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DENNIS POTTER

 

Dennis Christopher George Potter who was born at Brick House, Berry Hill, Forest of Dean, on 17 May 1935 was a television dramatist, screenwriter and journalist. Beginning with contributions to BBC television's The Wednesday Play anthology series from 1965, he peaked with The Singing Detective (1986), a BBC TV serial for which he is best remembered. This work and many of his other widely acclaimed television dramas mixed fantasy and reality, the personal and the social and often used themes and images from popular culture.

A sufferer from psoriatic arthropathy for most of his adult life, Potter made regular public pronouncements on issues dear to him.His father, Walter Edward Potter (1906 – November 1975), was a coal miner and his mother was Margaret Constance, née Wale (1910–2001).

In 1946, Potter passed the eleven-plus and attended Bell's Grammar School at Coleford. Between 1953 and 1955, Potter was called for National Service. He learnt Russian at the Joint Services School for Linguists, and then was posted to the War Office in London.

During his three years at Oxford, from where he graduated from New College, with a second class degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, he took an active role in the Oxford Union, the magazine The Isis (was first features editor and then editor), the Oxford University and New College Drama Societies and the Oxford Labour Club.

 Whilst there he wrote The Glittering Coffin (1960), a bitter attack on England and as a BBC trainee, he wrote and hosted Between Two Rivers (1960) (TV), a documentary about the Forest of Dean. It was followed by The Changing Forest: Life in the Forest of Dean Today (1962), which was based on the "Between Two Rivers" documentary. In 1961 he joined the Daily Herald, where he was TV critic (1962-64).

For much of his life from his late 20s on, 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.

On 10 January 1959 he married at the Christchurch parish church Margaret Amy Morgan (1933–1994) a local girl he met at a dance. They lived a "surprisingly quiet private life" at Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, and had a son, Robert and two daughters, Jane and Sarah.

He soon returned to television. Herald journalist David Nathan persuaded Potter to collaborate with him on sketches for That Was The Week That Was. Their first piece was used on 5 January 1963.

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.

In 1962 Potter had begun to suffer from an acute form of psoriasis known as psoriatic arthropathy that affected his skin and caused arthritis in his joints. It also made a conventional career path impossible.

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 early in 1965, The Confidence Course proved successful and Potter was commissioned to make further contributions. Alice (1965), his next play, was a controversial drama chronicling the relationship between Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, and his muse Alice Liddell. George Baker played Dodgson.

On 15 March 1994, three months before his death, Potter gave an interview to Melvyn Bragg, later broadcast on 5 April 1994 by 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").

Using a morphine cocktail as pain relief, he revealed that he had named his cancer "Rupert", after Rupert Murdoch, who he said represented so much of what he found despicable about the mass media in Britain. He described his work and his determination to continue writing until his death. Telling Bragg that he had two works he intended to finish ("My only regret is if I die four pages too soon"), he proposed that these works, Cold Lazarus and Karaoke, should be made with the rival BBC and Channel 4 working in collaboration, a suggestion which was accepted.

Months before Potter was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer his wife, Margaret Morgan Potter, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite his own deteriorating condition and punishing work schedule, Potter continued to care for Margaret Amy Potter until she died on 29 May 1994. He died nine days later, in Ross-on-Wye, aged 59.       mainly from Wikipedia

 

This short clip from a BBC documentary, written and narrated by Dennis Potter, shows him returning to his native Forest of Dean after having been away at university in Oxford. The archive film was made when Dennis was working for the BBC as a journalist.

In it he explores the changing nature of the post-war Forest of Dean as he returns to the village of Berry Hill where he was born and grew up.

 

From an interview with John Cook in 1990

 

JC: You lived in Berry Hill ... ?

 

DP: Well, Joyford Hill which is off Berry Hill, yeah - those little villages: well, they’re ugly little villages all strung together on the sort of ridge ... on that West Forest side, the Wye side of the Forest. Then, there were five big pits: deep pits, I mean, employing thousands of men which stayed open right until the fifties ... And then gradually the seams worked out and the N.C.B. would close them down one by one by one, you know.

