“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words…
When I was young we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.”
- Hesiod, 8th Century BC
Early 1960s London: the postwar generation who grew up playing in air raid shelters and bomb sites is detonating a youth rebellion that brings Hesiod’s words back to life. At London’s Shepperton Studios, two young 2nd assistant directors compare notes on film, music, and frustrated ambitions, forging an unlikely friendship and collaboration that leaves an indelible mark on pop music and culture of the ‘60s and beyond.
KIT LAMBERT and CHRIS STAMP, aspiring filmmakers, set out to make a cinema vérité documentary about the mod world of rock and roll, but sidetracked instead into managing and developing the sonic powerhouse that came to be called THE WHO. Their gorgeously propulsive footage—the rock documentary that was never completed—lays a foundation for director JAMES D. COOPER’s kaleidoscopic study of an era and a rare friendship’s creative bond. Present-day interviews with the surviving principals, now grown older, reflect thoughtfully on their relationships and life trajectories.
Lambert and Stamp were “chalk and cheese:” Chris Stamp, the son of a tugboat captain, was a Cockney East Ender and “rough tough fighting spiv,” as described by his elder brother, actor TERENCE STAMP. Lambert, the son of a celebrated symphony orchestra conductor, was Oxford-educated, multilingual, impeccably dressed, and possessed of an unmistakably highbrow accent and manner.
Chris Stamp came to his interest in performing arts and cinema via the roundabout route of a backstage job at the ballet (an occupation suggested by his brother Terence because Chris’s only real interest till then seemed to be girls, and the ballet theater was a good place to find them). Kit was as open a homosexual as one could be in an era when homosexuality was still illegal and the closet was the norm.
As young would-be cineastes, however, the two Shepperton assistants shared a love of jazz, literature, and the French New Wave films that reflected their own restless impatience with the dreary grey of postwar society. Kit had seen the world as an Army officer and as cameraman on a perilous and grueling expedition into the Amazon. Recognizing Kit’s fundamental courage, Chris credits him with “widening my angle of awareness on possibilities.”
“They complemented each other, like two and two make six,” says Terence Stamp. Realizing that they’d never break out as directors at Shepperton, they hatched the plan to find their rock and rollers and film the very process of creating a hit group, thus providing their own directorial calling card.
Chris Stamp—still handsome as an elder gentleman as he was in his rakish youth—recalls that “Kit and I looked everywhere at these bands to put in our so-called movie…we didn’t know what we wanted, but we absolutely knew what we didn’t want: if we found the people doing the music to be smart and neat and jumping up and down, they weren’t what we wanted. What we wanted—it was really about us. It was going to be some mad fucking concoction of stuff that looked like Lambert and Stamp.”
They finally struck gold in 1964 when Lambert spotted a long line of mods and scooters outside the “sordid and grotty” Railway Hotel, where the jam-packed dance crowd was mesmerized by a distinctly un-smart and un-neat foursome, the High Numbers: streetfighter ROGER DALTREY on lead vocals, art-school nihilist PETE TOWNSHEND on lead guitar, surly genius JOHN ENTWISTLE on bass, and mad yob KEITH MOON on drums.
“I fell in love literally with both of them immediately and they completely and utterly and totally changed my life,” says Pete Townshend, whose songwriting, composition, and musicianship flourished under Lambert’s erudite tutelage. “Kit was the only posh guy I’d ever spoken to who was actually interested in me and wasn’t talking down to me,” says Roger Daltrey. “Chris was always off working on a film set to make the money to pay for the guitars we were smashing.”
“We didn’t come to the group as professional managers,” says Stamp. “We came as these two guys who had some ideas as filmmakers and we wanted to manage. We never said we knew how to do it.”
The duo’s outside perspective brought canny ideas; for example, where conventional management might have formed a fan club of adoring cleancut teenagers, Stamp and Lambert wanted sharp faces with visual impact in their documentary footage. Members of the “100 Faces" club such as IRISH JACK, seen as a scrappy young mod and as a snaggletoothed elder, had mugs to match those on stage.
Somehow, the alchemy of personalities, talent, energy, time and place yielded spectacular success for a time, as The Who became world-famous and Stamp and Lambert created a thriving record label, Track Records, producing JIMI HENDRIX, among others. Bank accounts grew fatter and ambitions loftier. Townshend and Lambert set their sights on making history by creating the first “rock opera”—which eventually became TOMMY.
But Lambert and Stamp never fulfilled their original goal of vérité-filmmaking, and Lambert felt excluded and rejected when the film version of TOMMY bypassed him. Ironically, The Who—post-Lambert—ended up owning Shepperton Studios.
That the story ends sadly—with business conflict, estrangement, addiction, and an early death for Kit Lambert—does not detract from its resonance. As Chris Stamp remembers of the early, seat-of-the-pants days: “I’m gasping for breath, I’m doing the usual mirrors work, balls in the air, but underneath all that I had—purpose. Meaning. Kit and I. Relationship. All those things. There was an undercurrent in our personalities that was real.”
KIT LAMBERT, born May 11, 1935, died April 7, 1981, age 45, at Middlesex Hospital in Acton. He had struggled with alcohol and heroin addiction, and died of a cerebral hemmorhage caused by a fall.
CHRIS STAMP, born July 7, 1942, died of cancer on November 24, 2012, age 70. In the latter part of his life, after going through his own recovery from substance abuse, Stamp developed a new career as a practitioner of psychodrama therapy, helping others work through addiction and psychic distress. He lived in New York City with his wife of 33 years, Calixte. He had two daughters and several grandchildren.