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Dennis Potter

Cover of The Life and Work of Dennis Potter
Born 17 May 1935
Berry Hill, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, England
Died 7 June 1994 (aged 59)
Ross-on-Wye, England
Occupation television playwright, director
novelist
Nationality British
Writing period 1965 - 1994
Genres Drama

Dennis Christopher George Potter (17 May 1935–7 June 1994) was an English dramatist, best known for The Singing Detective. His widely acclaimed television dramas mixed fantasy and reality, the personal and the social. He was particularly fond of using themes and images from popular culture.

Contents

Biography

Dennis Potter was born in Berry Hill, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. His father, Walter Edward Potter (1906–1975), was a coal miner in this rural mining area between Gloucester and Wales; his mother was Margaret Constance, née Wale (b. 1910).

Brought up a Protestant he attended the local Salem chapel, and went to Christchurch junior school where, in 1946, he passed the eleven-plus entrance examination to Bell's Grammar School at Coleford. He then went to St. Clement Danes School in London, while the family lived for a time with his maternal grandfather in Hammersmith. During this time, the ten year old Potter was sexually abused by his uncle; it was an experience he would later allude to many times in his writing.[1] Between 1953 and 1955, he did his National Service and learnt Russian at the Joint Services School for Linguists, serving with the Intelligence Corps and subsequently at the War Office.

After national service, in 1956, he won a scholarship and went to New College, Oxford to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics, editing Isis magazine. He graduated in 1958, after obtaining a second-class degree. A tall, lean young man with red hair, he was described by his economics tutor as a "cross between Jimmy Porter and Keir Hardie".[2] On 10 January 1959 he married Margaret Amy Morgan (1933–1994) at Christchurch parish church. The Potters had a son, Robert and two daughters, Jane and Sarah, who was to achieve fame in the 1980s as an international cricketer.

After Oxford, Potter joined the BBC, initially as a trainee in radio and then television journalism, during which time he worked on Panorama about the closure of coalpits in the Forest of Dean. He did not take to television journalism and left, joining the left-wing newspaper Daily Herald from August 1961 he became a television critic for that paper and for its successor, The Sun in its pre-Murdoch incarnation. However, he soon returned to television, writing sketches for That Was The Week That Was with David Nathan. He also attempted to become a Labour Member of Parliament (see below). Potter then embarked on his career as a television playwright, largely after watching the 1963 Granada version of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, based on Erwin Piscator's celebrated stage production. Potter had called it "surely the most exciting evening that TV has ever given us".[3]

Works

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Television

Potter's career as a television playwright began with The Confidence Course, an exposé of the Dale Carnegie Institute that drew threats of litigation. Although Potter effectively disowned the play, it is notable for its use of non-naturalistic dramatic devices (in this case breaking the fourth wall) which would become hallmarks of Potter's subsequent work. Broadcast as part of the BBC's The Wednesday Play strand in 1965, The Confidence Course proved successful and Potter was invited for further contributions. His next play, Alice (1965), was a controversial drama chronicling the relationship between Lewis Carroll and his muse Alice Liddell. Potter's most celebrated works from this period are the semi-autobiographical plays Stand Up, Nigel Barton! and Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton; the former the tale of a miner's son going to Oxford University where he finds himself torn between two worlds, the latter featuring the same character standing as a Labour candidate — his disillusionment with the compromises of electoral politics is based on Potter's own experience. Both plays received praise from critics' circles but aroused considerable tension at the BBC for their potentially incendiary critique of party politics.[4]

Potter's Son of Man (The Wednesday Play, 1969), starring the Irish actor Colin Blakely, gave an alternative view of the last days of Jesus, and led to Potter being accused of blasphemy. The same year, Potter contributed Moonlight on the Highway to ITV's Saturday Night Theatre strand. The play centered around a young man who attempts to blot out memories of the sexual abuse he suffered as child in his obsession with the music of Al Bowlly. As well as being an intensely personal play for Potter, it is notable for being his first foray in the use of popular music to heighten the dramatic tension in his work.

