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13 November 2014

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York Minster

You are in: North Yorkshire > History > York Minster > Raising the Mary Rose boss design

Boss design showing the Mary Rose

Joanna's Mary Rose boss design

Raising the Mary Rose boss design

In 1986 Blue Peter ran a competition to find six boss designs for the Minster's vaulted ceiling. Joanna Biggs was 16 when her design was chosen. She says it changed her life.

It's been fun looking back at my typically teenage diary entries for 1986:

"Sunday Jan 26th - finished my design for the Blue Peter York Minster Bosses competition today. Otherwise, pretty boring. Watched Doris Day film. Looks like Aha is going to be Number 1."

"Friday Feb 14th - Fantastic! Brill! Wow! Simon Groom rang up last night and they want me on Blue Peter next Monday - I have won a prize in the York Minster competition! Two Valentines today - one from you know who, and the other from who knows?"

I have long forgotten who 'you know who' was, but have never forgotten how important a turning point winning the Blue Peter York Minster competition was in my life. I was given a huge confidence boost in my art and design skills at a time when I was anything but confident.

I am the eldest of eight children, and we all used to watch Blue Peter together, and usually entered the competitions together too - I have a little box of runner-up badges to show for these efforts!

The York Minster Competition stood out as very special. The prize immediately appealed to me - I loved the idea of my great-great-great grandchildren being able to see my design in an ancient and much revered building.

Blue Peter competition winners

Blue Peter winners and the Rose Window

The design had to depict an event I felt had some importance in the 20th century, and the 1982 raising of Henry VIII's Tudor warship, the 'Mary Rose', sprang to my mind straight away.

I had just finished a personal project on it the year before, and I felt it was such an outstanding and unusual event that it deserved a permanent place in a historical monument.

Keeping the design simple was very important because the boss had to be seen from a very long way off. I decided that depicting the machinery used' would complicate the picture, and so substituted a hand instead. I remember telling my mother that it was the last Blue Peter competition that I would ever enter as I felt I was a bit too old at 16, but also because I thought that the prize was so brilliant nothing could top it.

The phone call at 10.30pm on Feb 13th 1986 was so mind blowing, I still get goosebumps thinking about it. Things like that just didn't happen to a shy 16-year old from small town Carmarthen in South Wales!

On 17th February I travelled the BBC studios in London where I met the other five prize winners - Rebecca, Richard, Ben, Laura and also Tim who was the joint winner in my age group.

After lunch in the famous BBC canteen, during which we star spotted like mad - John Craven even said hello to us - Biddy Baxter told us that we were all prize winners and we had our first taste of 'fame' as our photos were taken by all the newspaper men.

Next came the rehearsals but nothing prepared us for the nerve racking live show. I can't remember anything except feeling very hot and hoping that the make up put on me would stay looking nice.

I went back to school to endure the Blue Peter tune being whistled in the 6th form room every time I entered it - but I have to say I couldn't have cared less for my perceived loss of street cred. The truth was that so many people told me that they felt the same way as I did. The sense of history always overcame the sneer factor.

On 24th February 1986 I travelled with my Mum to York, where we were to stay with Canon Mayland and his wife. The six of us visited the Jorvik Centre and inhaled all the deliciously disgusting smells. We were then taken backstage, shown how it all worked, and given lots of presents.

In fact we were very spoilt in general - everywhere we went in York we were given such generous and kind treatment. We had a lovely lady called Margaret Phillips to look after our every need.

We filmed one day all around and about York Minster with Simon Groom, and met up with Nick Quayle and Geoff Carpenter, the two carvers.

It was very enjoyable, but we were all a bit perturbed at how if one of us said something spontaneous like, "That's a weird looking gargoyle!", the director would shout, "Cut! Can you repeat that again please and say it nice and loud and clear".

The best thing I remember about that time was getting the chance to discuss with the carvers exactly how we wanted our individual bosses to be portrayed.

It was a very informative experience, working with such highly skilled professional creatives. I have a photo of myself and Nick Quayle in discussion - he asked me to send him some more drawings and specified the kind of extra detail he needed in particular for the ship.

At the end of the first filming session we all went to Pizza Hut and made a party of it. Everyone let their hair down. All the winners got on despite the age gaps. I'm in touch with Tim still, but I'd love to know what the others are doing now.

Joanna & carver Nick Quayle

Joanna & carver Nick Quayle

The second time I went to York was in May 1986. This time our perks were being taken on a boat trip up the river to the Archbishop's Palace. We all knew what the camera crew wanted from us this time, so everything went a lot more smoothly.

Laura's and Tim's bosses had been completed, so they filmed them ostensibly attaching their bosses to the roof of the South Transept. However, the roof was still nowhere near finished at that point, so as soon as Laura bolted her boss in, they promptly took it off again.

The discussions between Bob Littlewood and his team were fascinating - particularly the decisions they had to make between what was to be a replica, how much to adhere to the historical way of making things, and where to bring 20th century technology in. The whole experience was epic.

It was quite sad on the last evening of filming because we had to say goodbye to all the people who had put us and our families up and looked after us so well. We knew it would be some time before we would be back in York again.

After that we all had one more trip to the Blue Peter studio to collect the 'mini bosses' the carvers had specially made for us, but the final and biggest event was our invitation to attend The dedication of the roof and vault of the restored South Transept on 4th November 1988 - and to meet the Queen.

By this time I had transformed into an art foundation student, attending art college and getting ready to go to Oxford University to do a Fine Art degree - the street cred nose dive was imminent and prominent.

But again, all that was blown away by the prospect of seeing my design up there in the vaulted ceiling. I remember blabbering on about how beautiful the choir boys' singing was, and how small the Queen was, but the footage of that time clearly shows what I was really transfixed by. My eyes are drawn up to the ceiling the whole time.

It's difficult to describe the sense of achievement I still feel. Every year I get at least one reminder - usually through somebody sending me the postcard still sold at York Minster with my design on it.

It truly affected my life in a positive way, giving me the confidence to study and work as a creative ever since - Oxford, Royal College of Art, and now running my own business.

I can't imagine how I would have gained the confidence to do any of this without the knowledge that once upon a time some people liked one of my designs enough to want a permanent realisation of it in a context so beautiful and rich in history.

Joanna Biggs

last updated: 07/07/2009 at 16:24
created: 05/10/2005

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