As promised on Monday, today we’re going to add another member to the blog Hall of Fame: Verity Lambert. Lambert’s probably best known as the first producer of Doctor Who and if that’s all she’d done, it would have been impressive, but not enough to elevate her.
However, Lambert is responsible not only for some of the most well known and iconic shows in British TV, she’s responsible for shows that helped give women a voice, not just on-screen but behind the scenes as well.
The youngest as well as the only female drama producer at the BBC when she joined the corporation, she went on to produce the ground-breaking The Naked Civil Servant, Rock Follies, Minder, Widows, Shoulder to Shoulder and GBH for ITV and Channel 4, as well as TV favourites such as Rumpole of the Bailey, Budgie and The Sweeney, and became CEO of Thames TV’s acclaimed production arm Euston Films. It was through her efforts that women such as Prime Suspect creator Lynda La Plante were given entry to an industry that was male-dominated in the extreme.
And that’s why she’s going into the pantheon.
To coincide with this, we’re launching a new feature of the blog to show off some of Lambert’s best work. And just to get the inevitable out of the way, we’re going to launch it with her first work as a producer. Yes, Doctor Who is the first entry in “A pack of Lambert golds”.
How it all began
In December 1962, Canadian producer Sydney Newman left ITV to take up the position of head of drama at the BBC. One of the shows he had in mind was Doctor Who, an educational science-fiction series for children about the adventures of a crotchety old man travelling through time and space with his companions.
Newman originally asked both Don Taylor and Shaun Sutton to produce the show but both declined the position. Newman remembered Verity Lambert from ITV, where she had been a production assistant, and invited her to the BBC to be the producer of the show.
“I think the best thing I ever did on that was to find Verity Lambert. I remembered Verity as being bright and, to use the phrase, full of piss and vinegar! She was gutsy and she used to fight and argue with me, even though she was not at a very high level as a production assistant,” he later said.
Doctor Who quickly became a success – well, once the Daleks arrived. Head of serials Donald Wilson had strongly advised against using the Daleks script but after the story aired, he said that Lambert clearly knew the series far better than he did, and he would no longer interfere in her decisions. Newman, who had forbidden Lambert from including BEMs (bug-eyed monsters) in the show was furious but she was able to defend her decisions for obvious reasons – and argued the Daleks weren’t BEMs anyway.
The success of Doctor Who and the Daleks also garnered press attention for Lambert; in 1964, the Daily Mail published a feature on the series focusing on the perceived attractiveness of its young producer: “The operation of the Daleks … is conducted by a remarkably attractive young woman called Verity Lambert who, at 28, is not only the youngest but the only female drama producer at B.B.C. TV… [T]all, dark and shapely, she became positively forbidding when I suggested that the Daleks might one day take over Dr. Who.”
Lambert oversaw the first two series of the programme, eventually leaving in 1965. “There comes a time when a series need new input. It’s not that I wasn’t fond of Doctor Who, I simply felt that the time had come. It had been 18 very concentrated months, something like 70 shows. I know people do soaps forever now, but I felt Doctor Who needed someone to come in with a different view.”
Anyway, here are some clips. The first is from a 1996 documentary called Making Waves which discusses both Doctor Who and the attitude to women at the BBC in the early 1960s:
The second is the pilot episode of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child:
And the last is the The Survivors, the second episode of The Daleks, which is when the Daleks turn up properly – you only see their sucker in the first episode:
(Adapted from the Wikipedia article: I’m not made of time, you know!)
Next time: It’s crossover time in a blog first, as “A pack of Lambert golds” meets “Today’s Joanna Page” for The Cazalets.