The Wild Story of the Who's Managers: Inside New Doc 'Lambert & Stamp'

The film recounts how Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert helped turn the band into rock icons

Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert in 'Lambert and Stamp.' Credit: Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert in 'Lambert and Stamp.'

In the summer of 1964, two aspiring filmmakers, Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert, stumbled upon four mods called the High Numbers playing a gig in a London club. The two were so impressed, they decided to become the group's managers, despite having no experience. The first thing they did was urge the band to go back to using its original name: the Who. "What's amazing is they weren't good managers," says James D. Cooper, whose documentary Lambert & Stamp chronicles the ups and downs of the pair's uneven reign. "But they wrote their own rule book."

Over the next decade, the Who conquered the globe with more than a little help from the behind-the-scenes duo; today only the most devoted fans have even heard of the two men. Cooper hopes that his film (which hits American theaters on April 3rd) will change that. "First off, the movie is a love story," he says. "It's about the sensitive and frightening places that we go in order to engage relationships and what those relationships bring about whenever you risk losing yourself to find yourself."

Cooper first met Chris Stamp in the late 1980s. "I was just starting my film career and he had a real interest in me as an aspiring filmmaker, so we connected on that level," he says. "I came to realize later that a lot of my feelings and ambitions about the things that I was wanting to do with my life paralleled his own and we just formed a connection." (Kit Lambert died in 1981.)

When Cooper first broached the idea of creating this film, Stamp was extremely hesitant. "It was difficult for him to look back at this period of his life," he says. "Eventually I got a call and he said, 'If you're willing to put yourself through this then lets do it.' He was quite clear he didn't want the film told from his point of view. It's a complicated story business wise and personally wise, and it had to be done independently."

Once Stamp was on board, Cooper approached Pete Townshend. "I said to him, 'I feel this is a very important subject,'" he says. "He nodded and I told him I wasn't making a [traditional] documentary. I told him, and Roger Daltrey, that I wanted to tell the the story of Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, and their impact and influence. Obviously, despite the cathartic and turbulent nature of that relationship within the Who, they felt also that it was a story that needed to be told."

The entire process of creating the movie, which includes amazing archival footage of the band in the 1960s and early 1970s — along with new interviews with Townshend and Daltrey (both together and apart) — took 10 years. "It took a while for me to work with Chris Stamp to get the complete arc," says Cooper. "In terms of the Who, it started out as this...not as a musical idea, but as like a sociological film idea. I thought it was really interesting to approach a rock deity in that way."

Lambert & Stamp covers the duo's innovations – like pushing the Who to play actual opera houses on the Tommy tour – as well as their scattershot style. Lambert was a heavy drinker, and the pair fought bitterly with the band over the 1975 Tommy movie. The Who have been managed by Bill Curbishley since 1976, but Townshend and Daltrey repaired their relationship with Chris Stamp many years ago. He accompanied them to Washington DC when they received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2008, and Cooper tagged along to capture the moment for some of the final scenes of the movie.

A few years later, Stamp was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. "He was ill during the final stages of filming," says Cooper. "You can see that he ages markedly during the movie. It was quite a struggle for him, but I barely realized that because he was so resilient and so present and so giving and courageous. We filmed right up until he couldn't film anymore, which was exactly when I knew I'd gotten the whole story. It was weird. It was almost like he got it all out and then let go."