I Work For: Verity Lambert

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The Independent Culture
Anna Callaghan is PA to the managing director of Cinema Verity, a television production company.

I got into TV by accident when I answered an ad for the casting department of Granada, and to this day I believe I was employed because my boss liked Pisceans. I had a super time there, including driving around the country with Laurence Olivier in a stretch limo for five months, but after 16 years I felt that it was time to move on and I accepted a job with a theatrical agent. Although it was interesting to see what actors have to go through, I loathed every minute, especially dealing with the tabloids' constant and often aggressive attempts to find out the details of actors' personal lives.

After six months I went freelance, which is when I discovered that Verity Lambert had an office in my road, just a few doors down, and was looking for a PA. I knew that Verity was responsible for some of the very best programmes, such as Minder, The Naked Civil Servant, Dr Who and Rumpole, but the money was appalling so I turned the job down and was offered a temping position instead at a much better rate. The office continued to raise the amount they were offering for a permanent position until I capitulated.

Verity was in Australia setting up a series so I didn't meet her for several months. I gather that the two temps before me spent a lot of time crying in the loo, but I liked Verity immediately. We had friends in common and being older and more experienced than my predecessors I didn't feel daunted by the job.

My first impression of Verity was a pair of very black eyes belonging to an utterly charming and striking woman, tall and slim with an excellent dress sense. I joke that she dresses in Armani and I in St Michael, but we share a passion for shoes. I call her the Imelda Marcus of Shepherd's Bush. She is also devoted to Arthur Daley, her adorable Great Dane, who sleeps on a bean bag in the office.

The work was quite frantic to begin with, but after a while I got someone in to help me. When Verity realised that I could do shorthand she became a mad dictator. We once did an interview together and Verity kindly said, "I know that when I ask Anna to do something I won't have to think about it again." However, one occasion sticks in my mind when I was organising a party at Verity's home for a visiting American actor and I had arranged everything to the last letter, or so I thought. While we were waiting for the caterers to turn up I jokingly asked Verity whether she would fire me if the party was a disaster; she laughed and said "of course not". At that point I realised that I hadn't given the caterers her address. Luckily they were able to rush over and save the day.

I felt quite bitter during the hard times, particularly when the BBC axed of Eldorado, but I saw how Verity can rise to a challenge without getting at all embittered. She has the personality of a perfectionist and she's also deeply honest, even the smallest white lie is beyond her. Nothing really phases her. When a project is in production she has to write off the rest of her life, but she just gets on with it. I guess not having a family of her own makes it easier, but she thrives on working hard and playing hard. When we are in production I see very little of her because she's either filming on location or working at a separate production office, but we keep in touch via a mobile. I don't enjoy being on film sets, you can hardly imagine how boring it is when you don't have a working role, but when castings are held in our office I can't help but get involved as I love the process.

Organising Verity's day is my priority, she's besotted with her electronic diary and she also has a back-up and a desk diary. Fortunately she has a highly effective message system on to which I put all fresh calls, reminders and dates. Cinema Verity's standards are high, which to an extent is down to me because I was always taught that every letter, be it from a runner, a casting agent, a literary agent, a crew member etc gets a reply.

I think of myself as Verity's secretary but she never treats me like one. She always introduces me as Anna and often takes me to premieres or a local movie since we are both avid film-goers. I don't think my job is particularly glamorous, a secretary working for the boss at a widget factory would do more or less the same thing as I do, but I do get to meet the most terrific people. I'm not at all starstruck, but I was excited when Peter O'Toole came to the office during the filming of a PJ Wodehouse.

Verity took the office to Paris to celebrate 10 years of the company, and on her birthday I write her a spoof script about the office life called "Postcards from the Hedge". She cried laughing at the last one I wrote. I've worked happily for Verity for eight years and, bearing in mind I have never made a plan in my life, I guess I am unlikely to move.