Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Cinema Verity : Remembering Verity Lambert

Today would have been Verity Lambert's 78th birthday. Verity was born on 27th November 1935 and sadly passed away on 22nd November 2007.



A pioneer in television production and a role model for women everywhere, Verity carved out a successful career for herself in a time when women were being crushed by the proverbial glass ceiling. A female TV producer was something of a rarity, and a successful one who would help create a show that is still running today some fifty years later (Doctor Who) would, I imagine, have been beyond the imagination of even her allies and supporters, and probably even herself, back in the early 1960s when she started out. When she commenced work at the BBC she was the youngest producer and the only female one.

Last week's excellent biopic An Adventure In Space and Time (broadcast just in time for Who's anniversary) detailed Verity's connection with that show and her early years in TV brilliantly. She was played superbly with a vibrant, savvy and flirtatious strwak by Call The Midwife star Jessica Raine, as seen in images here alongside Sacha Dhawan as Who's first director Waris Hussein.









Away from Doctor Who, Verity helped develop and produce series like Adam Adamant Lives! and The Newcomers for head of drama (and creator of Doctor Who Sydney Newman) in the 1960s before moving to LWT at the start of the new decade to produce Budgie (a favourite of mine) and Between The Wars. She would return to the BBC, freelance in 1974 to produce Shoulder To Shoulder, a series of 6 plays about the Suffragette movement. 
Later that year she became head of Thames Television and oversaw some of the cream of TV drama at that time; The Naked Civil Servant, Edward and Mrs Simpson, Rumpole of the Bailey, Bill Brand, Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill, Fox and Rock Follies to name but a few. In 1976 her remit included Euston Films, Thames film subsidiary, where she oversaw  The Sweeney, Minder, Quatermass, Widows, Reilly: Ace of Spies and Charlie Muffin .

The 1980s saw Verity branch out into film, taking the position of Director of Production for Thorn EMI where she worked on John Cleese's Clockwise, the Smith and Jones film Morons From Outer Space and Dennis Potter's Dreamchild amongst others. But it was not a happy experience and she felt frustrated and not creatively in control. Determined to get the work she wanted to produce out there she set up her own independent production company, Cinema Verity and immediately made the 1988 Meryl Streep and Sam Neill film A Cry In The Dark based on the real life dingo baby killing incident in Australia. The company also stretched to television productions including the successful BBC sitcoms May To December and So Haunt Me, and comedy dramas like The Boys From The Bush and Sleepers which starred Warren Clarke and Nigel Havers as two KGB sleeper agents reawakened after almost thirty years of living in the UK (the dummy London household of the 1960s discovered in the KGB training centre would include Adam Adamant Lives! on the TV set, a nice little in joke to one of Verity's previous shows)

She also served as Executive Producer on Alan Bleasdale's brilliant GBH for Channel 4 but 1992 was notable for one rare flop; the BBC's ill advised soap Eldorado. Unperturbed Verity continued to freelance produce right up until her death working on shows like Jonathan Creek and Love Soup for writer David Renwick.

The  Museum of Broadcast Communications hails Verity as 'not only one of Britain's leading businesswomen, but possibly the most powerful member of the nation's entertainment industry. Lambert has served as a symbol of the advances won by women in the media'

And her legacy continues and will continue to do so. Not only is she now immortalised via last week's anniversary drama, she's had a character named after her in the show she helped create and even had a reference to her in the 1969 Monty Python sketch, 'Buying a Bed', which featured sales assistants called Mr Verity and Mr Lambert. Most recently Romola Garai's committed and determined young female news producer in the 1950s set BBC drama The Hour clearly takes a cue from Verity. 



Gone but never forgotten. Happy birthday

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