skip navigation
Dennis Potter

Dennis Potter

| VIEW ALL

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:

TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (0)

Recent DVDs

 
 

Dennis Potter - NOT AVAILABLE

Find what your looking for faster use the search field below to shop for titles.

SEARCH TCM.COM/SHOP


OR ... Click here to VOTE > for this person to be released on Home Video

Also Known As: Died: June 7, 1994
Born: May 17, 1935 Cause of Death: pancreatic and liver cancer
Birth Place: Gloucester, England, GB Profession: screenwriter, playwright, novelist, director, TV critic, journalist

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

One of the leading English playwrights of the latter half of the 20th Century, as well as an intelligent, vigorous and important writer working in TV from the late 1960s until his death, Dennis Potter adapted several of his works for film as well, contributing original screenplays for "Gorky Park" (1983), "Dreamchild" (1985) and "Track 29" (1987). Beginning as a newspaper journalist and TV critic, he wrote and produced documentaries for the BBC in the early 1960s. He showed an early interest in politics with his two "Nigel Barton" plays as well as his unsuccessful attempt to run for political office as a Labour Party candidate. It was also around this time that the handicap which would plague Potter from then on first appeared: psoriatic arthropathy, a skin disorder which caused frequent blistering, burning sensations, swelling of the joints, a permanent clenching of the fists and even bouts of delirium.A vivid writer unafraid to make overt political points in his TV writing, Potter also possessed a keen imagination and a delicious if sometimes controversial flair for the perverse. The BBC, for instance, insisted that he rewrite a teleplay, "Almost Cinderella" (1966), which had Prince Charming...

One of the leading English playwrights of the latter half of the 20th Century, as well as an intelligent, vigorous and important writer working in TV from the late 1960s until his death, Dennis Potter adapted several of his works for film as well, contributing original screenplays for "Gorky Park" (1983), "Dreamchild" (1985) and "Track 29" (1987). Beginning as a newspaper journalist and TV critic, he wrote and produced documentaries for the BBC in the early 1960s. He showed an early interest in politics with his two "Nigel Barton" plays as well as his unsuccessful attempt to run for political office as a Labour Party candidate. It was also around this time that the handicap which would plague Potter from then on first appeared: psoriatic arthropathy, a skin disorder which caused frequent blistering, burning sensations, swelling of the joints, a permanent clenching of the fists and even bouts of delirium.

A vivid writer unafraid to make overt political points in his TV writing, Potter also possessed a keen imagination and a delicious if sometimes controversial flair for the perverse. The BBC, for instance, insisted that he rewrite a teleplay, "Almost Cinderella" (1966), which had Prince Charming strangling Cinderella at the stroke of midnight. Perhaps his most controversial work, though, was "Brimstone and Treacle" (1976), a story of a comatose young woman who revives after being raped by the Devil, which the BBC sat on for 11 years before airing it.

Potter's work, did not, however, achieve its widest attention or acclaim at home (or even recognition in the US) until the appearance of his six-part musical TV drama, "Pennies from Heaven" (1976), in which recordings of popular songs from the 1940s were used as an inventive and ironic means of commenting on the narrative. The English version, which starred Bob Hoskins, was semi-effectively transferred to the American screen by Herbert Ross in 1981 with Steve Martin in the leading role of a sheet music traveling salesman.

Potter was similarly acclaimed for "The Singing Detective", a multi-layered, semi-autobiographical drama in which the hallucinatory hospital experiences of an ailing author (like Potter suffering from a chronic, debilitating skin disease) mirror the adventures of one of his fictional protagonists. The success of the miniseries led to its release in theatrical form in the US in 1989.