Casanova, Potter's first television serial, was broadcast on BBC2 in 1971. Inspired by William R. Trask's 1966 translation of Casanova's memoirs (Histoire de ma vie), Potter recast the Venetian libertine as a man haunted by his dependency on women.[5] The serial was told using a non-lineal narrative structure and, as the critic Graham Fuller noted in Potter on Potter, "as chamber-piece and identity quest, Casanova strongly anticipates [later works such as] The Singing Detective." It did, however, prove controversial for its frank depiction of nudity and was criticized for its sexual content. Controversy also dogged another play, Brimstone and Treacle (Play for Today, 1976), the original version was unscreened by the BBC for over a decade owing to the depiction of the rape of a disabled woman by a man who may be the devil. It was eventually broadcast on BBC2 in 1987, although a 1982 film version had been made, with Sting in the leading role (see below) and a stage version performed in Sheffield at the Crucible Theatre.

Potter continued to make news as well as winning critical acclaim for drama serials with Pennies From Heaven (1978), which featured Bob Hoskins as a sheet music salesman and was Hoskin's first performance to receive wide attention. It demonstrated the dramatic possibilities old recordings of popular songs. Blue Remembered Hills was first shown on the BBC on 30 January 1979; it returned to the British small screen at Christmas 2004, and again in the summer of 2005, showcased as part of the winning decade (1970s) having been voted by BBC Four viewers as the golden era of British television. The adult actors playing the roles of children were Helen Mirren, Janine Duvitski, Michael Elphick, Colin Jeavons, Colin Welland, John Bird, and Robin Ellis. It was directed by Brian Gibson. The moralistic theme was "the child is father of the man". Potter had used the dramatic device of adult actors playing children before, for example in Stand Up, Nigel Barton.

In 1980 he received a lucrative deal with LWT to write a series of six single plays for ITV, with a further three written by Jim Allen. Problems with funding led to only three of these plays being produced: the BAFTA-winning Blade on the Feather, Rain on the Roof and Cream in My Coffee, which won Grand Prize at the Prix Italia.

He also wrote the scripts for the widely praised but seldom seen miniseries of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night (1985) with Mary Steenburgen as Nicole Diver.

The Singing Detective (1986), featuring Michael Gambon, used the dramatist's own battle with the skin disease psoriasis, for him an often debilitating condition, as a means to merge the lead character's imagination with his perception of reality.

Potter's TV serial, Blackeyes (1989, also a novel- see below), a drama about a fashion model was reviewed as self-indulgent by some critics, and accused of contributing to the misogyny Potter claimed he intended to expose.[6] The critical backlash against Potter following Blackeyes led to him being nicknamed 'Dirty Den' by the Briish tabloid press, and resulted in a long period of reclusion from television. In 1990 Mary Whitehouse, a long time critic of Potter, claimed on BBC Radio that Potter had been influenced by witnessing his mother engaged in adulterous sex. Potter's mother won substantial damages from the BBC and The Listener, who were reportedly unimpressed by Whitehouse's claim to have had a blackout on air and subsequently to have had no recollection of her words.[7] In 1992 he directed a film, Secret Friends (from his novel, Ticket to Ride), starring Alan Bates. The executive producers were Robert Michael Geisler and John Roberdeau, who later produced Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line. Secret Friends premiered in New York at the Museum of Modern Art as the gala closing of the Museum of Television & Radio’s week-long Potter retrospective. Potter proposed to write an "intermedia" stage play for Geisler-Roberdeau based on William Hazlitt’s Liber Amoris, or The New Pygmalion, but he died before it could be commenced. Potter's romantic comedy Lipstick on Your Collar (1993) was a return to more conventional themes and the familiar format of six hour-long episodes, but did not become the desired popular success, although it helped launch the career of Ewan McGregor.[6]

Film

In 1978, Herbert Ross was shooting Nijinsky at Shepperton Studios and invited Potter to write the screenplay for his next project Unexpected Valleys. After watching Pennies from Heaven on television one evening, Ross contacted Potter about the prospect of adapting it for the cinema.[8] The project was launched at MGM as an 'anti-musical' with Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters in the lead roles. According to Potter, the studio demanded continual rewrites of the script and made significant cuts to the film after initial test screenings. The film was released in 1981 to mixed critical reaction and was a box office disaster. Potter was, however, nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar that year alongside Harold Pinter for The French Lieutenant's Woman.

