Obituary: Kenneth Lamb
Saturday 24 June 1995
Kenneth Lamb was from 1980 to 1985 the Secretary to the Church Commissioners and had previously had a wide-ranging career in the BBC, producing current affairs programmes in both radio and television. He was the first layman to be made head of religious broadcasting; and became Secretary of the BBC and Director of Public Affairs.
Lamb was born in 1923, the younger son of Sir Ernest Lamb, the Asquithian former Liberal MP for Rochester, later the first Baron Rochester. In 1955 Kenneth Lamb applied for a vacancy as a current affairs producer in BBC radio. I was a member of the appointments board which interviewed him. He told us he had been educated at Harrow School, though not in Harrow, since the school had been evacuated during the Second World War to Malvern College. He had been President of the Oxford Union while at Trinity College, Oxford. His National Service was as an instructor- lieutenant in the Royal Navy and he had gone on to become a lecturer, eventually senior lecturer, in English and History at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. He had just completed two years in Chicago as a Commonwealth Fund Fellow.
These were impressive qualifications and we had no difficulty in deciding to appoint him. He worked on At Home and Abroad and other current affairs programmes. Two years later he moved over to the Television Talks department at Lime Grove and became one of the producers on Panorama. Many of the items he directed were studio-based discussions of political or defence matters, such as the attitude of the Western Allies towards the Berlin crisis when the Berlin Wall was built. They also included domestic matters such as the dispute in the printing industry and the standardisation of electric plugs. He worked particularly closely with two Panorama reporters, Christopher Chataway and Robert Kee.
In 1958, on their way back from the United States, Lamb and Kee stopped off in Bermuda and made a film in connection with the island's 350th anniversary. Lamb described it as "a naughty piece". It took a mildly disrespectful look at the three main families on the island, and provoked a barrage of complaints. Hugh Carleton Greene, then the new Director of News and Current Affairs, viewed Lamb's film and pronounced it amusing and harmless, if a little cheeky.
Lamb was next promoted to be the Chief Assistant, Current Affairs, in the Television Talks department. This was partly a troubleshooting job. He would deal patiently with complainants, and his elegantly worded soft answers usually turned away viewers' wrath. This work, which he did for four years, also brought him into close contact with Greene.
There was considerable surprise in 1963 when it was announced that Lamb would succeed Canon Roy McKay as Head of Religious Broadcasting at the BBC. This was a post hitherto always held by a clergyman of the Church of England. Lamb was a deeply religious man, but was a layman and had been brought up as a Methodist. Greene, by that time Director-General, consulted the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, as well as the Roman Catholic Bishop of Liverpool before nominating Lamb at the age of 39 to this sensitive post.
In 1952 Lamb had married Anne Saul. Anne Lamb later taught Politics and Divinity at the Frances Holland School in London. In 1971 they jointly published Hope, a book consisting of five essays by Anne and the text of the University Sermon which Kenneth Lamb had been invited to deliver at Oxford.
Lamb became in 1967 the Secretary to the BBC, which brought him into close contact with the Governors. When Greene resigned, in 1969, Lamb along with Huw Wheldon, David Attenborough and Oliver Whitley, was considered to succeed him. The post went to Charles Curran, and Lamb was made Director of Public Affairs, with a seat on the Board of Management.
In 1970 Curran wished to move Lamb sideways off the Board of Management to a new job concerned with regional policy. Lamb, who was increasingly out of sympathy with some of the BBC's policies at the time, appealed to the Board of Governors. They were divided. Sir Hugh Greene threatened to resign from the board if Lamb were displaced. Lamb remained as Director of Public Affairs until 1977 when Ian Trethowan, the new Director-General, transferred him to the position of Special Adviser (Broadcasting Research). This was a job not worthy of his abilities and he looked out for other employment.
In 1980 Lamb took premature retirement from the BBC to become Secretary to the Church Commissioners, the body concerned with administering the finances of the Church of England, originally provided under Queen Anne's Bounty. It was a role he greatly enjoyed.
Throughout his career Lamb took great interest in charitable work. When he was teaching at Greenwich he was first concerned with the Bede House Association, which helped the under-privileged of Bermondsey. Later he was for many years its Chairman. He also chaired the Charities Effectiveness Review Trust, and was Governor of Bloxham School and of Atlantic College, founded by Kurt Hahn. He was a keen golfer and cricket player until debilitating illness struck him four years ago.
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