began as a secretary at Granada Television in the 1950s, but by
the early 1980s Verity Lambert's influence as a television producer
and executive had made her not only one of Britain's leading businesswomen,
but possibly the most powerful member of the nation's entertainment
industry. With a resume which lists many of the most noteworthy
successes from the past 30 years, Lambert has served as a symbol
of the advances won by women in the media. By the early 1990s, however,
Lambert's name had also become associated with one of the more spectacular
disasters in the history of the British Broadcasting Corporation
career did not quite suggest such dramatic highs or lows when the
BBC first hired Lambert in the early 1960s. She had already worked
on the British ABC's Armchair Theatre, a prestigious commercial
television series. And she had worked in American television with
David Susskind. After 18 months, however, she returned to ABC, only
to quit again because of their refusal to hire women directors.
But when the BBC hired Sydney Newman away from ABC in 1963, the
BBC's new head of drama in turn brought along Lambert, who, at age
27, became the corporation's youngest producer.
BBC assignment, producing a new children's program, may still be
her most internationally known achievement: for its first three
seasons (1963-65), Lambert guided the development and production
of Doctor Who. Although those three seasons might easily
be overlooked in the twenty-five-plus history of the series, Doctor
Who fans have repeatedly stressed Lambert's importance. During
her tenure she both oversaw the creation of the original Doctor
as a willful, often irresponsible pacifist, and presided over the
phenomenal explosion of popular interest in writer Terry Nation's
cyborg villains, the ever-hardy Daleks.
Tulloch and Alvarado argue in Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text
(1983), Lambert herself represents the convergence of discourses
which helped to make Doctor Who so original and enduring.
Over the course of the previous decade the BBC had sought to meet
the challenge of ITV by broadening its own definition of high culture
beyond the realm of classical literature and its adaptation. Coming
from the upstart world of commercial television, Lambert's association
with the production of original dramas, heavy in social realism,
became part of the BBC's continuing efforts to maintain its audiences.
Moreover, Lambert and Doctor Who were not based in the children's
department, and Lambert's inexperience with (even indifference to)
the established conventions of children's programming helped to
lay the ground for the cross-generational audiences which made the
series a ground-breaking success. Perhaps it was simply assumed
that, "as a woman," Lambert was somehow automatically qualified
for the job. Indeed, interviewers have often emphasized Lambert's
decision not to have children of her own. Lambert has just as often
refused to supply the sometimes expected displays of remorse: in
the early 1980s, she cheerfully claimed "But I can't stand babies--no,
I love babies as long as their parents take them away."
career subsequent to Doctor Who has continued to display
similar mixtures of social awareness and slick commercial savvy.
After producing an awarding-winning series of Sommerset Maugham
short stories and various other projects, Lambert left the BBC in
1970 for London Weekend Television. She returned to co-create Shoulder
to Shoulder (1974), a multi-part history of the suffragette
movement. The next year Lambert joined Thames Television as controller
of the drama department, becoming the company's director from 1982
to 1985. During that time Lambert was responsible for a number of
highly successful productions given high exposure abroad, including
Rumpole of the Bailey, the American Emmy-winning Edward
and Mrs. Simpson, and Quentin Crisp's landmark biography,
The Naked Civil Servant.
1976 Lambert had also joined the Thames subsidiary Euston Films,
Ltd., and from 1979-82 she served as its chief executive. At Euston
Films she developed Danger UXB, as well as the gangster drama,
Out. She was also responsible for the 1979 Quatermass sequel,
The Flame Trees of Thika, and Reilly: Ace of Spies,
as well as Minder (1979-82), the popular working class crime series
whose success she is most often associated with in Britain. Series
such as Out, Reilly and Minder helped to solidify her reputation
as a woman who could produce tough, male-oriented programming, a
reputation she has both acknowledged and decried as sexist.
move into feature films came when she was named head of production
for Thorn-EMI, replacing the man responsible for the disastrous,
big budget flops Can't Stop the Music and Honky Tonk Freeway.