Having already adapted Brimstone and Treacle for the stage after the television production was banned by the BBC, Potter set about writing a film version. Directed by Richard Loncraine, who also directed Potter's Blade on the Feather at LWT, the film featured a soundtrack by The Police while Sting played the role of the devil; Denholm Elliot resumed his role from the original television production playing Mr Bates while Joan Plowright took the Patricia Lawrence role as Mrs Bates. Although a British film made by Potter's own production company (Pennies Productions), the casting of Sting piqued the interest of American investors. As a result, references to Mr Bates' membership of the National Front and a scene discussing racial segregation were omitted —as were many of the non-naturalistic flourishes that dominated the television production— although, ironically, the film was much more graphic in its depiction of sexual abuse and rape. The film was not a box office success, although Sting's cover of "Spread a Little Happiness" reached number sixteen in the UK Singles Chart.

Potter's screenplay for Gorky Park (1983) earned him an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, although it emerged a shadow of Martin Cruz Smith's original novel. He also wrote the screenplay for Dreamchild (1985), a cinematic adaptation of his earlier Alice script. In her last film role, Coral Browne portrayed the elderly Alice Hargreaves who recalls in flashbacks her childhood when she was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. In 1987 he adapted his television play Schmoedipus (1975) for the cinema. The ensuing film, Track 29, directed by Nicolas Roeg, was the last project Potter would pursue in Hollywood. Potter did, however, provide uncredited script work on James and the Giant Peach (released 1995) — his chief contribution providing dialogue for the sardonic caterpillar. Potter makes a sly reference to this in Karaoke when the character Daniel Feeld (Albert Finney is invited to provide dialogue for an "arthritic goat" in a children's film. The film has never been repeated on American television, though it is known that one copy is extant in the New York Film Museum, with the lead role played by Tim Curry.

Potter's reputation within the American film industry following the box office disappointments of Pennies from Heaven and Gorky Park ultimately led to a difficulty receiving backing for his projects. Potter is known to have written adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The White Hotel and his own 1976 television play Double Dare: all reaching the preproduction stage before work was suspended. More lucky was Mesmer (1993), Potter's take on the life of 19th century pseudo-scientist Franz Anton Mesmer, although the completed film has yet to receive a European release.

The last film Potter actively worked on was Midnight Movie (1994), an adaptation of Rosalind Ashe's novel Moths. The film starred Louise Germaine and Brian Dennehy (who had appeared in Lipstick on Your Collar and Gorky Park, respectively) and was directed by Renny Rye. Unable to secure financing from the Arts Council, Potter invested half a million pounds into the production; BBC Films provided the rest of the capital. The film was not given a cinema release due to a lack of interest from distributors and remained unseen until Potter's death. It was finally broadcast on BBC2 in November 1994 as part of their "Screen Two" season alongside a remake of his 1967 play Message for Posterity.

A film version of The Singing Detective, based on Potter's own adapted screenplay, was released in 2003 by Icon Productions. Robert Downey Jr. played the lead alongside Robin Wright-Penn and Mel Gibson. Gibson also acted as producer.

