CV; VERITY LAMBERT Founder, Cinema Verity


Verity Lambert
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:24

I left Roedean at 16, and spent a year at the Sorbonne, followed by 18 months at secretarial college in London. My first job was as a temporary secretary at the Kensington De Vere Hotel, and because I'd been to Paris and spoke French I was assigned to type the lunch and dinner menus.

My first job in television was as a secretary to the press officer at Granada Television, just before it went on the air. But the press officer knew about as much about running a press office as I knew about being a secretary, so it was a rather disastrous coupling. I got fired after about six months.

But it had been an exciting six months, and I became very interested in television production. My first step was getting a job as a shorthand typist with a weekend franchise in the Midlands and the North called ABC TV. Then I was promoted to secretary to ABC's head of drama, which was very exciting; it was about the time Armchair Theatre was starting.

The next step was to be a production secretary, and I started off working on a horrific programme called State Your Case, to which people wrote in about appalling things that had happened to them. I was then moved on to working on drama, which I did for two or three years with a director called Ted Kotcheff, before getting stuck. I decided to go and work in America for a year, and got a job with Talent Associates, then probably the biggest independent drama producer in New York.

When I came back to England, I really wanted to direct, but I couldn't get anywhere because I was a woman. I went back to ABC as a production assistant, but I got really bored and decided that if I couldn't move up somehow within a year, I would forget about television. But one day in 1963 the producer from Armchair Theatre, Sidney Newman, who had gone to the BBC as head of drama, rang me up and asked me to work as a producer on a new children's series called Doctor Who.

Doctor Who, of course, became this monumental overnight success, and I did that for about 18 months before producing another of Sidney's ideas, Adam Adamant. I then did a series of detective stories, and a series of Somerset Maugham stories working with a script editor called Andrew Brown, for which we got a Bafta award.

I left the BBC after that, and went to London Weekend to produce a series called Budgie, written by Keith Waterhouse. The BBC had always been a very protective environment, so it was good to realise I could do something outside it. But I did then go back to the BBC to produce Shoulder to Shoulder, about the suffragettes.

In 1974 I applied to Jeremy Isaacs to be head of drama at Thames, and he offered me the job. It was a really productive and prolific part of my career: I commissioned Rock Follies, Bill Brand, Edward and Mrs Simpson and The Naked Civil Servant. Then, in 1976, I went to Euston Films, and made Minder, The Flame Trees of Thika, and Reilly Ace of Spies. I also produced Widows, Lynda La Plante's first major television series, and my relationship with her has gone from strength to strength.

I was then asked, in 1983, to go to Thorn EMI as head of feature film production. Unfortunately, the person who hired me left, and the person who came in didn't want to produce films and didn't want me. While I managed to make some films I was proud of - Dennis Potter's Dreamchild, and Clockwise with John Cleese - it was terribly tough and not a very happy experience.

But I was determined to see out my three-year contract. By the end I'd had enough of corporate life and wanted to see what I could do as an independent. I got an output deal with Thorn EMI, and with that I developed the film A Cry In the Dark, with Meryl Streep.

Then I went back to television: we did Coasting, A Class Act and May to December, and in 1992 we got the contract to make Eldorado, which we foolishly agreed to start off in a very short time. But I still think it was a very good idea, and I was sorry that the BBC cancelled it because I think we had started to turn it around.

It's becoming very difficult for independents now. Television is now much more to do with ratings and money - and people don't have the leeway to take as many chances. We had A Suitable Boy in development, for instance, which sadly Channel 4 is now not going to make, but maybe that's something we can come back to. Cinema Verity will soldier onn

Interview by Scott Hughes

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