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Lambert, Verity (1935-2007)

Producer, Executive

Main image of Lambert, Verity (1935-2007)

Verity Lambert's first job in the television industry, in 1956, was working as a secretary in Granada Television's press office. She left Granada for ABC Television where she became PA to drama director Ted Kotcheff (in the production of the Armchair Theatre series (1956-74)). In 1961 she took a break from ABC and went to America, where she worked for a time in New York as personal assistant to legendary American producer David Susskind.

She returned to London and ABC, taking up the position of production assistant in the drama department under Head of Drama Sydney Newman. When Newman was appointed Head of Drama at the BBC in 1963 he invited her to apply for the position of producer on a new children's science fiction series, Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-89). At the age of 28, Lambert became the youngest producer at the BBC and the drama department's only woman producer.

After 18 months of Doctor Who she moved on to produce the first eight episodes of the twice-weekly serial The Newcomers (BBC, 1965-69), the story of a London family adapting to life in a small country town, and then supervised production on the tongue-in-cheek genre exercise Adam Adamant Lives! (BBC, 1966-67).

In 1968 Lambert was brought in to produce the second series of the successful mystery anthology Detective (BBC, 1964; 1968-69), featuring adaptations of works by some of the century's best crime writers: Michael Innes, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Hillary Waugh, Anthony Berkeley.

From this popular crime/mystery compendium she went on to produce 26 episodes in a stylish collection of stories dramatised from the works of W. Somerset Maugham (BBC, 1969-70). Among the more notable adaptations were 'The Letter' (tx. 24/6/1969), about a murderess trying desperately to cover up her crime, and 'Rain' (tx. 7/5/1970), featuring the conflict between a prostitute and a fire-and-brimstone preacher. This rewarding series received the Society of Film and Television Arts award for the best drama series of 1969.

Although she was offered the production of the engaging three-in-a-flat serial Take Three Girls (produced eventually for the BBC by Michael Hayes, 1969-71), Lambert decided to leave the corporation and moved over to London Weekend Television to produce the Keith Waterhouse-Willis Hall street life series Budgie (ITV, 1971-72), which, in retrospect, was something of a precursor of her later Euston Films projects.

For LWT she also produced Between the Wars (ITV, 1973), a Maugham-like collection of little-known stories from writers of the 1920s and 1930s. She then returned to the BBC to produce Shoulder to Shoulder (BBC, 1974), a series of six 75-minute plays based on the suffragette movement, and, on completion of this work, was invited to join Thames Television as Head of Drama in July 1974.

At Thames, she was responsible for developing, among other projects, such critically acclaimed and popular series as Rock Follies (ITV, 1976), Rumpole of the Bailey (ITV, 1978-79; 1983; 1987-88; 1991-92) and the engrossing seven-part miniseries Edward and Mrs Simpson (ITV, 1978) starring Edward Fox and Cynthia Harris.

Around this time she launched her 'Plays for Britain' series (under the slot title of ITV Playhouse), then ITV's only series of single plays and made up of works from contemporary writers. Among the more notable successes was Philip Mackie's Quentin Crisp biography The Naked Civil Servant (tx. 17/12/1975), which won both the Prix Italia and an International Emmy, Peter Prince's Last Summer (tx. 21/6/1977), featuring Richard Beckinsale as a charismatic professional car thief, and Verity Bargate's No Mama No (tx. 27/3/1978), an intense and involving study of post-natal depression.

In 1976 she became creatively responsible for running Euston Films (the film production arm of Thames TV) in addition to Thames TV's Drama Department, and in 1979 became Chief Executive of Euston Films.

During this period she served as executive producer on the highly regarded Euston series Out (ITV, 1978), Minder (ITV, 1979-85; 1988-94), Quatermass (ITV, 1979), Fox (ITV, 1980), The Flame Trees of Thika (ITV, 1981), Danger UXB (ITV, 1979), Widows (ITV, 1983) and Reilly-Ace of Spies (ITV, 1983).

Two of the particularly interesting Euston TV films under her executive hand were the Jack Gold-directed secret agent piece Charlie Muffin (ITV, tx. 11/12/1979) and Jack Rosenthal's amusing look at trainee taxi drivers, The Knowledge (ITV, tx. 27/12/1979).

In 1982 she became Director of Drama for Thames TV and assumed once again responsibility for the output of both Euston Films and Thames Drama Department. In June 1982 she accepted an invitation to become a member of the Board of Thames Television.

In November 1982 she became Director of Production for Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment while retaining her position as Chief Executive of Euston Films (until December 1983).

For Thorn EMI she was executive producer of the features Dreamchild (d. Gavin Millar, 1985), Morons from Outer Space (d. Mike Hodges, 1985) and Clockwise (d. Christopher Morahan, 1986).

Then, in November 1985, Lambert started up her own independent television company, Cinema Verity, following her acrimonious departure from the restructured Thorn EMI.