Literary journalism and novels

Potter published his first non-fiction work, The Glittering Coffin, in 1960 through the Gollancz Press. The book was a rumination on the changing face of England in the prosperity following the end of the war years. It was followed in 1962 by The Changing Forest: Life in the Forest of Dean Today. Based on the "Between Two Rivers" documentary Potter had made for the BBC's Panorama strand in 1960, the book is a study of class and social mobility that demonstrates an early fascination with the effects of the mass media on British cultural life. Apart from his newspaper columns for the Daily Herald and the pre-Murdoch Sun, Potter abandoned political writing in the late 1960s in favour of pursuing fictional subjects.

Hide and Seek (1973) was a meta-fictional novel exploring the relationship between reader and author and contains a central protagonist, 'Daniel Miller', who is convinced he is the plaything of an omniscient author. This concept forms the core of Potter's next two novels, and portions of Hide and Seek would reappear in several of his television plays (most notably Follow the Yellow Brick Road and The Singing Detective, respectively).

Ticket to Ride (1986) was written between drafts of The Singing Detective and concerns a herbithologist who is unable to make love to his wife unless he imagines her as a prostitute. This was followed in 1987 by Blackeyes: a study of a model whose abusive uncle, a writer, has stolen details of his niece's experiences in the glamour industry as the basis for his latest potboiler.

To tie-in with the release of the MGM production of Pennies from Heaven in 1981, Potter wrote a novelisation of the screenplay. Potter turned down the option of writing a novelisation for the film version of Brimstone and Treacle, allowing his daughter Sarah to write it instead.

Stage plays

Although Potter only produced one play exclusively for theatrical performance (Sufficient Carbohydrate, 1983 - later filmed for television as Visitors in 1987), he adapted several of his television works for the stage. Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton, which featured material from its sister-play Stand Up, Nigel Barton, was premiered in 1966, while Only Make Believe, which incorporated scenes from Angels Are So Few, made the transition to the stage in 1974. Son of Man appeared in 1969 with Frank Finlay in the title role (Finlay would also play Casanova in Potter's 1971 serial) and was recently restaged by the Northern Broadsides for a major UK tour. Brimstone and Treacle was adapted for the stage in 1977 after the BBC refused to screen the original television version. The play text for Blue Remembered Hills was first published in the collection Waiting for the Boat (with Joe's Ark and Blade on the Feather) in 1984 and has since enjoyed several successful stage performances.

Final works

His final two serials were Karaoke and Cold Lazarus (two related stories, both starring Albert Finney as the same principal character, one set in the present and the other in the far future). They were aired posthumously in the United Kingdom as part of a rare collaboration between the BBC and rival Channel 4 in accordance with Potter's wishes.[6]

Unfortunately, a side effect of his last wishes for the BBC and Channel 4 to collaborate on these works has been that the copyright and further usage rights to the works has remained unclear. For this reason neither Karaoke nor Cold Lazarus is available on DVD. However, both are presently being shown as part of the Channel 4 on demand options, available through the Channel 4 website and Virgin Media's 'TV Choice On Demand' interactive service.

Style and themes

Potter's work is distinctive for its use of non-naturalistic devices. The 'lip-sync' technique he developed for his "serials with songs" (Pennies from Heaven; The Singing Detective and Lipstick on Your Collar), extensive use of flashback and nonlinear plot structure (Casanova; Late Call), direct to camera address (Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton) and works where "the child is father to the man", in which he used adult actors to play children, (Stand Up, Nigel Barton; Blue Remembered Hills) have all become Potter trademarks. They are frequently deployed in works where the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred, often as a result of the influence of popular culture (Willie, the Wild West obsessive played by Hywel Bennett in Where the Buffalo Roam) or from a character's apparent awareness of their status as a pawn in the hands of an omniscient author (the actor Jack Black (Denholm Elliot) in Follow the Yellow Brick Road).

Following in this spirit of non-naturalism, Potter's characters are frequently "doubled up"; either by using the same actor to play two different roles (Kika Markham as the actress and escort in Double Dare; Norman Rossington as Lorenzo the gaoler and the English traveller in Casanova) or two different actors whose characters' destinies and personalities appear interlinked (Bob Hoskins and Kenneth Colley as Arthur and the accordion man in Pennies from Heaven; Rufus (Christian Rodska) and Gina the bear in A Beast With Two Backs).

