Friday, November 23, 2007

 

Verity Lambert and Doctor Who: Legendary

On this day in 1963, the very first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast. It’s fantastic that it’s still going strong, but the celebrations have been dampened by the very sad news today that the show’s first producer, Verity Lambert, has died at the age of 71. Forty-four years ago, she was not just the youngest producer at the BBC but their only woman producer, and after making Doctor Who a huge success she became one of the legendary figures of British TV, producing such landmark television as The Naked Civil Servant, G.B.H., Minder, Jonathan Creek and Adam Adamant Lives! She even oversaw the 1979 revival of Quatermass.

Verity Lambert was a central figure in British TV through five decades, winning BAFTAs, gaining an OBE, with two of her productions voted in 2000 as the third and fourth Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th Century in a British Film Institute poll of the Top 100 – Doctor Who and The Naked Civil Servant. If you’ve watched TV drama, you’ve probably seen something of hers; if you’ve watched any of those documentaries about the best dramas, you’ll probably have seen one of her charismatic, forthright and incisive interviews; in several just this year, she looked and sounded on top form. It’s dreadful to know she’s so suddenly gone. It’s difficult to oversell her contribution to the industry as both a creative force and a businesswoman.

Still working this year, it was announced just hours before her death that she was to receive a third award (following others in 1991 and 1997) from Working Title Films, this time for lifetime achievement. Sadly she’ll not pick up her award on December 7th, but she’ll be remembered.

Verity Lambert was also recognised on-screen as the Doctor’s ‘mother’ in this spring’s outstanding story Human Nature / The Family of Blood, in which the Doctor becomes a human and, of course, there was only one name he could remember as his mother. The millions of people round the world who love Doctor Who owe her a huge amount for picking the first (and best) Doctor, agreeing the Daleks against the fury of the Head of Drama (her boss), getting the show on the road for the first two years and making it such a success. I never got to meet Verity, but I’m sure she’d have been one of the few people I’d have blushed, looked down and mumbled ‘I’m not worthy’ for. Since I was about five and first read the seminal account of the series The Making of Doctor Who, I’ve regarded her with a degree of awe. Growing up and becoming aware of all her other work and just how talented she had to be to make it, a 27-year-old woman that most of the rest of the BBC treated with disdain, she’s been one of my heroes. She’ll be missed terribly.


November 23rd is usually rather an upbeat day for me. Instead, the loss of Verity has left me feeling bereft. I suspect many of my more Who-ish viewers will be feeling the same. If you need cheering up, I have two recommendations. One is to pop on some of Verity’s finest work, which I’m sure we’ll do tonight; the other is to watch something very silly indeed. One of Doctor Who’s least fine hours was a 1981 story called Time-Flight, featuring Time Crash Doctor Peter Davison, Concorde, the Master and not a lot of glory: there’s now a six-minute version that’s brought me a lot more joy (and far better special effects) than the full-length one ever has, along with a special appearance from my Dad’s workplace of Jodrell Bank, hurrah. Don’t watch it if you want serious drama, but click here if you simply want cheering up with some camp old nonsense, some monsters of which I’m very fond, and a slightly unexpected trailer for Voyage of the Damned – this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special with Kylie! I’ll add my voice to the many people who are already saying they’d like to see that story dedicated to Verity.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch The Aztecs and marvel at just what extraordinary drama Doctor Who was, thanks to Verity, from the very beginning.


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Comments:
A sad day indeed.

Must just pick you up on one thing: it's the third award she'll be receiving from Women in Film and Television, not from Working Title (although they are sponsoring the lifetime achievement category).

Thanks for the YouTube link, though. It did make me smile.
 
Thanks, Scott – I had a feeling I hadn’t quite got that right. And very glad to bring a smile today!

Oh, and a third suggestion: should you be one of those peculiar people with no Doctor Who to hand in your home, it’s on tonight at 7 on BBC3, an episode in which a strong and much-loved woman from the Doctor’s past turns up and proves she’s still got it (you can see more of her in an exciting series finale on BBC1 on Monday at 5, too). To the best of my knowledge, though, Verity Lambert did not have a robot dog.
 
Thanks for the YouTube link - cheered me up!
 
No robot dog that I recall but she used to own a lovely great dane puppy which I used to chat up in my lunch hours when we both worked for LWT back in the early 70's (!). Very sad to hear of Verity's death - she was a close colleague of my late boss Helen Standage. Department of seriously useless knowledge - Verity, Helen, Susan Kramer and I all share(d) the same hairdresser! Hat-tip Leslie.
Frina
 
The news of Verity Lambert’s passing is sad, but I thought the post on your blog about her was a very nice tribute. I did not know much about her life until yesterday so I appreciate your sharing about her; and I am thankful for all the fans that posted about her yesterday and this morning. She has left us a great legacy and I appreciate it that the more informed fans shared their memories of this wonderful person so we can all remember and better appreciate her enormous contribution to the show she helped create.

By the way the video is Hilarious!!!!! Thanks!

Peace,

James
 
Thank you very much, Will, Frina and James (and fabulous piece of useless information, too, Frina; it made me smile). I’d also like to point people to Will’s own eulogy, the rather nice article on Behind the Sofa and, of course, the lovely tribute from Millennium (scroll down).
 
I meant to include here that Verity Lambert was also a founding signatory of Charter 88.
 
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