Robert Lamb - tve pays tribute.
Monday 5th March 2012
Robert Lamb, who died on 13th February this year, was tve director from 1984 – 2003. Robert had a meteoric, dazzling career - as TV reporter, science writer, film director and communications consultant to a wide range of international agencies, including the World Bank, Global Environment Facility, UNICEF and IUCN (the World Conservation Union). After spells as a sub-editor and reporter at the BBC and ITV in the UK during the 1970s, Robert joined IIED (the International Institute for Environment and Development)'s groundbreaking Earthscan team and established the first environmental news features service. In the early '80s he was IUCN communications chief in Switzerland before his momentous move to Nairobi to join UNEP (the UN Environment Programme) - first as a science writer and later, crucially, as speech writer to Dr Mostafa Tolba, UNEP's Executive Director. In 1984, with Dr. Tolba's blessing, Robert joined forces with founding Trustees Richard Creasey, Adrian Cowell, Bob Phyllis and Roger James from Central TV and Ivan Hattingh, WWF's Development Director, to launch tve (then Television Trust for the Environment) at UNEP's Governing Council in 1984.
Described by some as an unsung hero of the Environmental Movement, Robert was driven by one central idea during tve's early years: how to move 'the Environment' up to the summit of the international political agenda - where it could be seen to be as important as GDP, defence or trade. The way to achieve this, he believed passionately, was through television - the mass medium with the power to reach, and move, audiences around the world, audiences who could then go out and lobby their governments for change. As he wrote in 1991 in a much-quoted passage in a speech for Dr. Tolba in 1992, "I have known of no effective environmental action that was not preceded by public pressure, which is generated in turn by the free flow of accurate information".
Beginning with a staff of just two, housed in the basement of the Central Television documentary division in London's west end, Robert's determination and drive grew tve to become an international organization. By the late 1980s and '90s, tve regularly coproduced groundbreaking documentaries on key environment and development stories which were broadcast at prime time on ITV, Channel 4 and ITV in the UK, while also running the 'Moving Pictures' distribution service which provided a wide range of films and videos to broadcasters and NGOs across the developing world. Robert also inaugurated a strategy, from 1993 onward, to establish a network of tve partners in over 40 countries who shared tve's aims of using film and video to increase environmental awareness. One of Robert's proudest achievements was the relationship he forged with the BBC's new global satellite channel, BBC World, launched by Bob Phyllis in 1996. In 1997, with major grants from WWF International and UNEP, Robert launched 'Earth Report', tve's long running environmental strand on BBC World News: between 1997 and 2005, he commissioned, co-produced, produced and directed over 400 'Earth Report' episodes which went on to be broadcast, in dozens of different languages, around the world.
On the 20th anniversary of the UNEP Governing Council where tve was launched, Robert stepped down as director to concentrate full time on programme production. He set up OnePlanet Pictures in 2005 - the same year he also joined Dev TV, a Swiss non-profit organisation, as Senior Executive Producer. One Planet Pictures was responsible for several new strands broadcast on BBC World News and other European channels including World Challenge and Nature Inc.
Tributes to Robert have poured into tve since his death. Tore Brevik, former UNEP Communications Director and tve Trustee in the 1980s and 90s, said "I worked closely with Robert since 1988 during some of the most eventful years of UNEP and tve. He was a good and trusted friend and a colleague - his great energy and creativity will always be remembered." Anita Anand, tve Trustee in the early 2000s, recalled Robert as "very special. I enjoyed his company, his intellect and wit. We attended meetings together, shared meals and many laughs. I served briefly on the Board of Directors of tve in the early 2000s. For people in the development and media sector, Robert made a huge contribution. His work at tve and other agencies was pioneering. He was a maverick." From Beirut, the film-maker and former tve Trustee Mai Masri wrote "I was very sad to hear about the passing of Robert... As you very well expressed in your message, his many achievements are remarkable and will be remembered and appreciated by all those he touched in one way or another. My deepest condolences to you, his colleagues at tve, and his family. May he rest in peace."
Charles Stewart, director of the award-winning 'Seeds of Despair' on the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, described the key role Robert played in realising the multi-award winning documentary for Central TV: "The programme I made for Central was the first one funded by tve. I was employed as a consultant by UNEP in the spring of 1984, given a free hand to see if I could make a film about desertification (at the time most people didn't know what the word meant). We settled on Ethiopia. Robert knew a man who knew that there was a man attending a conference in Oxford... Tamru, the press and public relations chief for the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission in Ethiopia. With this Tamru's help, relations between me as a representative of British Imperial exploitation and the Communistic government of Ethiopia were cordial, and though many bad things happened to many who helped the film, Robert was always there with help and advice. When we filmed in Nairobi, Robert was there co-ordinating and bringing delegates to locations for filming. He did everything in his power to make the film successful. I owe him a great debt, and environmental awareness in the UK owes him, and his colleagues in tve, a greater one."
Sergio Jellinek, the Chair of COM+ (ComPlus Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development), wrote that Robert was "one of a kind. A top-notch story teller, film maker, producer and journalist, he was a master of the trade with the ability to reach millions of people with simple and clear messages. Robert was a universal Brit, a friend of the developing world and its causes. A friend of the weakest in society always looking for fairness and opportunities for all groups, especially those in disadvantage. He excelled at explaining sustainability in simple, non-elite terms that were always close to the people - an achievement that can be rightfully described as the Robert Lamb Brand. Innovative, with the rare ability of getting people together to work on initiatives that looked impossible at the outset, Robert would always have the courage, the vision and leadership to make them work out in the end, to everybody's surprise... Oh, and he was opinionated for sure. He was not into shades of gray. He preferred the black and white, right or wrong approach, and most of the time he was on the right side of the issues... And he was irreverent, especially with regards to the powerful, to the elites, to the snobs... An enthusiastic founder of our COM+ Alliance seven years ago, Robert will always be with us."
Robert was, wrote Eric Falt, tve Trustee 2002 - 2008, "truly a force of nature and an inspiration for many of us." IIED Director Camilla Toulmin remembered him as "an exceptional person in so many ways, and also such good fun to be with." And Adrian Phillips, one of tve's early trustees, wrote "Your record of his life brings a lot back to me - meeting Robert in London at IIED, then in Switzerland at IUCN, keeping closely in touch when he was at UNEP (as I was before), and finally with you and tve.... He was, as you say, very talented and very committed. A real star in the communications business. Without him I don't think tve would really have happened, certainly it would not have flourished as it did. That means lots of lives were touched by him for the better - and thousands more must have been influenced by the film messages he had a hand in putting together and distributing. I wish you and tve well at this sad time."