One major motiff in Potter's writing is the concept of betrayal, and this takes many forms in his plays. Sometimes it is personal (Stand Up, Nigel Barton), political (Traitor; Cold Lazarus) and other times it is sexual (A Beast With Two Backs; Brimstone and Treacle). In Potter on Potter, published as part of Faber and Faber's series on auteurs, Potter told editor Graham Fuller that all forms of betrayal presented in literature are essentially religious and based on "the old, old story"; this is evoked in a number of works, from the use of popular songs in Pennies from Heaven to Potter's gnostic retelling of Jesus' final days in Son of Man.

The "Pinteresque" device of a disruptive outsider entering a claustrophobic environment is another recurring theme. In plays where this occurs, the outsider will commit some liberating act of sex (Rain on the Roof) or violence (Shaggy Dog) that gives physical expression to the unsublimated desires of the characters in that setting. While these more malevolent visitors are often supernatural beings (Angels Are So Few), intelligence agents (Blade on the Feather) or even figments of their host's imagination (Schmoedipus), there are also —rare— instances of benign visitors whose presence resolves personal conflicts rather than exploits them (Joe's Ark; Where Adam Stood).

Politics

Parliamentary aspirations

Potter stood as the Labour Party candidate for Hertfordshire East, a safe Conservative Party seat, in the 1964 general election against the incumbent Derek Walker-Smith. By the end of the campaign, he claimed that he was so disillusioned with party politics he did not even vote for himself. His candidacy was unsuccessful.

Media and Rupert Murdoch

In 1993 Potter was given a half hour in prime time by Channel 4 in their Opinions strand produced by Open Media. Broadcast just before the third episode of Lipstick on Your Collar, itself a rumination on the effects of the mass media, in this case through popular music, Potter's chosen topic was what he perceived to be a contamination of news media and its effect on declining standards in British television. Craig Brown described the programme in The Sunday Times (owned by Rupert Murdoch):

"Potter announced at the beginning: I'm going to get down there in the gutter where so many journalists crawl... what I'm about to do is to make a provenly vindictive and extremely powerful enemy... the enemy in question is that drivel-merchant, global huckster and so-to-speak media psychopath, Rupert Murdoch... Hannibal the Cannibal....
As a performance, it had a lot going for it. I have never seen a talking head on television so immediate or so unabated in its anger. In many ways, it felt like being collared by a madman on the Tube. Filmed disturbingly close to camera, seemingly ad-libbing the entire half-hour, now mumbling, now rasping, Potter somehow managed to cut through the vacuum that on television usually separates viewer from viewee. This made the performance extraordinary."[9]

Last interview

On 14 February 1994, Potter learned that he had terminal cancer of the pancreas and liver.[6] It was thought that this was a side effect of the medication he was taking to control his psoriasis. With typical sardonic humour, he named his cancer "Rupert", after Rupert Murdoch, who represented so much of what he found despicable about British mass media.[10] On 15 March 1994, three months before his death, Potter gave a strikingly memorable interview to Channel 4 (he had broken most of his ties with the BBC as a result of his disenchantment with Directors-General Michael Checkland and especially John Birt, whom he had famously referred to as a "croak-voiced Dalek")[11], in which he described his work and his determination to continue writing until the end. As he sipped on a morphine cocktail, he told a visibly moved Melvyn Bragg that he had two works he intended to finish (Cold Lazarus and Karaoke) before his impending death: "My only regret is if I die four pages too soon". The interview was shown on 5 April 1994.

