Dennis Potter

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Dennis Christopher George Potter (17 May 1935 – 7 June, 1994) was an English television dramatist, screenwriter and journalist. He is best remembered for scripts which mixed autobiographical elements with social history and fantasy. Potter's plays occasionally incorporated elements of popular culture (characters miming to popular songs) and adult actors performing as children.


  • 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 of a writer is, a character's told 'you've got three months to live,' and who would you kill? I call my cancer Rupert, so I can get close to it. 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 British 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)[edit]

  • 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)[edit]

  • Jack: (to camera) My office! (indicates mess) I'm sorry about all this, but we in the Labour Party link drabness with idealism, see. I'm a paid agent of the party, but whenever I need to know anything I have to ring up Conservative Central Office. It's a very plush place, that - carpets plucking at your bleeding ankles. You see, they link drabness with idealism, too.
  • Nigel: I don't regard clever as a dirty word.
    Jack: Rule one, it's never clever to appear to be clever. Long words actually hurt people, you know that? Rule two, speak slowly and clearly as though to a group of malignant kids. Rule three, keep it short. Very short. Half-truths take less time than whole ones, old mate. Oh and I see you've let your locks sprout a bit. Get 'em cut, there's a good chap. Rolling stones gather no votes.
  • 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 was deeply concerned about the moral issues raised by myxomatosis. 'Look mate,' I said, 'Rabbits, as far as I'm aware, haven't yet had the vote.' Mind you, I'm an animal lover, too, you know. I've always advocated that the party that introduced family allowances for dogs would sweep the country. And it'll come, it'll come.

Casanova (1971)[edit]

From an interview conducted by Philip Oakes published as "Potter's Path", The Sunday Times (7 November 1971), p. 38
  • To me [...] the term "costume drama" means something totally pickled. It doesn't interest me in the slightest. What first seized my imagination was the myth of Casanova. Everyone's heard of it. But what does it mean? You hear about the office Casanova, the small-town Casanova, the shop-floor Casanova. He was what we describe as a libertine; but he was concerned with religion and sexual freedom, and these are things we have to address ourselves in now.
    The libertine is the last possible hero. Traditional heroes are too derisory for words; but the libertine as hero persists. Malice and envy lap their gentle bile around him, but he is the last hero. Of course, I read his memoirs, and I simply don't believe them. They're vain and egotistical, but they are about a man who is hunted by what he is hunting—and that is freedom, expressed in sexual terms.
    • "Potter's Path", The Sunday Times (7 November 1971), p. 38

The Singing Detective (1986)[edit]

  • 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.

Blackeyes (1989)[edit]

Jenny Diski "Made for TV", London Review of Books, 17:24 (14 December 1995)
  • Stephen Gilbert and John Cook (along with just about everyone else) would agree that Potter reached his reflexive nadir with Blackeyes, in which the story of the eponymous model based on the central character, Jessica, is related as a novel authored by Jessica's uncle, but rewritten by Jessica, both of whom, in the third episode, turn out to have been authored by a journalist called Jeff, who turns out himself, in the final scene, to have been the invented creature of a writer who is none other than 'Dennis Potter'.
    • The books reviewed in the article are W. Stephen Gilbert Fight & Kick & Bite: The Life and Work of Dennis Potter (Hodder, later reissued by the Overlook Press as The Life and Work...) and John Cook Dennis Potter: A Life on Screen (Manchester University Press)

About Dennis Potter[edit]

  • Potter was in hospital for three months last summer and he has been into hospital seven times in the last 10 years. He doesn't like to talk about his illness, just as he doesn't like to talk about how really well he gets along with the BBC. "I think it is a remarkable organisation," he says, "but I don't think this should be said too often in public." Potter also loves the idea of Mrs [Mary] Whitehouse. He sees her as standing up for all the people with ducks on the walls who have been laughed at and treated like rubbish by the sophisticated metropolitan minority. He likes Mr Ross McWhirter too. "The worst thing you can say in England is 'I'll get the law on you,' and here comes the man and he does it."
  • His characters are stretched out, beyond naturalism. People question the parts he wrote for women, but they were idealised rather than misogynistic. His strength was that he was able to pick out human characteristics and stretch them to make intellectual points.

External links[edit]

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