Monday 13 April 2015

Drama and Delight: The Life and Legacy of Verity Lambert, by Richard Marson

The hardback jacket for Drama and Delight:
 The Life and Legaxy of Verity Lambert
Verity Lambert rolled up conventions about how women should behave in the masculine television industry of the 1960s and afterwards as if they were cigarette paper; rules were smoked, inhaled and remade because that's how Verity worked and made other people work to the best of their ability. Throughout Richard Marson's book, one gets the sense that throughout Verity Lambert was herself: indefatigable professionally and personally, not mercilessly uncompromising but determined that when she had identified the best way forward everyone was going to follow her plan and complete a programme to the highest achievable standard. At the same time, she emerges as intensely collaborative and generous of support, time and friendship, and one is caught up in her energetic, enthusiastic, positive personality: skills which made her the most widely successful and engagingly creative producer of fiction on television in her generation.

Drama and Delight is a more carefully structured and compiled book than his JN-T: The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner, which Miwk Publishing brought out two years ago. Footnotes identifying the sources of the quotations are welcome and the narrative is more linear and more focused. The writer's love of and support for the 'studio' era of British television is plain. Though the days of collegiality in the BBC or the ITV companies, when collective responsibility was held to take precedence over individualist notions of success, are celebrated, any rosy glow is balanced by the acknowledgements of collective irresponsibility too and of individual misbehaviour. I'll never quite look at a bar in one hotel, near where I live, again without thinking of an incident involving a male television executive, a female colleague and a broken glass which had implications for the said executive's career, and opened a door for Verity Lambert. Inevitably, comparisons and contrasts can be made with Marson's earlier subject. The world through which Verity Lambert worked and played was just as scandalous as that of John Nathan-Turner but has triumph and style and Verity's sense of the human spirit and achievement, and lacks the seedy, desperate edge of so much of Marson's portrayal of John Nathan-Turner. There are still many eyebrow-raising anecdotes and a few invitations to look for subtext among the professional and personal relationships of Verity's colleagues. The book is a great dispeller of myths already established in the public imagination - the Verity portrayed by Jessica Raine in Mark Gatiss's play about the early years of Doctor Who, An Adventure in Space and Time (2013) is swiftly dispatched in the opening pages, and one is left wondering how the party scene establishing her friendship with Jacqueline Hill in that play would have fared had it instead depicted a poker game, which Verity played with friends and colleagues in her pre-Doctor Who ABC Television days.

Front cover of the paperback edition of
Drama and Delight: The Life and Legacy of Verity Lambert
I've not written or edited a long form biography such as this, so only know shorter forms of a few hundred to ten thousand or so words personally, but would have tried to find solutions for some of the outstanding problems. I think that the reintroduction of some figures who leave and return to the story could have been better handled. Some asides in footnotes could really have been in the text, or provided springboards for discussion elsewhere. Late in the narrative a footnote tells us that industry rumour linked Verity with the job of head of the BBC Television Drama Group in 1983, which might have been better dealt with at the correct chronological point. Indeed, a few more dates here and there would have been useful in pinning down events. Some standardisation of references could have helped; an index would have been useful but having been involved in the last-minute editing of one once I know something of how expensive they are and how difficult to get right. There's lots of welcome detail, though, including entertaining oneself with the thought of a Verity Lambert walking tour of all her London addresses.

Perhaps the best point the book makes is that although she was a producer rather than a writer or director (at least, never openly so - there is some founded speculation about one of the Doctor Who episodes she produced, though) Verity Lambert's productions contain a certain quality which is recognisably hers. One absence in the book is that it doesn't set out to identify with particular precision what that might be, though in another sense it's enough to point out that a wider audience, somehow, knew her. That eye-catching name on the credits of Doctor Who, Adam Adamant Lives, Detective and the BBC's Somerset Maugham plays must have chimed with those viewers who saw the Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch featuring 'Mr Verity' and 'Mr Lambert' on first transmission. I can't have been the only reader whose reaction to the photographs of Verity in her early career as a production assistant at ABC Television, wearing to work those dress-code breaking leather trousers, was to wonder whether the inspiration for the creation of Cathy Gale in ABC's The Avengers, a leather-wearing woman of force, intellect and beauty in a man's world, was rather closer to home than has been realised.

Drama and Delight: The Life and Legacy of Verity Lambert by Richard Marson is published by and is available from Miwk Publishing in hardback and paperback editions.

1 comment:

  1. You have reminded me of one of my favourite Python sketches.