Personal life

Psoriatic arthropathy

In 1962 Potter began to suffer from an acute form of psoriasis known as psoriatic arthropathy, a rare hereditary condition that affected his skin and caused arthritis in his joints. For the rest of his life, Potter was frequently in hospitals, sometimes completely unable to move and in great pain. The disease eventually ruined his hands, reducing them to what he called "clubs." He could only write by strapping a pen to his hand. Potter kept working between bouts of pain, nausea, and diarrhea, clutching a pen in his clawed fist and writing in surprisingly neat longhand. "I can't use a typewriter," he said, "because my trailing fingers would hit more than one key at once."[12] The script of "Son of Man," mostly written in hospital, was delivered with drops of blood and cortisone grease splashed upon it.

Widowerhood and death

Some months before Potter was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer his wife, Margaret Morgan Potter, was informed that she had breast cancer. Despite his own deteriorating condition and punishing work schedule, Potter continued to care for her until she died on 29 May 1994. He died nine days later, in Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, England, aged 59.

Criticism

Potter was sometimes attacked by other television writers, most notably Alan Bennett and Matthew Graham, for a perceived lack of humility and self-criticism; Graham described him as having "come undone" after The Singing Detective and beginning to believe "every line that dripped from his pen was a work of genius". Bennett referred in his 1998 diaries to a television programme "that took Potter at his own self-evaluation (always high), when there was a good deal of indifferent stuff which was skated over". Private Eye once lampooned him as Dennis Plodder, due to the slow pace of some of his work, and also branding him as "the whinging playwright".

Legacy

Although Potter won few awards, he is held in high regard by many within the television and film industry, and he was an influence on such creators as Steven Bochco[13], Alan Ball, Andrew Davies[14], Charlie Kaufman, Peter Bowker[15], Margaret Edson and Alain Resnais [16]. His work has been the subject of many critical essays, books, websites and documentaries. Alex Proyas's Sci-Fi Noir masterpiece, Dark City, has a dedication to Potter in its credits. BBC Four marked the tenth anniversary of Potter's death in December 2004 with a major series of documentaries about his life and work, accompanied by showings of Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective, as well as several of his single plays — many of which had not been shown since their maiden broadcast.[17] His influence has also extended into popular music: Welsh band Manic Street Preachers used quotes from Potter on the inner sleeves to their single "Kevin Carter" and greatest hits collection, while Scottish "art rock" band Franz Ferdinand modelled the promotional video for their song "The Dark of the Matinée" after Blue Remembered Hills and The Singing Detective. Guy Garvey, lead singer with Elbow, has said he named his band after the exchange in The Singing Detective where the central character claims that word to be the most beautiful in the English language.

Sources

Footnotes
  1. ^ During his speech at the 1993 James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture, Potter made a very public reference to this particular event when explaining his decision to switch from newspaper journalism to screenwriting: "Different words had to be found, with different functors. But why? Why, why, why; the same desperately repeated question I asked myself without any sort of an answer, or any ability to tell my mother or my father, when at the age of ten, between V.E. Day and V.J. Day, I was trapped by an adult's sexual appetite and abused out of innocence."
  2. ^ Carpenter, Dennis Potter, p 96
  3. ^ (Daily Herald, 27 March 1963)
  4. ^ In his James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture, Potter recalled how he was asked by "several respected men at the corporation why I wanted to shit on the Queen" (Occupying Powers, 1993)
  5. ^ In Potter on Potter, the writer told Graham Fuller that he assumed Casanova's drive to seduce so many women was symptomatic of tristitia post coitum (literally, "the sadness after sex").
  6. ^ a b c d Cook, John. "Potter, Dennis (1935-1994)". BFI Screenonline. http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/451441/.  
  7. ^ Lawson, Mark (2003-10-31). "Watching the detective". The Guardian. http://film.guardian.co.uk/features/featurepages/0,,1074044,00.html.  
  8. ^ On the DVD commentary for the original television serial, director Piers Haggard claims he approached Potter during filming of the series with the suggestion of producing a cinematic version starring the original cast. Potter allegedly responded by telling Haggard "there's no point - we've already done it now!".
  9. ^ Abuse of Privilege, The Sunday Times, 28 March 1993
  10. ^ BFI. "Interview with Dennis Potter, An (1994) Synopsis". http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/1055970/synopsis.html.  
  11. ^ Potter, Dennis (28 August 1993). "Occupying Powers" (reprint). The Guardian. http://www.bilderberg.org/milne.htm#Potter. Retrieved 12 April 2009.  
  12. ^ (Carpenter, 224)
  13. ^ Bochco's musical drama Cop Rock (1990) was inspired by The Singing Detective.
  14. ^ In 1990, The Observer newspaper asked several British television screenwriters to nominate the most influential person in the field. Potter was voted the most influential. Davies, who chose Potter, stated that "there can be no writer working in television today, or in any medium, who can claim even half the influence of Dennis Potter."
  15. ^ Bowker's BBC drama serial Blackpool (2004) was an attempt to revive British musical drama in the shadow of Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective..
  16. ^ His song movie On connaît la chanson (1997) is dedicated to him.
  17. ^ These included the Nigel Barton plays, A Beast with Two Backs, Follow the Yellow Brick Road, Son of Man, Double Dare, Where Adam Stood, Joe's Ark, Brimstone and Treacle and Blue Remembered Hills.

