Gentleman Jack: Meet the Yorkshire florist who helped bring Anne Lister's world to life

Kymm Queen isn’t a name known by as many as Suranne Jones, but both women played a vital role in the filming of hit BBC series Gentleman Jack, the final episode of which airs on Sunday night.

Kymm Queen at her shop near Helmsley.
Kymm Queen at her shop near Helmsley.

As a florist, Mrs Queen is responsible for some of the finer set details that appear in the background of scenes but say a great deal about the characters and the time they lived in.

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The real Anne Lister - the story of Gentleman Jack

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She grew up in Hovingham, near York, the daughter of a florist, and has been working in the industry for more than a decade.

Kymm Queen's flowers pictured in a scene between Suranne Jones and Sophie Rundle. PIC: BBC

From her shop, Queen’s Flowers, at Beadlam Grange near Helmsley, she creates arrangements for weddings and events but also works in the set teams for TV and film projects.

Many of the skills gained working on weddings are transferable to TV, she says.

She said: “You can’t be late for someone’s wedding, you can’t mess about, you can sit down and have a cup of tea when it’s done and I carry that same mentality over to working in TV and film.”

Flowers look best just before they die so last minute arranging is required for them to look perfect whether it’s someone’s big day or a film scene.

Kymm Queen's flowers on set. PIC: BBC

Mrs Queen first met TV crews when working as the house florist at Castle Howard, and has since been invited to work on various projects.

Some of the first work she did was on programmes for Alex Polizzi and she soon “caught the bug” for working in the film industry.

Episodes of Gentleman Jack have drawn an audience of six million people and Suranne Jones has won rave reviews and legions of fans for her portrayal of Anne Lister, a 19th century landowner who took part in several same-sex affairs with upper class women.

An extensive knowledge of English flower history led Mrs Queen to work on period productions.

Queen's Flowers.

She explained: “In 1830, the plant hunters were bringing flowers back into the country so we didn’t have a lot of what we have now.

“In this digital age when you can pause and zoom in, we don’t want to be on points of view.”

The biggest challenge for Mrs Queen on set is keeping fresh flowers cool.

Powerful lights can make them open up and cause continuity errors so artificial flowers are used as well.

If she does her job well, viewers won’t necessarily notice she has been there at all, though an awful lot is conveyed through her arrangements.

“You can show the wealth of people by what they have in their vases,” she said, “My brief for Ann Walker’s house was that she was quite a frail person who was extremely wealthy and had a lot of time on her hands.

“Traditionally those kind of women would have done flower arranging and embroidery, gardeners would bring them flowers, maids would bring the vases and they’d put them together.”

One of the more extravagant arrangements was placed in a huge Georgian urn, measured 15ft square and step ladders were needed to reach the top.

In a ball scene, the flowers included fresh pineapples sprayed in gold - the ultimate Georgian status symbol.

She explained: “Tropical fruits were a sign of wealth, and to put them in flower arrangements was extravagant. People didn’t do that with food then - they ate it.”

For Mrs Queen the most important detail is what her arrangements will be placed in and on Gentleman Jack that meant authentic Georgian vases

She said: “Some of the things I handle are worth quite a lot of money and very heavy.

“It’s not very glamorous. I’m quite often working out the back of my van with a flask of coffee but it’s really good fun.”

The series moves through three seasons, and changing the arrangements communicates that passage of time whilst the sets stay the same. Yellows denote spring, blues and pinks move the story on to summer and oranges and reds mean in winter.

Every one of the thousands of flowers used on the programme was chosen to match the season - narcissus in spring and dahlias through the summer.

“We also used a lot of dried things, things like pampas grass and ostrich feathers,” she said, “because they didn’t have flowers out of season.

“Once it went to winter, unless they had the odd glass house they didn’t really have anything so they used to dry them and preserve everything.”

This seasonal, organic approach chimes with Mrs Queen’s personal ethos as a green florist.

After becoming increasingly aware of and uncomfortable with the amount of cellophane and plastic packaging used in the flower industry a few years ago, she made the decision to run a more sustainable business using recyclable materials and either dries or composts old flowers, or turns them into confetti.

Without the help of plastic, she has had to go back to a way of floristry similar to that of the Georgians.

“They still had garlands and church archways and big arrangements, they just did them all without oasis.”

Working on the set and the story of Ann Lister has had a personal impact on Mrs Queen.

She said: “We’re of an age now where women are becoming equal, if not better, and Gentleman Jack is set before we were like that, so she really was an exception.

“She said: “As a green florist people used to think I was being tight and within a few years I’m trendy

“But it’s taken nearly 200 years for it to be ok to live how she did. That’s really inspiring.”