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Verity Lambert

Verity Lambert

Verity Lambert is a British television and film producer, best known for producing the science-fiction series Doctor Who for the BBC for its first two years, from 1963 to 1965. She was a ground-breaker for women in British television, being the first female producer of an important drama series and later becoming one of the most powerful women in the industry.

Early career in independent television

Lambert was educated at Roedean School and later studied for a time at the Sorbonne in Paris. She entered the television industry in 1956 when she joined Granada Television as a secretary working in the company's press office. She later moved to ABC Television, where she became a Production Assistant, working for Canadian producer Sydney Newman on the popular anthology drama series Armchair Theatre. One notable incident during her time on Armchair Theatre occurred during the live transmission of the hour-long play Underground on November 28, 1958, when actor Gareth Jones unexpectedly died during production. Lambert had to take control of directing the cameras from the studio gallery as director William Kotcheff hastily re-wrote the script to accommodate the loss.

In 1961 Lambert spent some time on sabbatical from ABC, working as the personal assistant to American television producer David Susskind in New York. In December 1962, Sydney Newman had left ABC permanently to take up the position of Head of Drama at BBC Television, and the following year Lambert joined him at the Corporation when he recruited her to produce a new educational science-fiction adventure serial for children which he personally had initiated the creation of: the serial was called Doctor Who. Concerning the adventures of a crotchety old man who travels through space and time in a machine larger on the inside than the out with his sometimes unwilling travelling companions, the programme was a risk, and in some quarters not expected to last longer than thirteen weeks.

BBC career

When Lambert arrived at the BBC in June 1963, she was the drama department's only female and youngest producer. Newman's contemporaries had less faith in her than he did and she was initially given a more experienced associate producer, Mervyn Pinfield, to assist her. However, she soon proved her capabilities, with her immediate superior - Head of Serials Donald Wilson - eventually admitting that she clearly knew the series far better than he did and he would no longer interfere in her decisions after the success of the Daleks, who appeared in a script Wilson had strongly advised against her using.

Doctor Who debuted on November 23, 1963 and quickly became a huge popular success for the BBC, and did a great deal to establish Lambert's reputation as a producer of popular drama. She oversaw the first two seasons of the programme, eventually leaving in 1965 to move onto another BBC show, the soap opera-style drama The Newcomers. In 1966 she switched back to more fantasy-oriented television when she became the producer of another programme Newman had created, the swashbuckling action / adventure series Adam Adamant Lives!. Further productions for the BBC included a season of the crime drama Detective (1968-69) and a twenty-six part series of adaptations of the stories of William Somerset Maugham (1969). One of the more obscure ways in which she was credited on BBC television during this time was in Monty Python's 1969 sketch Buying a Bed, which features two shop assistants called Mr. Verity and Mr. Lambert, named after her.

In 1969, she left the staff of the BBC to join London Weekend Television, where she produced Budgie (1971-72) and Between the Wars (1973). In 1974 she returned to the BBC on a freelance basis to produce Shoulder to Shoulder, a series of six 75-minute plays about the suffragette movement of the early 20th century.

Thames Television and Euston Films

Later the same year, she joined the staff of Thames Television as their Head of Drama. During her time in this position, she oversaw several high-profile and successful contributions to the ITV network, including The Naked Civil Servant, Rumpole of the Bailey, Rock Follies and Edward and Mrs Simpson. In 1976 she had additionally been 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) and Minder (1979-94).

She remained as Chief Executive of Euston Films until late 1983, in 1982 also rejoining the staff of parent company Thames Television as Director of Drama, and being given a seat on the company's board. In November 1982 however she left Thames (although remained at Euston until November 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 noteworthy features, perhaps the best remembered being the 1986 John Cleese vehicle Clockwise.

Cinema Verity

In late 1985 she had left Thorn EMI, frustrated at the lack of success and at restructuring measures being undertaken by the company, and established her own independent production company, Cinema Verity. Cinema Verity's first production was the 1988 feature film A Cry in the Dark, starring Sam Neill and Meryl Streep and based on the real life infamous 'dingo baby' case in Australia. Lambert herself produced the picture, and the following year Cinema Verity made its first significant mark in television when the sitcom May to December began its run on BBC ONE, eventually running for five years until 1994.

During the 1990s, notable Cinema Verity productions included soap opera Eldorado, a co-production with the BBC set in a British expatriat community in Spain, which was critically mauled and lasted only a year from 1992 to 1993. Rather more successfully, Cinema Verity produced Alan Bleasdale's hard-hitting drama serial G.B.H. for Channel 4 in 1991, winning much acclaim and several awards. Lambert also attempted during the early 1990s to win the rights to independently produce Doctor Who for the BBC, although she was unsuccesful in this as the Corporation was tied up in negotiations with producer Philip Segal in the United States. More recent productions from the company have included The Cazalets (BBC ONE, 2001), co-produced by actress Joanna Lumley, whose idea it was to adapt the novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

Lambert has also continued to work as a freelance producer outside of her own company, having produced the popular BBC One comedy / drama series Jonathan Creek by writer David Renwick ever since taking over the role for its second season in 1998. She has since produced eighteen episodes of the programme across four short seasons, plus two Christmas Specials. The most recent batch of episodes aired in early 2004, and at least one further season is expected at some point in the future. She and Renwick have most recently collaborated on the comedy-drama Love Soup, starring Tamsin Greig and due for transmission on BBC One in late 2005.

In 2002, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her services to television.


Note: This profile was written in or before 2005.

Verity Lambert Facts

OccupationProducer
BirthdayNovember 7, 1935
SignScorpio
BirthplaceLondon, England, United Kingdom
Date of deathNovember 22, 2007 (age 72)

Selected Filmography

Not available.