Dennis Potter
March 27, 2008 7:18 PM   Subscribe

WithoutWalls "This video, filmed in April 1994, records the final public words of the genius behind such films as Brimstone and Treacle, Pennies from Heaven, and Dreamchild. It's the last record of a man facing--with dignity, intelligence, and surprisingly good humor--death from cancer. Recorded as a television special by Britain's Channel Four, the documentary can be unsettling. Potter's inflamed hands can barely hold his ever-present cigarette (which he refers to as a "little tube of delight"), and he alternately sips champagne and swigs liquid morphine from an antique hip flask. But for those who have enjoyed Potter's wildly creative work--or those simply interested in the creative process itself--it's a fascinatingly funny glimpse into the mind of a master." (amazon)
posted by vronsky (17 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
and clips from my favorite Potter -- Lipstick on Your Collar

posted by vronsky at 7:28 PM on March 27, 2008

WW 5
WW 6
WW 7
WW 8
posted by vronsky at 7:49 PM on March 27, 2008

My favourite was The Singing Detective (the original series, not the Hollywood remake).

Interesting, that bit about hands so swollen that he couldn't hold a cigarette, because that's exactly what happened to the character in that series, bedridden with a horrific skin disease.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:00 PM on March 27, 2008

Thanks vronsky

I loved Signing Detective (well the BBC series) and Pennies From Heaven (Not The BBC series).

Will watch tonight.
posted by mattoxic at 8:05 PM on March 27, 2008

Singing 'tec, not signing...

Potter himself was a sufferer from psoriasis, which afflicts the singing detective in the series.

I've often wanted to write a Western Swing version of The Singing Detective but unfortunately it's not really likely to happen in contemporary hollywood.
posted by unSane at 8:25 PM on March 27, 2008

I had no idea that "Pennies From Heaven" was a UK miniseries before it was remade by Steve Martin. That factoid alone is well worth this FPP. Now, I gotta find the Bob Hosken's version ...
posted by RavinDave at 8:40 PM on March 27, 2008

Better clip from LOYC - slightly nsfw. Probably rather easy to tell why this was my favorite.
posted by vronsky at 10:48 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

from wiki -


During the early 1960s, 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 had to learn to write by strapping a pen to his hand.
On Valentine's Day 1994, Potter learned that he had terminal cancer of the pancreas and liver.[1] It was thought that this was a side effect of the medication he was taking to control his psoriasis, also considerably aggravated by his chain-smoking habit. 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.[3]
He continued to care for his wife, Margaret Morgan Potter, who was suffering from the breast cancer that claimed her life on 29 May 1994. He died a week later at age 59.
[edit]Last interview

On the 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" ), 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.
posted by vronsky at 11:08 PM on March 27, 2008

The man really knew his way around a dichotomy, didn't he? His descriptions of how he didn't know whether he was a left or right winger when he woke up in the morning was so honest and funny and familiar to me. The way he characterized both his repulsion and longing for the past was poignant, and so too the little human moments where he was forced to pause out of pain. Is it too sentimental to say that I was terribly moved by how small he looked in a suit that had undoubtedly fit him perfectly not too long before?

Thank you for this, vronsky. I love Potter, and hope very much to see Karaoke and Cold Lazarus one day -- it is just an inexplicable pity that they are so hard to get hold of.
posted by melissa may at 11:56 PM on March 27, 2008

Ahh, I remember seeing this on the telly just before (or after) he died. Fascinating and moving. "Rupert", ahahaha.
posted by andraste at 1:10 AM on March 28, 2008

I've also contemplated doing a Potter post here in the past, so thanks for this, Vronsky. My own favourites tend to be the smaller, older pieces that were produced for Play for Today -- Blue Remembered Hills, Cream in my Coffee, Blade on the Feather, the Nigel Barton stuff, etc. -- but that;s not to take anything away from the fantastic longer-form work like Singing Detective, Lipstick, etc.

To be honest, melissa may, I don't think you're missing much by not having seen Karaoke and Cold Lazarus. Along with Blackeyes, I felt they both pretty much sucked.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:45 AM on March 28, 2008

Oh, and if you've never seen it, Brimstone and Treacle is available in full on YouTube. Not suitable for work, people of a nervous disposition, or anyone likely to be freaked out by depictions of the devil shagging the disabled.

With those caveats, it's highly recommended.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:54 AM on March 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Every six months or so I check to see if _Dreamchild_ has been released on DVD. So far I have been disappointed every time.
posted by steveburnett at 7:52 AM on March 28, 2008

My favourite was The Singing Detective

Mine too—one of the best things ever done for television. I remember seeing this great interview when it was first broadcast; thanks very much for the links to that and everything else.
posted by languagehat at 10:48 AM on March 28, 2008

Thanks for that Pete McD! I had only seen the Sting version, and I was a bit too young for it - and it freaked me the fuck out. Sting as the devil? Torture enough to hear him sing.
posted by vronsky at 12:47 PM on March 28, 2008

"When I grow up, I wanna be...a *detective*!"

I read that The Singing Detective was a co-production of the BBC and its Aussie equivalent, the ABC. Even though we'd forked out half the cash to produce it, for a while the ABC considered it "too sophisticated" for Australian television.

And not without reason: it's a poignant & complex interweaving of the protagonist's disastrous childhood & present-day medical & marital woes, as projected into & played out through his detective fiction, with song & dance numbers thrown in for good measure.

At the time, I doubt there had been many - if any - TV series structured in such a cutup, non-chronological & often symbolic manner, and I think this was perhaps the first time that random musical numbers appeared in a show since the old Broadway-style musical movies.

Also, the nurse was way cute.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:24 PM on March 28, 2008

Nurse Mills was played by Joanne Whalley (lots of pix) who went on to marry Val Kilmer. She was my first TV crush.
posted by unSane at 5:43 AM on April 1, 2008

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