From the outside looking in, they seemed a very odd couple. One gay, one straight. One a cockney out of the East End, the son of a tugboat captain, and the other the upper class offspring of a celebrated composer for the Royal Ballet.
But like those other classic double acts of my time – Toshack and Keegan, Fletcher and Godber, and Tony Hancock and Sid James, sometimes the ying and the yang just works. In fact, it was the differences between that gave them that all-important edge.
Christopher Sebastian Lambert, ‘Kit’ to one and all, was born in May 1935. Father was composer Constant Lambert and mother, the sometime actress Florence Kaye. Constant loved the good life of wine, woman and song and he had soon left the family home, after having an affair with Kit’s godmother, the ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn. Kit was just 16 when his father then died of illnesses attributed to his acute alcoholism, aged just 45.
Kit then studied at Oxford, before a short stint in the army. He then began a career in the film industry. He worked as an assistant director on films such as ‘From Russia With Love’ and ‘The Guns of Navarone.‘ It was while working at Shepperton Film Studios, that he met Chris Stamp, brother of the actor Terence, who was also dabbling in the film game. They soon began sharing a flat on the Marylebone Road in 1963 and the plotting began.
Stamp was from a staunch East End family, with his father working as a tugboat captain. Fair to say the pair were from the opposite ends of life, but they had bonded on the love of film and so decided to work together on a ‘French New Wave’ style documentary examining the ‘behind the scenes world’ of a pop group.
They decided to base it around the band ‘The High Numbers’ and footage was shot of the group performing at The Railway Hotel in Harrow. However, during the making of the film, they could clearly see the potential of the band and decided to manage them instead, despite neither having any experience in that particular field. They bought up the ‘managerial’ contract from publicist Pete Meaden for £150, and began the transformation of the band that everyone would know as The Who, from then on.
Stamp: ‘Our idea was to find a group that somehow represented the emerging ideas of our time. They would be rebellious, anarchistic and uniquely different from the established English pop scene.’
Lambert: ‘I shall always remember that night we first saw them together. I had never seen anything like it. The Who had a hypnotic effect on the audience. I realised that the first time I saw them. It was like a black mass. Even then Pete Townshend was doing all that electronic feedback stuff. Keith Moon was going wild on the drums. The effect on the audience was tremendous. It was as if they were in a trance. They just sat there watching or shuffled around the dance floor, awestruck.’
Townsend: ‘I fell in love with both of them immediately.’
The band were immediately put on £20 a week each, and the prevailing mod imagery was then ramped up to the maximum. Kit sold his own antique furniture and expensive clothes to foot the bill.
They then all teamed up with producer Shel Talmy before Lambert then took over the producers role, as the bands reputation grew bigger and bigger. Lambert and Stamp then formed their own independent record company Track, in 1967 and began signing up various acts. Arthur Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Golden Earring, Thunderclap Newman and John and Yoko among them.
By the age of just 23, Stamp declared himself a millionaire. Lambert owned property in Knightsbridge and Venice. His influence on Pete Townsend is also well documented and it was he who cajoled Pete to step away from the three minute pop song and think on far grander terms, all of which resulted in ‘Tommy’ the pop opera in 1969, which later became the feature film of the same name in 1975.
By then, Chris and Kit were living like rock stars and it seemed had forgotten all about managing pop acts. Financial irregularities were uncovered and it all began to fall apart. Bill Curbishley took over the management of The Who in 1975 with Chris and Kit relocating to New York. By then however, both in the grip of drink and drugs and all that they had, had all collapsed by 1978.
Lambert had simply unravelled. In 1981, it was reported that he received a severe beating in a gay nightclub over an unpaid drug debt. A few days later, he died aged just 45, after falling down a flight of stairs at his mothers flat. By then, he was virtually destitute. One mourner at his funeral was convinced his coffin would explode once cremated, as Kit was so full of booze and chemicals.
Stamp finally went into rehab in 1987 and managed to clean up his act to the extent that he became an addiction counsellor and worked as a therapist until his death aged 70 from cancer in 2012. He died with his wife of 33 years Calixte, and his family around him.
Their partnership had a film made about in 2014 called ‘Lambert & Stamp.’ It made for fascinating viewing as two guys ‘mismanaged’ a band to the very top. I also suspected there was an even bigger story to be told. With Lamberts ‘in’ on the upper class circles that he moved in and Stamp’s ‘right place, right time’ street smarts, there had to more to be revealed. Perhaps, with hindsight, its best to let sleeping dogs lie.
I’ll leave the last word on the pair, to Roger Daltrey
‘With Kit and his outrageous behaviour and ideas on how to manipulate the media, and Chris, the expert in cool, menace, and scams, their contribution to the band should never be underestimated. They really were the 5th and 6th members of The Who.’
The Mumper of SE5
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