by Louise Bell
I am a big Doctor Who fan – have been ever since it returned in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston in the role and my Dad suggested that I watch it. I’ll admit at this point that I’ve never watched an episode produced earlier than this though…. and it’s obviously been exciting to have Jodie Whittaker as our 13th Doctor. There’s naturally been female representation throughout the show’s history, albeit usually as the companion. So, for this piece, I want to focus on another female connected to the Doctor Who franchise: Verity Lambert.
Born in London in 1935, Lambert was a television and film producer. After education and a few other jobs, she entered the TV industry in 1956, where she became a secretary at Granada Television’s press office (a job she was sacked from after 6 months). Next up was a stint as a shorthand typist at ABC Television, which eventually led to her moving up the ranks from administration to production, with her becoming production assistant to the Head of Drama (Sydney Newman).
All of this ultimately led to the position that she is perhaps most well-known for: the first producer of Doctor Who! Newman had been hired by the BBC as their Head of Drama, and encouraged Lambert to take the role. Not just a super cool role, Lambert made headlines for being one of the youngest producers of a mainstream TV show – as well as being female. At its inception, Doctor Who was pitched as a light-hearted, educational, serial sci-fi show, with a time-traveller visiting various periods in Earth’s history – not quite the show we all know and love today… It was also thanks to Lambert that we got William Hartnell as our first Doctor. Despite being notoriously difficult to control, Lambert argued for him to be given the role – and her perseverance paid off. The two of them had a very good working relationship throughout their time working together.
The first episode of the tv show aired on the 23rd November 1963, and initially a slow-burner, became hugely popular once a familiar foe was introduced: the Daleks. Almost synonymous with the show itself, I’m sure most people who have friends and family who watched the show during the early years have heard tales of how terrifying they found the Daleks (perhaps the newer generation would think more of the Weeping Angels when they think of scary and Doctor Who). The Head of Serials at the BBC had initially advised against using the script with the Daleks in, but Lambert again persevered and the show began its change from educational TV show to the cultural phenomenon that it became.
Lambert produced the show from 1963-1965, before deciding to leave. Essentially, she felt that it was time for some fresh input into the show and that she was worried of it running out of steam, without some new ideas. Her period producing was also intense, and it sounds like a break was needed from that, too.
She went on to work in various other TV companies, before starting her own production company: ‘Cinema Verity’ – which produced a number of shows and films, with varying success levels. She was awarded an OBE in 2002, for her service to film and television production. That same year, she was also awarded the Alan Clarke Award for Outstanding Creative Contribution to Television, from BAFTA. Lambert was due to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Women in Film and Television Awards in December 2007, but unfortunately died before she could. It was awarded to her posthumously, instead. She died of cancer on the 22nd November 2007, 5 days before her 72nd birthday.
Since the regeneration of Doctor Who in 2005, the show has paid tribute to Lambert on a few occasions. In the 2007 episode ‘Human Nature,’ the Doctor, in disguise as a human, refers to his mother as being called Verity (interestingly, his father is said to be named Sydney – after Sydney Newman). A dedication to Lambert can also be seen at the end of 2007’s Christmas special ‘Voyage of the Damned’ – a month after her death. 2009’s episode ‘The End of Time’ also has a character called Verity Newman.
A more local connection to me, and one of the reasons I started to wonder more about Verity Lambert, is all thanks to the University of Strathclyde (where I did my undergrad and Masters degrees). In 2014, they unveiled their Wonderwall on the Graham Hills Building, which tells the tales of numerous Strathclyders and those connected to the university. And one of the paintings, which obviously catches my eye every time I pass, is of a Tardis. In 1988, Lambert received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Strathclyde. Even cooler is that she then arranged her personal archive to be gifted to the University, and is something that I always definitely aware of, but didn’t realise quite how incredible a thing that was!
‘An Adventure in Space and Time: Verity Lambert’: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/profiles/1g30zmn37Db4y2FTFb5pF9N/verity-lambert
‘Verity Lambert’: https://olddoctorwho.com/producers/verity-lambert/
‘Verity Lambert’: https://tardis.fandom.com/wiki/Verity_Lambert
About the Author:
I am a AHRC CDP funded PhD researcher at the University of Leeds and The National Archives, looking at British state provision of prosthetic limbs in the two world wars. This continues my research interests in disability history and history of medicine, as well as military history. My MSc (from the University of Strathclyde) was titled: “Broken in the War: Prosthetic Limbs for British Soldiers During the Great War.” I spent a great deal of the centenary period working as the First World War Diverse Histories Researcher at The National Archives. And, on the back of this, my first book was published (with Pen and Sword) in November 2018, called: Images of The National Archives: Armistice.