Taken from a 27 November 2016 posting by facebook user, Jen Rohrig, for The Ark In Space
Today we wish a very happy birthday to Verity Ann Lambert OBE on what would have been her 81st Birthday!
Verity was born in London, the daughter of a Jewish accountant, and educated at Roedean School. She left Roedean at sixteen and studied at the Sorbonne in Paris for a year and at a secretarial college in London for eighteen months. She later credited her interest in the structural and characterisational aspects of script writing to an inspirational English teacher. Lambert’s first job was the typing of menus at the Kensington De Vere Hotel, which employed her because she had been to France and could speak French. In 1956, she entered the television industry as a secretary at Granada Television’s press office. She was sacked from this job after six months.
Following her dismissal from Granada, Lambert took a job as a shorthand-typist at ABC Television. She soon became the secretary to the company’s Head of Drama and then a production secretary working on a program called “State Your Case.” She then moved from administration to production, working on drama programming on ABC’s popular anthology series “Armchair Theatre,” which was then overseen by the new Head of Drama, Canadian producer Sydney Newman.
Catastrophic incidents could occur on live television of this era. On 30 November 1958, while Verity was working as a Production Assistant on Armchair Theatre, an actor died during a broadcast of “Underground” and she had to take responsibility for directing the cameras from the studio gallery while director Ted Kotcheff worked with the actors on the studio floor to accommodate the loss.
In 1961, Verity left ABC, spending a year working as the personal assistant to American television producer David Susskind at the independent production company Talent Associates in New York. Returning to England, she rejoined ABC with an ambition to direct, but she got stuck as a Production Assistant and decided that, if she could not find advancement within a year, she would abandon television as a career.
In December 1962 Sydney Newman left ABC to take up the position of Head of Drama at BBC Television, and the following year Verity joined him at the Corporation. Newman had recruited her to produce “Doctor Who,” a program he had personally initiated. Conceived by Newman as an educational science-fiction serial for early Saturday evenings, the program concerned the adventures of an old man travelling through space and time in his TARDIS, disguised as a police box. In some quarters, the series was not expected to last longer than thirteen weeks.
Although Verity was not Newman’s first choice to produce the series — Don Taylor and Shaun Sutton had both declined the position — he was very keen to ensure that Lambert take the job after his experience of working with her at ABC. “I think the best thing I ever did on that was to find Verity Lambert,” he told Doctor Who Magazine in 1993. “I remembered Verity as being bright and, to use the phrase, full of piss and vinegar! She was gutsy and she used to fight and argue with me, even though she was not at a very high level as a production assistant.”
When Verity arrived at the BBC in June 1963, she was initially given a more experienced associate producer, Mervyn Pinfield, to assist her. “Doctor Who” debuted on 23 November 1963 and quickly became a success for the BBC, chiefly on the popularity of the alien creatures known as Daleks. Lambert’s superior, Head of Serials Donald Wilson, had strongly advised against using the script in which the Daleks first appeared, but after the serial’s successful airing, he said that Verity clearly knew the series far better than he did, and he would no longer interfere in her decisions. The success of “Doctor Who” and the Daleks also garnered press attention for Verity herself; in 1964, the Daily Mail published a feature on the series focusing on its young producer’s looks: “The operation of the Daleks … is conducted by a remarkably attractive young woman called Verity Lambert who, at 28, is not only the youngest but the only female drama producer at B.B.C. TV … [T]all, dark and shapely, she became positively forbidding when I suggested that the Daleks might one day take over Dr. Who.”
Verity oversaw the first two seasons of the program, eventually leaving in 1965. “There comes a time when a series needs new input,” she told Doctor Who Magazine thirty years later. “It’s not that I wasn’t fond of “Doctor Who,” I simply felt that the time had come. It had been eighteen very concentrated months, something like seventy shows. I know people do soaps forever now, but I felt “Doctor Who” needed someone to come in with a different view.”
She moved on to produce another BBC show created by Newman, the swashbuckling action-adventure series “Adam Adamant Lives!” (1966–67). The long development period of “Adam Adamant” delayed its production, and during this delay Newman gave her the initial episodes of a new soap opera, “The Newcomers,” to produce. Further productions for the BBC included a season of the crime drama “Detective” (1968–69) and a 26-part series of adaptations of the stories of “William Somerset Maugham” (1969).