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Dennis Christopher George Potter (May 17, 1935June 7, 1994) was a controversial English dramatist who is best known for several widely acclaimed television dramas which mixed fantasy and reality, the personal and the social. Potter's plays were noted for their use of non-linear narratology and incorporating elements of popular culture (characters would sing popular songs); he also used adult actors to play child characters.

Contents

Sourced

  • By the time I stood for Parliament I was already carrying a walking stick, and the combination of my illness and my sense of withdrawal from a belief in a kind of Britain I would have preferred to see meant that I was no longer satisfied with such a (political) role: it wasn't creative enough, it didn't satisfy me. I simply didn't fit the bill in the end. Although I was a Labour candidate I didn't even vote in that election. I was probably the only candidate who didn't vote for his party.
    • G. Fuller (ed.), Potter on Potter (Faber and Faber, 1993), p. 14
    • On his candidature in East Hertfordshire in the 1964 general election, which formed the basis of his play "Vote, vote, vote for Nigel Barton"
  • You cannot make a pair of croak-voiced Daleks appear benevolent, even if you dress one of them in an Armani suit and call the other Marmaduke.
    • "Occupying Powers," The Guardian (28 August 1993); the quote is from the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival (27 August 1993) and refers to John Birt and Marmaduke Hussey, who were then Director-General and Chairman of the BBC.
  • As a writer you will know that one of the favourite fantasy plots is where a character's told you've got three months to live, and who would you kill? I call my cancer Rupert. Because that man Murdoch is the one who, if I had the time (I've got too much writing to do)... I would shoot the bugger if I could. There is no one person more responsible for the pollution of what was already a fairly polluted press. And the pollution of the press is an important part of the pollution of British political life, and it's an important part of the cynicism and misperception of our own realities that is destroying so much of our political discourse.
    • "The Long Goodbye," The Guardian (6 April 1994); the quote is from Potter's final television interview with Melvyn Bragg (5 April 1994)
  • My only regret is to die four pages too soon.
    • Final television interview with Melvyn Bragg (5 April 1994)
  • The blossom is out in full now, it’s plum tree, it looks like apple blossom but it’s white. It’s the whitest, frothiest blossomest blossom that ever could be, and I can see it. Things are both more trivial than they ever were and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn’t seem to matter. But the now-ness of everything is absolutely wondrous.
    • Final television interview with Melvyn Bragg (5 April 1994)

Stand up, Nigel Barton (1965)

