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Format Drama
Created by Dennis Potter
Starring Albert Finney
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of episodes 4
Original channel BBC One
Channel 4
Original airing 1996

Karaoke is a British television drama written by Dennis Potter with the knowledge that he was dying from cancer of the pancreas.

It forms a pair with the serial Cold Lazarus. The two plays were filmed as a single production by the same team; both were directed by Renny Rye.

Both plays were unique in being co-productions between the BBC and rival broadcaster Channel 4, something Potter had expressly requested before his death. The show was first aired on BBC1 in April 1996 on Sunday evenings, with a repeat on Channel 4 the following day.

The series stars Albert Finney, Richard E. Grant, Hywel Bennett, Roy Hudd and Julie Christie and features Saffron Burrows and Keeley Hawes in two early screen appearances.



The principal character of 'Karaoke' is Daniel Feeld (played by Albert Finney), an English playwright in late middle-age who is working on the television production of his latest play, itself entitled 'Karaoke'. The play concerns the relationship between a young woman, Sandra Sollars (Saffron Burrows), her boyfriend Peter Beasley (Ralph Brown) and Arthur 'Pig' Mailion (Hywel Bennett), the owner of the sleazy karaoke/hostess bar where Sandra works. One evening, while sitting in a restaurant, Feeld becomes convinced that a couple at a nearby table who resemble the fictional Sandra and Peter are repeating lines of dialogue from the play. Daniel later encounters the young woman and discovers that her name is indeed Sandra, and that she works in a club owned by one Arthur Mailion. He relates the coincidence to a frightened Sandra, who runs away, leaving behind her handbag. Daniel subsequently relates the story to his agent Ben Baglin (Roy Hudd) and agent Anna Griffiths (Anna Chancellor), who assume that Daniel's apparent paranoia is due to his worsening health through heavy drinking and smoking. Daniel discovers a small pistol and a credit card in Sandra's handbag. After using the card to determine her address, he visits her home in order to return the bag, but first removes the pistol. He discovers that Sandra was carrying the pistol because of her intention to avenge a savage attack on her mother (Alison Steadman) carried out by Mailion years earlier. Disturbed by the possibility that the death of the fictional Sandra in his play may come true in real life, Daniel decides to change his play. Meanwhile, having also discovered the existence of the real Mailion, Anna discusses with the play's director, Nick Balmer (Richard E. Grant) the possibility of changing Mailion's name in order to avoid litigation.

Nick has been conducting an affair with Linda Langer (Keeley Hawes), the actress who plays Sandra in the film version of 'Karaoke', but is also the intended victim of a blackmail plot hatched by Linda and Mailion. He dismisses the attempt, is beaten up by Mailion's thugs, and confesses all to his wife, Lady Balmer (Julie Christie), with whom he is reconciled.

Daniel is admitted to hospital and told he has only weeks to live. He changes his will, leaving his body to an experimental cryogenics laboratory, and offering a generous portion of his estate to Sandra and her mother, on the condition that Sandra ceases working at the club and renounces her intention to kill Mailion. Sandra agrees, but Daniel remains uneasy about her intentions. One night, he leaves the hospital, taking the pistol with him, and visits Mailion's club, where he performs a striking version of 'Pennies from Heaven' before shooting Mailion dead and arranging an alibi with the unsuspecting Baglin to cover up the murder.


In the foreword for the published scripts of Karaoke and Cold Lazarus, Potter informs the reader that they may find "a few subtle nods to my working styles." As a result, both dramas incorporate a variety of themes and dramatic devices Potter had explored in previous works.

The 'doubling up' of the real Sandra and her fictional counterpart from Daniel's screenplay harks back to Blackeyes (1989) where the young protagonist seeks to reclaim herself from a seemingly omniscient author. Another noticeable allusion is made to Double Dare (1976), which features much the same plot as Karaoke, except that the characters are locked in time, destined to repeat the same actions and words over and over; although, Unlike Karaoke, there is no possibility of redemption or escape in Double Dare.

Other notable Potter works referenced in Karaoke are Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective. As Daniel makes his way down the stairs to Mailion's karaoke club he passes a display case containing a detective's hat and coat, and a photograph of Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe, who shares the name of the central protagonist in The Singing Detective. When he finds himself hospitalised in episode two, Daniel recalls a time he could make "a whole ward sing" - another sly reference. In episode four, just before shooting Mailion, Daniel lip-syncs 'Pennies from Heaven', used as an ironic overtone to the God-in-the-machine denouement of the plot. When one of the girls at the karaoke club says her standard line for picking up punters ("I was lookin' at you when you come in and I fought...") Daniel picks up on her cockney accent, particularly the substitution of th for an f, he quips back, "Who did you fight?" He then says he's "used that line before" — indeed, Potter had used it in Pennies from Heaven.

Karaoke also sets up some of the major themes of Cold Lazarus, most importantly the suggestion that the events of that serial will be the final screenplay the fictional Daniel is writing. The words 'Reality or Nothing' (the name of the Luddite terrorist organization in Cold Lazarus) appear on the side of a phone box in one scene, while in another Daniel informs his agent that he intends to write about a "frozen head...a deeply frozen brain iced up with frozen memories."


In his introduction to the screenplay (published by Faber & Faber), Potter writes: "I offer up the pieces in my love and my life." The first play includes perhaps the most self-revealing exchange in all of Dennis Potter's work. As Sandra and Feeld are walking on the balcony above the hospital garden, Sandra asks Feeld if he likes 'gardens,' and Feeld replies, "I like the word 'garden'."

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