In 1969 Verity left the staff of the BBC to join London Weekend Television, where she produced “Budgie” (1970–72) and “Between the Wars” (1973). She returned to the BBC on a freelance basis to produce “Shoulder to Shoulder” (1974), a series of six 75-minute plays about the suffragette movement of the early 20th century.
Later in 1974 Verity became Head of Drama at Thames Television. During her time in this position she oversaw several high-profile and successful contributions to the ITV network, including “The Naked Civil Servant” (1975), “Rock Follies” (1976–77), “Rumpole of the Bailey” (1978–92) and “Edward and Mrs Simpson” (1978). In 1976 she was also made responsible for overseeing the work of Euston Films, Thames’ subsidiary film production company, at the time best known as the producers of “The Sweeney.” In 1979 she transferred to Euston full-time as the company’s Chief Executive, overseeing productions such as “Quatermass” (1979), “Minder” (1979–94) and “Widows” (1983).
At Thames and Euston, Verity enjoyed the most sustained period of critical and popular success of her career. “The Naked Civil Servant” won a British Academy Television Award (BAFTA) for its star John Hurt as well as a Broadcasting Press Guild Award and a prize at the Prix Italia; “Rock Follies” won a BAFTA and a Royal Television Society Award, while “Widows” also gained BAFTA nominations and ratings of over 12 million — unusually for a drama serial, it picked up viewers over the course of its six-week run. “Minder” went on to become the longest-running series produced by Euston Films, surviving for over a decade following Lambert’s departure from the company.
Television historian Lez Cooke described Verity’s time in control of the drama department at Thames as “an adventurous period for the company, demonstrating that it was not only the BBC that was capable of producing progressive television drama during the 1970s. Verity wanted Thames to produce drama series ‘which were attempting in one way or another to tackle modern problems and life,’ an ambition which echoed the philosophy of her mentor Sydney Newman.” Howard Schuman, the writer of “Rock Follies,” also later praised the bravery of Verity’s commissioning. “Verity Lambert had just arrived as head of drama at Thames TV and she went for broke,” he told The Observer newspaper in 2002. “She commissioned a serial, “Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill,” for safety, but also “Bill Brand,” one of the edgiest political dramas ever, and us … Before we had even finished making the first series, Verity commissioned the second.”
Verity’s association with Thames and Euston Films continued into the 1980s. In 1982, she rejoined the staff of parent company Thames Television as Director of Drama, and was given a seat on the company’s board. In November 1982 she left Thames, but remained as Chief Executive at Euston until leaving in November of the following year to take up her first post in the film industry, as Director of Production for Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment. Her job here was somewhat frustrating as the British film industry was in one of its periodic states of flux, but she did manage to produce some feature films, including “Clockwise” (1986), starring John Cleese.
Verity later expressed some regret on her time in the film industry in a feature for The Independent newspaper. “Unfortunately, the person who hired me left, and the person who came in didn’t want to produce films and didn’t want me. While I managed to make some films I was proud of — Dennis Potter’s “Dreamchild,” and “Clockwise” with John Cleese — it was terribly tough and not a very happy experience.”
In late 1985 Verity left Thorn EMI, frustrated at the lack of success and at restructuring measures being undertaken by the company. She established her own independent production company, Cinema Verity. The company’s first production was the feature film “A Cry in the Dark” (1988), starring Sam Neill and Meryl Streep based on the “dingo baby” case in Australia. Cinema Verity’s first television series, the BBC1 sitcom “May to December,” debuted in 1989 and ran until 1994. The company also produced another successful BBC1 sitcom, “So Haunt Me,” which ran from 1992 to 1994.
Verity executive produced Alan Bleasdale’s hard-hitting drama serial “G.B.H.” (1991) commissioned by Channel 4 which won several awards. Verity’s relationship with Bleasdale was not entirely smooth, however — the writer has admitted in subsequent interviews that he “wanted to kill Verity Lambert” after she insisted on the cutting of large portions of his first draft script before production began. However, Bleasdale subsequently admitted that she was right about the majority of the cut material, and when the production was finished he only missed one small scene from those she had demanded be excised.
