The Producers: Verity Lambert and Joanna Lumley
Verity Lambert and Joanna Lumley first met in 1991, working on the ITV comedy A Class Act. "We struck up a rapport," recalls Lambert, the most successful television producer of her generation and the driving force behind such diverse successes as Dr. Who, The Naked Civil Servant and Minder. "We had the same sense of humor." Their lives were linked again during 24 eventful hours in 1998. It was then, while on location filming A Rather English Marriage with Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, that Lumley started reading Elizabeth Jane Howard's novels about the Cazalet family.
"I had been given these four books to read. You spend a lot of time alone in your caravan reading and I just devoured them and I could see that they would walk off the page on to the screen," recalls Lumley. "In the manner of things like The Forsyte Saga, and Upstairs, Downstairs, you get to know this family and their lives begin to unfold quite unexpectedly -- sometimes happily, sometimes tragically, sometimes dramatically -- in front of your eyes. There was an extraordinary destructuring of British society that took place around the time of the Second World War. What started off like a Noel Coward play in the bright sunlight streaming across well-lit lawns, clouds darken and suddenly things begin to change."
Surprisingly, given the remarkable range of her long career (which includes modeling, a Bond film, the 1970s TV series The New Avengers and the hit comedy of the 1990s Absolutely Fabulous), Lumley has never produced a television drama before. Such was her enthusiasm for the Cazalet story, however, she took the plunge and investigated buying the rights to the books. "I rang and was told that, predictably, the rights had gone." When she returned home that night, however, she discovered a message from Lambert on her answering machine. "She explained she had the rights and maybe I'd like to join her in doing it. It was unbelievable that all that happened in a day."
Lambert's love for the books ran equally deep. "When I read the books I couldn't put them down. They were so alive," she says. "Elizabeth Jane Howard writes with humor and a great deal of warmth but at the same time she's not afraid to tackle situations which are shocking. Her characters are so rounded and so real. I like the fact they go on an emotional journey. As situations and relationships change so do they," she says. Before they knew it, Lumley and Lambert were auditioning, location hunting and preparing for a complex four-month shooting schedule.
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