J.C. The thing about the Forest of Dean then is that it is very enclosed etc. ... The main focal points of the community would be the chapel, the village school, the pit, the working men’s club

D.P  Yes but I believe, I suspect, that any child anywhere sees that world as ‘the world’. It just so happens that the Forest of Dean being green and hilly and grey and rearing up between two rivers and the dialect was ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ like in the King James Bible. It was perfectly natural to speak ‘thee’, ‘thou’ like in the King James Bible. It was perfectly natural to speak ‘thee’, ‘thou’ and the more tenderly you felt the more certainly you would use - I mean my father would always say ‘Is’t thou alright, old butty?’ if it was a kindly question: ‘Are you alright?’ But the vividness, in particular the New Testament I suppose, allowed the landscape around me to be that landscape: it did not seem to be very different from any illustrations one saw. There was a big pond outside the pit, for example: Cannop Ponds, which went into a string of ponds which to me was Galilee even though they were a bit small, you know, but as a child of course, the scale - they seemed enormous then, they seem small now. And you know just the lanes and the trees and the sloping and rather sometimes strange rocks in fields and sheep wandering about the roads and all that just had that vague, to a say six, seven year old, would certainly be the landscape of the Holy Land.

The Welsh 

 It’s 1986 and Blitz Magazine has sent me to interview Dennis Potter in his Central London flat. At this time, Potter is at the dizzying peak of his creative powers. The Singing Detective is soon to air and will cement his reputation for all time. I’d been warned by his own publicist that Potter could be a fairly combative individual, and so it proved. I’ve barely introduced myself before he starts stirring it up.

“Are you a Welshman?” he demands. I confirm it is so.

“I hate the Welsh,” he says, “every last one of the f.....s. A sly lot, the Welsh. Dirty bastards. Coming from Berry Hill in the Forest of Dean I was practically born on the Welsh borders. I used to play rugby with the Welsh lads and I still have tender ears from being bitten in scrums. If they’d told me they were sending a Welshman, I’d have stayed out of London altogether. I notice you are fairly young. Now, if there’s one thing I hate more than the Welsh, it’s the young. I hate young people with a passion. I wish them all ill. People under the age of forty don’t see anything. Even if they do, they don’t really know what they are seeing."

Jon Wilde  http://sabotagetimes.com

 

Last Interview. When Dennis Potter learned he was dying of cancer, he sat down with Melvyn Bragg for a final interview which was broadcast on April 5th 1994. The subject of media mogul Rupert Murdoch came up.

His wife Margaret Morgan Potter, who was diagnosed with breast cancer died on 29 May 1994. He died nine days later, in Ross-on-Wye, aged 59.

 

The Dennis Potter Exhibit at the Heritage Centre

 

The Dennis Potter Heritage Project is the culmination of over 5 years hard work between a unique partnership, the Dean Heritage Centre; Voices in the Forest Community Group; the University of Gloucestershire; the Rural Media Company and Lakers School. All five partners collaborated on a joint funding bid to purchase, preserve and display the complete archive of English television dramatist, screenwriter and journalist Dennis Potter at the Dean Heritage Centre.

The Dennis Potter Exhibit at the Heritage Centre includes a video recalling his local connectionsIn 2010, thanks to a successful Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) bid and funding from the Local Action Group (LAG) the partners were able to purchase the Potter archive, preventing it from being lost to a private collection overseas.Santa and reindeerTHE ARCHIVE The Potter archive comprises material spanning several decades of Potter's career and includes handwritten copies of scripts and documentation relating to his well-known works as well as unpublished works and initial drafts.The archive is housed within the Centre's Gage Library and will be catalogued by centre staff and volunteers. Once the archive has been catalogued, members of the public will be able to book an appointment to view the rare and unique manuscripts.

The Dennis Potter Heritage Project has also funded a community film, inspired by Blue Remembered Hills (1979), written, produced and acted by students from Lakers School working in liaison with the Rural Media Company.

Ros Daniels, who was born in Trow Green near Bream and has lived in the Forest all her life, says: “Four of us set up Voices In The Forest. It’s a community interest company that aims to raise the profile of creativity and heritage of the Forest of Dean and any profit goes back into the organisation. Our involvement with Dennis Potter’s work started when we did the Dennis Potter Festival at Beechenhurst in 2004. About 4,000 people came to that and it led to a project called Exciting Minds, during which we made strong links with the Potter family. When the archive came up for sale, we were keen for it to come to DHC and the family were also supportive of this idea. The archive isn’t for sale on the open market: everyone wants it to stay in the Forest.Voices In The Forest has supported DHC to write the bid and it’s very much a partnership project. She says: “It’s the obvious place for the archive. If it’s successful it will be great for DHC to build a name around it. The application was successful at round one with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). We received really good feedback, so we’re all hoping we’ll succeed. Match funding comes in the form of volunteer time already committed, from Voices In The Forest and from Dean Heritage Centre and their time.

http://www.deanheritagecentre.com/museum/dennispotter.html


I just wanted to let you know about the Dennis Potter website. www.pottermatters.co.uk  All the best - Jason Griffiths

 

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