A less successful Cinema Verity production, was the soap opera “Eldorado,” a co-production with the BBC set in a British expatriate community in Spain. At the time it was the most expensive commission the BBC had given out to an independent production company. Launched with a major publicity campaign and running in a high-profile slot three evenings a week on BBC1, the series was critically mauled and lasted only a year, from 1992 to 1993. Verity’s biography at Screenonline suggests some reasons for this failure: “With on-location production facilities and an evident striving for a genuinely contemporary flavor, Lambert’s costly Euro soap Eldorado suggested a degree of ambition … which it seemed in the event ill-equipped to realize, and a potentially interesting subject tailed off into implausible melodrama. Eldorado’s plotting … was disappointingly ponderous. As a result, the expatriate community in southern Spain theme and milieu was exploited rather than explored.” Other reviewers, even the best part of a decade after the program’s cancellation, were much harsher, with Rupert Smith’s comments in The Guardian in 2002 being a typical example. “A £10 million farce that left the BBC with egg all over its entire body and put an awful lot Equity members back on the dole … it will always be remembered as the most expensive flop of all time.”
In the early 1990s, Verity attempted to win the rights to produce “Doctor Who” independently for the BBC; however, this effort was unsuccessful because the Corporation was already in negotiations with producer Philip Segal in the United States. Cinema Verity projects that did reach production included “Sleepers” (BBC1, 1991) and “The Cazalets” (BBC One, 2001), the latter co-produced by actress Joanna Lumley, whose idea it was to adapt the novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard.
Verity continued to work as a freelance producer outside of her own company. She produced the popular BBC One comedy-drama series “Jonathan Creek,” by writer David Renwick, ever since taking over the role for its second series in 1998. From then until 2004 she produced eighteen episodes of the program across four short seasons, plus two Christmas Specials. She and Renwick also collaborated on another comedy-drama, “Love Soup,” starring Tamsin Greig and transmitted on BBC One in the autumn of 2005. Her last work was to produce the second series of “Love Soup.”
In the 2002 New Year’s Honours list Verity was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her services to film and television production, and the same year she received BAFTA’s Alan Clarke Award for Outstanding Contribution to Television.
Verity died of cancer in 2007, five days before her 72nd birthday. She was due to have been presented with a lifetime achievement award at the Women in Film and Television Awards the following month.
In the “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” sketch entitled “Buying a Bed”, Eric Idle plays a salesman named “Mr. Verity” and Graham Chapman plays a salesman named “Mr. Lambert”. This sketch was part of Season 1, Episode 8, “Full Frontal Nudity”, which was broadcast on BBC 1 on 7 December 1969.
In 2000, “The Naked Civil Servant,” finished fourth in a British Film Institute poll of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th century.
In the 2007 “Doctor Who” episode “Human Nature”, the Doctor (as John Smith) refers to his parents as “Sydney” and “Verity”, a tribute to both Newman and Lambert. She is further honored in the episode “The End of Time” when the Doctor visits the great-granddaughter of Matron Joan Redfern, the human love interest he gave up to reclaim his Time Lord memories in the episode “Human Nature”; the character is named “Verity Newman”. In the 2007 Christmas special “Voyage of the Damned”, a dedication to Lambert was shown before the rolling of the end credits.
The 2008 DVD release of “The Time Meddler” contains the last commentary she made before her death, and a short documentary feature, Verity Lambert Obituary, described as, “A concise essay looking back over the career of one of Doctor Who’s co-creators.”
For Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary in 2013, the BBC commissioned a drama about the creation of the program, entitled “An Adventure in Space and Time.” Verity was played by actress Jessica Raine.
On 23 July 2014, a blue heritage plaque was unveiled by the Doctor Who Appreciation Society and the Riverside Trust, at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, London. The plaque commemorates Lambert at Riverside and elsewhere. The plaque was unveiled by her longtime friend and colleague, director Waris Hussein, and the unveiling was attended by many friends and associates from over the years.
Happy Birthday, Verity, and thank you.