During what she calls this "terrible, horrible time" (1982-85),
Lambert did persuade the company to join with Rank Film Distribution
and Channel Four in backing a new British Screen Finance Consortium,
a step which helped further to blur the distinctions in Britain
between film and television production.
leaving Thorn-EMI, her production company, Cinema Verity, produced
the Meryl Streep film A Cry in the Dark (1988). Lambert's
most public project, however, has been an elaborate, highly budgeted
soap opera, Eldorado (1992-93). Like Doctor Who, Eldorado
was an attempt by the BBC to prove itself competitive in an rapidly
evolving market. This time, however, Lambert was not so lucky. A
disaster of fully publicized dimensions, Eldorado was only
Lambert's second experience with the genre (the first was in the
1960s, The Newcomers). Critics quickly turned on Lambert's
"tough" Minder reputation and blamed her for Eldorado's departures
from the familiar British conventions for soap opera. The "greatest
of all British television drama producers" had dared to set a soap
opera in Spain, and filled it with a multilingual array of British
expatriates and foreigners far removed from the milieus of either
Coronation Street or the BBC's own "quality" soap, EastEnders.
defended Eldorado to the end, and has since continued to produce
a range of programming, from sitcoms to the gritty thriller Comics
(1993), written by Prime Suspect's Lynda La Plante.
Photo courtesy of Verity Lambert
LAMBERT. Born in London, England, 27 November 1935. Attended
Roedean School; La Sorbonne, Paris. Began career in television,
1961; drama producer, BBC Television, 1963; drama producer, London
Weekend Television, 1970; rejoined BBC, 1973; controller of drama
department, Thames Television 1974; chief executive, Euston Films
Ltd., 1979-82; director of drama, Thames Television, 1981-82; director,
Thames Television, 1982-85; director of production, Thorn EMI Screen
Entertainment, 1982-85; independent producer for film and television
from 1985; founder, Cinema Verity Ltd, 1985. MacTaggart Lecturor,
Edinburgh Television Festival, 1990. governor: British Film Institute,
1981-86 (chair, production board, 1981-82); National Film and Television
School, since 1984. LLD, University of Strathclyde, 1988. Recipient:
Veuve-Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year, 1982; Woman's Own Woman
of Achievement, 1983. Address: The Mill House, Millers Way, 1A Shepherds
Bush Road, London W6 7NA, England.
1965 The Newcomers
1966-67 Adam Adamant Lives
1969 Somerset Maugham Short Stories
1973-74 Shoulder to Shoulder
1976-77 Rock Follies
1978-80 Rumpole of the Bailey
1978 Edward and Mrs Simpson
1979 Danger UXB
1983 Reilly: Ace of Spies
1987 American Roulette
1989 May to December
1991, 1992 The Boys from the Bush
1992-94 So Haunt Me
1994 Class Act
1995 She's Out
1995 Class Act II
The Sailor's Return, 1978; Charlie Muffin, 1979; The
Knowledge, 1979; Not For Publication, 1984; Morons
from Outer Space, 1985; Dreamchild, 1985; Restless
Natives, 1985; Link, 1986; Clockwise, 1986; A
Cry in the Dark, 1988.
Dunn, Elisabeth. "One Woman's Rise to EMInence." The (London)
Sunday Times, 16 January 1983.
Alexander. "Back to Reality after Eldorado." (London) Times,
26 May 1993.
Peter, editor. The Doctor Who File. London: W.H.Allen, 1986.
_______________. Doctor Who: The Key to Time: A Year-by-Year
Record. London: W.H. Allen, 1984.
John, and Manuel Alvarado. Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text.
New York: St. Martin's, 1983.
Lesley. "TV Troubleshooter Sets Her Sights on the Eldorado
Gang." The (London) Sunday Times, 9 August 1992.