Drama and Delight: The Life and Legacy of Verity Lambert by Richard MarsonBookmark and Share

Friday, 27 March 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock

Written by Richard Marson
Published by Miwk Publishing
Available April 8th 2015 in paperback and deluxe hardback editions  

Considering Verity Lambert's legendary status in broadcasting history, it's surprising that it's taken this long for a book about her to emerge. An iconic figure in Television - forever known as the smart, beautiful, stylish young woman who cut a swathe through the stuffy cloisters of the BBC as a neophyte producer with a little show called Doctor Who.

Verity's pioneering work on Doctor Who's formative years needs very little introduction. It's already well-documented elsewhere, and was only the beginning of a long and illustrious career. We've seen a glimpse of this part of her story in An Adventure in Space and Time, but right from the off, Richard Marson's excellent biography is keen to point out that the 'soft' Verity as portrayed by Jessica Raine in Mark Gatiss's drama was far from the whole picture. Indeed, friends and colleagues don't remember her for the doe eyes and Roedean vowels familiar to Who fans from archive footage - her 'public' face. They recall a passionate, expansive, driven woman - just as prone to epic dinner parties as she was to thunderous meltdowns. She liked a drink, she smoked heavily, and loved men. She lived well, and lived life to the full. 

 

Marson paints a compelling picture of Verity's life and career, shaped as much by friendships and lovers as by career decisions. Her passionate, but doomed relationship with brilliant director Ted Kotcheff leads her indirectly to work with her mentor, Sydney Newman at ATV, before he sends for her at the BBC to help deliver the problem child of a children's drama he's been helping develop. She puts up with the bitchy whispers about how she got the job, and kicks back against the pipe-smoking boy's club at the workplace to forge a strong reputation. Marson addresses the rumours about Sydney and Verity, and her friends and colleagues chip in with their thoughts - but the jury remains out whether the whispers were right.

 

After Who, Verity's fortunes vary at first, and Newman makes her unhappily take up production reins on a new soap opera before allowing her to work on her preferred project - Adam Adamant Lives!, which turns out to be a fairly fraught experience for all concerned. Nonetheless, Verity sees out the rest of the decade continuing to move forward in adult drama in the party atmosphere of the glass-chinking late-sixties beeb. It's only in 1970 that the party briefly skids to a halt, as Verity's contract at the BBC abruptly ends after an overspend on the prestigious W.Somerset Maugham series.

 

Verity quickly regroups, and moves on to Thames TV and Euston Films, where her career flourishes - but inamongst successes like Budgie or Minder there are bitter feuds over Rumpole of the Bailey and a long, messy court case over Rock Follies. She raises eyebrows with her marriage to the much younger Colin Bucksey - now an acclaimed director of US shows such as Breaking Bad and Fargo

Her later years in charge of Cinema Verity and return to the BBC in the 90s have a slightly thinner hit rate as TV production becomes more diffuse, but not even the debacle of Eldorado could slow Verity down. Cancer first diagnosed and treated in the early 70s returns with a vengeance in her final years, but Verity worked to the end with dignity and courage. In spite of all the personal drama and tensions at the coalface of TV production, there's plenty of fun stories and you get the impression that Verity inspired as well as innovated. She wasn't just respected, but loved. Marson's book is a class act, it doesn't stint on the sometimes scathing nature of its subject - but it presents a balanced portrait of a brilliant, trailblazing figure in broadcasting, the like of which we may never see again. Drama and delight indeed.