Potter made his theatrical directorial debut with the convoluted, cerebral "Secret Friends" (1992), based on his novel "Ticket to Ride", about an illustrator who experiences a mental breakdown while commuting on a train to London. Shortly before his death from cancer at age 59, Potter completed two more TV works, the miniseries "Karaoke" and the TV-movie, "Cold Lazarus", in which he again explores, via vivid metaphors and a sure feel for intelligent, innovative entertainment, the pains, constraints and hypocrisies of society and the roles it requires people to play.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Secret Friends (1991) Director
2.
  Blackeyes (1989) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Emma's War (1985) 1st Policeman
2.
 Interview With Dennis Potter, An (1994) Interviewee
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in the west of England, near Wales
1949:
Family moved to London when Potter was 14 (date approximate)
:
Turned to TV writing in the 1960s
1960:
Wrote first novel, "The Glittering Coffin"
:
Wrote and produced documentaries after he graduated from college as part of the current affairs department of the BBC; one of the first was "Between Two Rivers" (1960), about the area of his upbringing, which he narrated as well as wrote
1961:
Worked for the London newspaper, THE DAILY HERALD; began as a feature writer, later worked as TV critic
1962:
Episodes of psoriatic arthropathy which afflicted him for the rest of his life first appeared at age 26, causing intense burning sensations on the skin, extensive blistering, swelled joints, periods of delirium and leaving his hands permanently clenched (date approximate)
1964:
Ran unsuccessfully as the Labour Party candidate for East Hertfordshire in the general election
1965:
Wrote first BBC teleplays, "The Confidence Courses", "Stand Up Nigel Barton"
1966:
BBC asked him to rewrite the teleplay, "Almost Cinderella", in which Prince Charming kills Cinderella at midnight by strangling her
1968:
First produced play, "Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton"
1976:
Became TV critic for THE SUNDAY TIMES of London
1976:
TV play, "Brimstone and Treacle" filmed, but, due to controversy, did not air until 1987
1976:
Penned the popular TV miniseries "Pennies From Heaven", which interpolated recordings from the 1930s and 1940s into the action, reflecting the thoughts and feelings of the characters
1981:
Wrote first screenplay, "Pennies From Heaven", based on his own 1976 TV play
1983:
First screenplay based on original work written by someone else, "Gorky Park"
1985:
First feature producing credit, as executive producer of "Dreamchild"
1990:
Directing debut, "Blackeyes", a BBC-TV production which was shown at several film festivals (also wrote)
1992:
Theatrical feature film directing debut, "Secret Friends"; also Potter's last feature film work
1994:
Completed last works for TV shortly before his death, the miniseries "Karaoke" and the TV-movie "Cold Lazarus"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

New College, Oxford University: - 1959

Notes

"I'm not interested in naturalistic cinema which is basically what most cinema is--like looking through a window. I think it should be about that little theater on your shoulders. Past and present jostle in you all the time: You are what you have been and what you want to be." --Dennis Potter in New York Post, February 12, 1992.

"I despise autobiography. I used the surface details--places, knowledge of myself--to make it feel as if it's nearly autobiographical, but it isn't." --Dennis Potter in New York Post, February 12, 1992.

The iconoclastic Potter, in typical form, on the subject of religion:

"God's a rumor, if you like. Christianity or indeed any other religion that is a religion because of fear of death or hope that there is something beyond death does not interest me. What kind of cruel old bugger is God if it's terror that is the ruling edifice, the structure of religion? And too often, for too many people, it is. Now that to me isn't religion ... Religion to me has always been the wound, not the bandage. I don't see the point of not acknowledging the pain and the misery and the grief of the world, and if you say, 'Ah, but God understands' or through that you come to a greater appreciation, I then think, 'That's not God, that's not my God, that's now how I see God.' I see God ... if I see God at all, as shreds and particles and rumors, some knowledge that we have, some feeling why we sing and dance, and act, why we paint, why we love, why make art." --From his last interview in The New York Times, June 12, 1994.

Speaking about Potter after his death, with his last completed works for TV, "Karaoke" and "Cold Lazarus", having moved into pre-production, David Bianculli of the Daily News (June 8, 1994) wrote: "Regardless of the eventual quality of those final two works, Potter already deserves acknowledgment as the finest TV writer in history. Not just in England, or even of his generation, but ever. Better, even, than Paddy Chayefsky or Rod Serling."

From his mid-20s Potter had suffered from inherited psoriatic arthropathy, a devastating recurring illness that seems to boil the skin and meld the joints and incite the fevered delirium experienced by "The Singing Detective" during his hallucinatory interludes.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Margaret Morgan. Married in 1959; died of breast cancer nine days before Potter.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Walter Edward Potter. Coal miner.
mother:
Margaret Constance Potter.
daughter:
Jane Potter. Artist. Born c. 1959; survived him.
daughter:
Sarah Potter. Journalist, executive. Born c. 1961; worked for her father as his secretary; head of Whistling Gypsy, a production company; survived him.
son:
Robert Potter. House renovator. Survived him.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"The Changing Forest: Life in the Forest of Dean Today"
"Hide and Seek"
"Pennies from Heaven"
"Blackeyes"
"Ticket to Ride"
"Dennis Potter: The Authorised Life" Faber and Faber
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.

Click here to contribute