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Verity Lambert

Verity Lambert, ground-breaking film and television producer, died on 22 November 2007 aged 71.

All the newspapers comment on her first big show, Doctor Who, which, as The Herald points out, was originally intended to be rather different:

It was aimed at children, and while it was ostensibly science-fiction, the BBC also intended it to be educational at the same time, with the protagonists dropping into events at various different points in history and meeting the Ancient Romans, the Aztecs and Marco Polo. Lambert pushed for more fantastical and other-worldly elements

Most famously, the Daleks:

They may be an institution now, but Lambert had to fight the scepticism of BBC management before getting them on to the screen.

The Independent lauds her contribution as trail-blazing for women in a male-dominated industry:

For more than forty years, her impact on television was enormous and wide-ranging. There were other successful women during that period, such as Anna Home, who made a remarkable contribution to children’s television, Aida Young, who produced series such as Danger Man, and Beryl Vertue, whose successes included Men Behaving Badly. But no other woman exercised such power as a producer and television executive over such a length of time and across such a variety of programmes.

It also quotes her on her way of getting the best out of writers:

I try not to tell a writer what I think is wrong. I try to ask what he or she wanted to say in a scene. Then I can say, “Well, maybe you’re not saying it,” or, “Maybe I am missing it for some reason.” The most negative thing you can say to a writer is, “I don’t like this scene but I don’t know why.” If I’m any good at it, it’s because I believe the person who has written it has to provide the answer.

The Times notes that her biggest failure, Eurosoap Eldorado, was an expensive one – it was worth £10 million to her production company, Cinema Verity – and an ignominious one, drawing fewer people than Gardener’s World at the time it was axed:

Lambert said it had been rushed out too quickly, and been miscast, for which she took full blame. But helped by the fact that few viewers pay attention to production credits, she managed to extricate herself from the debacle and move on.

But Janet Street-Porter in her personal eulogy in The Independent notes Lambert’s disappointment at the failure, and suggests that most of the reasons for the flop were nothing to do with her. She also owes a personal debt of gratitude:

Verity was my role model, with a very short fuse and a voice you didn’t mess with, the product of her Roedean education, and her put-downs were legendary. She gave me bags of confidence to do my own thing…

The Daily Telegraph quotes the description of her by her mentor at ABC Television in the 1950s, Sydney Newman, as “full of piss and vinegar”. But it also notes her modesty about her success:

“For any woman there has to be luck,” she told one journalist at the height of her career, “and after that there is what you do with it.”

The final word goes to another personal eulogist, Kenith Trodd in The Guardian:

If the bosses trusted the producer, and often they did with a combative generosity, it was the producer who made a crucial difference to the health and vitality of the entire system. Verity was at the very top of this steep, wary tree. She had the greatest range, charisma and durability. Not only the producer’s producer, but the audience’s finest ally.

(Verity Ann Lambert OBE, born 27 November 1935 in London, died 22 November 2007 in London.)

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