There is one particularly marvellous episode, midway through the second series of Ms Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries released earlier this year, that best reveals the strange, subtle mechanics of Ben Bangay's job.

man in a suit laughing with a lady in a purple check pant suit


"It's has a beautiful duality," says the production designer of "Coop de Grace", "A darkness about the whole murder mystery, set in (the mid 1960s) in a pigeon fanciers' clubhouse. It's a very 1950s traditionalist environment but it's infiltrated by (lead character) Peregrine, who's very much a modern 1960s girl."

Ben is the "glue" that binds a hive of disparate creative professionals as they build minutiae into each scene. "These visual decisions, (it takes) complex, intuitive processes to keep everybody on the same page and things humming along."

He starts by deep-diving into producer Beth Frey's uniquely angled vision of the 1960s. "I sort of immerse myself in a huge body of research," Ben says, "All the music, newspapers of the time, art, political references...I get a sense of the way people were thinking."

In sync with Beth Frey and with an armoury of colour palettes, historic references and regular meetings he nudges the Miss Fisher production crew's focus back, again and again, until every set hums with harmony and a single, albeit richly detailed notion of the 1960s.

"There's nothing worse than watching something that's not harmonious," he says. "If the costuming's saying one thing, the hair's saying another, the background is altogether a different story, you've just got this mish-mash of different ideas..."

Not so Ms Fisher. "Coop de Grace" for example, is a jigsaw  of myriad micro details tuned to its dark mood, its off-beat murder victim (a tarred and feathered pigeon fancier no less), its authentic look, lighting and feel of an "old fashioned" clubhouse in the 1960s, and its delicate disparity between the ways its modern-thinking lead characters and older, traditionalist others think, move, speak, dress and wear their hair.

Especially dress and wear their hair. "Peregrine's this gorgeous colourful creature," says costume designer Penny Dickinson, explaining the series' popularity among fashion fans. "In my head, she's got direct access to the latest fashions...in "Coop de Grace" she needed to be a bit darker, not one of her usually bright poppy, fantastic outfits..."

Penny and her nine-member costume crew had pivoted from real-life fossicks in vintage stores and agencies, to online searches for 1960s fashion during production because of the pandemic. They found themselves elated by what was on offer. "There is just so much out there, so many collectors," she says, "People just love the 1960s."

She found thrilling caches of original fashion in the oddest locations: a mother and daughter in a tiny outback town in South Australia who had been collecting for 40 years, an Aladdin's cave-like backroom of racked treasures in Williamstown, a man with a car-bootful of unworn 1960s daywear from his mother's now closed boutique in Tasmania, still with swing-tags in tact. "It's amazing," says Penny, "That this is still happening!"

In the end, she weighed a tangle of psycho-cultural imperatives including Peregrine's modernity and the "Coop de Grace" episode's dark mood and historic duality and came up with: "A version of a classic inspired Mondrian dress..."

"We often re-construct those (original) pieces," Penny says, "But this needed depth and a different colour palette so I turned it (the classic Mondrian primary palette) on its head and used lovely ochre colours and earthy tones...."

The "Mondrian" dress, spliced and sewn from separate pieces of the fleshy double-knit fabric Ponte, now reads like its own character in "Coop de Grace". Penny admits the dress is marginally less historically accurate than many of her costume decisions (the original Mondrian collection by Yves Saint Laurent was released in 1966; Ms Fisher is set around 1964) but the concession speaks to the extraordinary level of collaborative research and intuition film crews need to ring true with a single vision.

"This was an era of huge changes in the world," says producer Beth Frey, "A shift from old values to younger, youthful optimism, freedoms, fashions, architecture...we kept very true to that, heightened when we needed to, spent a lot of time to make things look and feel right."
And nailed it.

Ms Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries, created by Fiona Eagger and Deb Cox, produced by Beth Frey, is an Acorn TV Original Series produced by Every Cloud Productions, Principal production investment from Screen Australia in association with Film Victoria, Acorn Media Enterprises, All3media International and Fulcrum Media Finance.