Cinema Verity's first production, filmed in Australia, was A Cry in the Dark (Australia/UK, d. Fred Schepisi, 1988), the story of the mother whose baby was taken by a dingo, starring Meryl Streep. It marked Lambert's debut as an independent film producer.

For television, Lambert was executive producer (under her own company banner) for the sitcom series May to December (BBC, 1989-94), featuring Anton Rodgers and Eve Matheson (later with Lesley Dunlop). Rather sadly, this wafer-thin romantic comedy, portraying the plodding relationship between a solicitor in his middle years and a youthful divorcee (hence the song-line title), was pitched uncertainly between generation gap farce and British sitcom caricature.

In a collaboration between the BBC, Australia's Channel Seven and Cinema Verity, Lambert produced two series of the anarchic comedy The Boys from the Bush (BBC, 1991-92). Lambert/Cinema Verity also produced for Granada TV the seven-part comedy-drama Coasting (ITV, 1990) and Alan Bleasdale's seven-part politically-fuelled drama, G.B.H., for Channel Four (1991), the latter dividing the viewing nation over the conflict between Robert Lindsay's corrupt local politician and Michael Palin's decent school headmaster.

With on-location production facilities and an evident striving for a genuinely contemporary flavour, Lambert's costly Euro soap Eldorado (BBC, 1992-93) suggested a degree of ambition on the part of this Cinema Verity-BBC co-production, which it seemed in the event ill-equipped to realise, and a potentially interesting subject tailed off into implausible melodrama. Eldorado's plotting, from the usually agile producer-writer partnership of Julia Smith and Tony Holland, was disappointingly ponderous. As a result, the expatriate community in southern Spain theme and milieu was exploited rather than explored.

In more recent years her productions have included two series of the comedy-drama Class Act (ITV, 1994-95), Lynda La Plante's second sequel to Widows (after 1985's Widows II), She's Out (ITV, 1995), and two seasons of dramas by new writers, Capital Lives (ITV, 1994-95).

Lambert came in as producer of the 2nd series of David Renwick's compulsive 'locked-room' murder mysteries of Jonathan Creek (BBC, 1997-) and steered (as co-producer with actress Joanna Lumley) the six-part adaptation of Elizabeth Jane Howard's upper-crust wartime novels into The Cazalets (BBC, 2001).

Verity Lambert is one of those producers who can often create a fascinating small screen universe from a slim script and half-a-dozen congenial players: her remarkable television career confirms that she can bring vitality and edge to an otherwise formulaic medium.

Tise Vahimagi

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Clockwise (1985)Clockwise (1985)

John Cleese-starring comedy about a headmaster having a very bad day

Thumbnail image of Sailor's Return, The (1978)Sailor's Return, The (1978)

An interracial marriage provokes disaster in Victorian England

Thumbnail image of Adam Adamant Lives! (1966-67)Adam Adamant Lives! (1966-67)

Very 'swinging' 60s swashbuckler starring the dashing Gerald Harper

Thumbnail image of Cazalets, The (2001)Cazalets, The (2001)

Drama about how the wealthy Cazalets are affected by World War II

Thumbnail image of Edward and Mrs Simpson (1978)Edward and Mrs Simpson (1978)

Lavish Thames dramatisation of the romance that rocked Britain

Thumbnail image of Flame Trees of Thika, The (1981)Flame Trees of Thika, The (1981)

Epic drama of English settlers in 1910s Kenya, starring Hayley Mills

Thumbnail image of Jonathan Creek (1997-2004)Jonathan Creek (1997-2004)

Magic expert Creek solves unsolvable crimes

Thumbnail image of Macbeth (1979)Macbeth (1979)

Riveting RSC-sourced production starring Ian McKellen and Judi Dench

Thumbnail image of Minder (1979-94)Minder (1979-94)

A nice little earner for George Cole and Dennis Waterman

Thumbnail image of Naked Civil Servant, The (1975)Naked Civil Servant, The (1975)

John Hurt's breakthrough role as the flamboyantly gay Quentin Crisp

Thumbnail image of Nation's Health, The (1983)Nation's Health, The (1983)

Uncomfortably realistic depiction of the British medical profession

Thumbnail image of Newcomers, The (1965-69)Newcomers, The (1965-69)

Small-town serial that was the BBC's biggest pre-EastEnders soap hit

Thumbnail image of Out (1978)Out (1978)

Gritty crime drama about a man seeking revenge on a police informer

Thumbnail image of Quatermass (1979)Quatermass (1979)

England's young are at the mercy of a mysterious extraterrestrial force

Thumbnail image of Shoulder To Shoulder (1974)Shoulder To Shoulder (1974)

Dramatisation of the struggle for women's suffrage

Thumbnail image of Widows (1983-85)Widows (1983-85)

Lynda La Plante's groundbreaking female-led heist drama

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Thumbnail image of Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005-)Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005-)

Recently regenerated time-travelling adventures

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Euston FilmsEuston Films

Production Company