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Personal Column: Test-card special

To mark the 40th anniversary of the test card, Myleene Klass has launched a new high-definition version. Carole Hersee recalls making the BBC original in 1967

Interview by Liz Hoggard

"I can clearly remember the day when I first sat for the test card image. It was 1967 and I was eight. It was a sunny day and my father, who was an engineer at the BBC, told my little sister Gillian and me that he wanted to take some photographs of us in the garden. He brought along a hat, flowers and a wheelbarrow.

He was actually working on a new test card to check colour tones on the new colour TV sets. Previously images such as the Potter's Wheel had been used, but now a human model was needed to test skin tones. They didn't want to use an adult because women's fashions and hairstyles change constantly. So that's why he thought of us children.

My father chose me because Gillian had two front teeth missing. The next thing I remember is going into a studio to do the pictures professionally. This time the set included a clown and a blackboard, and I remember eating lots of biscuits while they played around for ages with the game of noughts and crosses - if you look at the picture carefully the "X" appears in the exact centre of the screen, so the engineers could check the picture balance.

The colours were very carefully chosen for technical reasons - a red T-shirt and hairband for me, a green outfit for the clown, plus yellow and blue - but it completely passed me by. I was terribly hot and all I wanted to do was to go outside and play.

This was long before the days of reality TV and game shows, and no one was desperate to be famous. After all as a child, where could you go to be on TV? If you were lucky you might get on Crackerjack or Blue Peter if you'd done something really interesting.

These days Test Card F is seen as a British icon to rival the double-decker London bus and the red telephone box. I'm told I hold the record for the most TV appearances by a single person. But back then no one suspected my picture would go on for 34 years. None of the previous test cards had lasted very long. I was only paid a nominal amount, nothing like today's celebrities. We certainly didn't realise that at 16 I could have insisted the BBC stop showing the test card with my image on it, or pay me royalties.

What brought it home, years later, was when a newspaper ran a story about me headlined "The youngest millionairess in the world - if only". I got heartily sick of all the fuss, especially as I was teased at school. I even remember being told off for lying by the headmaster, who didn't believe it was me on television. Sometimes I'd take in the red T-shirt or the clown just to prove it. And I did get my hair cut short a few years afterwards, so people didn't recognise me in the street. Maybe looking back it was a conscious decision.

It certainly became harder as I got older. When you're 25, for example, you don't relate to an image of yourself aged eight. The newspapers would ring up every anniversary to do an interview and I'd think, "Oh go away, I don't want to do this any more." And it was certainly a pressure on my ex-husband.

I think the most valuable thing that came out of it is that I'm never star-struck now. From a young age I knew that some people are famous and others aren't.

My parents met and got married at the BBC, so as children we'd often visit Broadcasting House. And it probably helped influence my choice of career as a theatrical costumier. My father took me to visit the BBC wardrobe department and they recommended me to the theatrical costumiers, Bermans & Nathans (now Angels & Bermans). I spent three weeks there in the holidays and never went back to school to do my A-levels.

Since then I've worked on costumes for films such as Dangerous Liaisons and The Last Emperor, and the musicals Phantom of the Opera and Aspects of Love.

Over the years the rumour has grown up that I've very reclusive. But I'm just an ordinary person. In fact the image looks like any other eight-year-old girl in the late 1960s - we all had long hair and a thick hairband. That's all there was; there was no such thing as children's fashion back then. We were far more naïve.

My son is 14 now and my daughter is 12. Some of their friends at school know it's me in the picture, but to be honest they've just grown up with it. You don't get blasé about it, you just accept it.

In many ways the history of our family is still closely bound up with the BBC. As well as redesigning the test card my father also set up the first talking newspaper for the blind.

In 1997, when the BBC celebrated its 75th anniversary, an organiser called to speak to me. My mother answered and said quite sharply: "Oh no, she doesn't want to do anything like that any more."

It turned out it was Buckingham Palace and they wanted my son to meet the Queen. We all went along: I think they liked the idea of having the grandson of George Hersee at the celebrations.

And now, 40 years later, Myleene Klass is the face of Sky's high-definition channel. There's a nice symmetry that once again the image is there to help viewers check their TV sets.

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