  • Nigel Barton: Eh dad, why do you always walk in the middle of the road?
    Harry Barton: I don't know.
    Nigel Barton: What do you think the pavement's for?
    Harry Barton: Dogs to poop in, by the looks of things!
  • Harry Barton: Clever sod, aren't you? I expect they think the sun shines out of you down at Oxford.
    Nigel Barton. Up.
    Harry Barton: What?
    Nigel Barton. Up, dad. Up.
    Harry Barton: Aye, and up you, too!
    Nigel Barton: Everyone says 'Up at Oxford'. You come 'down' when you've finished there.
    Harry Barton: Well, what's this then? Does bloody Oxford move up and down the bloody map then?
  • Georgie Pringle: The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying, Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother: And they committed whoredoms in Egypt; they committed whoredoms in their youth: there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity.
    • Pringle, "the class comic", has been asked to choose the bible reading for a secondary school class. He has a reputation for knowing "all the dirty bits in the bible off by heart," according to Nigel Barton's narration. The quote is from Ezekiel, chapter 23, verses 1-3.
  • Miss Tillings: Stand up, Nigel Barton! Well, Nigel, do you know anything about this? I can't believe it was you!
    Nigel Barton: No, Miss!
    Miss Tillings: Then what do you know about it?
    Nigel Barton: I think - I think I might have had the daffodil, Miss—
    Miss Tillings: You might have had it? What do you mean, boy? Speak up!
    Nigel Barton: The stem was all broke and somebody gave it to me, Miss.
    Miss Tillings: Who gave it to you?
    Nigel Barton: Ooh, I don't like to say, Miss.
    Miss Tillings: You better had, Barton, and quick about it.
    Nigel Barton: Georgie Pringle, Miss.
    • Barton incriminates Pringle, who has bullied him, in the crime of destroying the class's daffodil; the daffodil was actually destroyed by Barton himself.
  • Nigel Barton (On TV): I feel I don't belong here, that's my trouble.
    Interviewer (on TV): Well, where do you belong? At home?
    Harry Barton: Of course!
    Nigel Barton (on TV): No, I'm afraid I don't. Now it hurts to say this, of course, but it's the truth. Back at home, in the village, in the workingmen's club, with people I went to school with, I'm so much on the defensive, you see. They suspect me of making qualitative judgments about their environment, you understand, but it's not that I wish to do so. Yet I even find my own father looking at me oddly some times, waiting to pounce on some remark, some expression in my face, watching me like a hawk. I don't feel at home in either place. I don't belong. It's a tightrope between two different worlds, and I'm walking it.
    Harry Barton: You're a bloody liar, Nigel!

Vote, vote, vote for Nigel Barton (1965)

  • Jack: You'll have to compromise, smile, concern yourself with your public image, measure your words as carefully as possible... and turn yourself into a dutiful party hack! [chuckles] Never mind, Nigel, never mind.
    • Jack Hay was based on Ron Brewer, who had been Potter's agent when he was Labour candidate for East Hertfordshire in the 1964 general election.
  • Jack: A potential Cabinet Minister if ever I saw one. Dishonest in a way which seems embarrassingly frank. Upright when creeping. And dignified when at his most stupid.
  • Nigel: Why the cheap jokes?
    Jack: Cheap? When I was a kid, we were made to stay away from school on Empire Days so we wouldn't have to wave one of those little Union Jacks. We were the richest country in the world then, or so I'm told, and my old man bow-legged from malnutrition. Us kids nearly died laughing.
    Nigel: And?
    Jack: Well, I've been laughing ever since, haven't I? Put a few smiles between yourself and the world, Nigel. You don't bruise so easy that way.
  • Jack: I once had a candidate who went around expressing his concern about myxomatosis. I had to tell him that it would be time to worry about myxomatosis when rabbits got votes.

The Singing Detective (1986)

  • Philip Marlow: Minute by minute we make the world. We make our own world.
  • Philip Marlow: You're the girl in all those songs. De-dum.
    Nurse Mills: What songs?
    Philip Marlow: The songs, the songs, the bloody, bloody songs.
    Nurse Mills: I wish I knew what you were talking about.
    Philip Marlow: The songs you hear coming up the stair.
    Nurse Mills: Sorry?
    Philip Marlow: When you're a child, when you're supposed to be asleep. Those songs.

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