His first wife predeceased him and he is survived by his second wife, Maya, and by two daughters.