The sudden deaths of two significant names in Doctor Who fandom last week merit more attention – even local attention, than has perhaps been given. Any fan will be able to tell you that Verity Lambert was the series’ first producer, the BBC’s first female producer and held both titles at a relatively tender age (27) in what was itself a young industry. The series’ popularity and formula, BEMs included, owe an insurmountable debt to her influence and guidance.
Bereft of a genuine female Doctor, Verity Lambert is- was, the programme’s elder stateswoman. In a way she never truly left the series; for like the Doctors who followed Hartnell and reprised their roles in various guises, her connection with Doctor Who was concreted by fandom, fan press and fan conventions and media. But fandom, as we all know, carries its own memory, some of it false and some of it selective. While we can issue forth the Received Knowledge of identities like Verity Lambert solemnly and with a little authority, it doesn’t get us any closer to who she was before and after the series, how it influenced her, and the true legacy she leaves behind. Make the time and read some of those obituaries outside of the DW blogs and websites and rediscover a remarkable woman who not only produced the first ever Doctor Who with no series bible, heritage or fan audience, but also ventured into sitcoms, crime thrillers, whodunnits, soap opera and film. Who also resurrected Quatermass and launched the careers of Lynda la Plante and Sam Neill, and who for her sins, gave the world Eldorado.
The Times and The Guardian give great kudos to Lambert’s contribution to television especially without dwelling on the Who hagiography, but for a change of pace Janet Street Porter’s personal memories of Lambert as printed in The Independent offer something quite diferent and quite worthwhile. Who knew the series’ original guardian angel to be so prickly and obstinate? A testament to her early success, one can imagine – and more than likely, to the Doctor’s also.
The passing of Who biographer Peter Haining may have been felt more keenly several years ago while his works were still very much in circulation. As it is one would be hard-pressed to imagine the likes of The Key to Time or The Time-Traveller’s Guide on bookshop shelves now amid the multiple garish ‘official’ series guides. It’s true that even in the early works Haining’s books appeared alongside those by Jeremy Bentham, Howe Stammers and Walker, and of course John Nathan Turner; but to a good number of fans of a certain age, Haining was the big name, and his books were the gateway into fandom – especially for those not readily able to engage with other fans. My first and only Haining book is 25 Glorious Years which I saw advertised, saved up for and ordered from an Oamaru bookshop, and pored over intently during the series’ silver jubilee year, comparing what little I’d seen of Colin Baker to the photos inside, and wondering what the new Doctor, Sylvester McCoy would be like. As other creative fans have doubtless done I studied the artwork within and attempted to equal Colin Howard’s still masterful pointillistic portraits, and whole fanzines could be filled with the hand copied images of rare or destroyed episodes from an age when there was no Internet, no Wikipedia, no Image Archive to draw from.
Haining’s works became decreasingly influential and necessary as new names entered the arena, but those books were the groundwork for what followed, and beyond Who his cult and telefantasy influence was felt in similar regular guides to the canons of Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Dracula, and a reliable run of classic ghost stories. As regular and reliable as the typeface titles on those volumes, Peter Haining was fandom’s collator before fandom took over the job and improved on the format, and his presence in the pages of a plethora of fanzines – New Zealand ones included, is a truth seldom acknowledged.