Dennis Potter born
Dennis Potter was born and raised in the working-class, religious community of Berry Hill, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, a small world that he later defined as “tight, enclosed, backward." Ironically, these repressive surroundings pushed Potter to use his imagination as a means of transformation and escape. The exceptionally bright Potter was sent to London to go to school, a very mixed blessing in so far as he was molested by his uncle there. He pushed on, eventually getting a scholarship to Oxford, after which he dabbled in journalism and politics before finding his calling in television. His first TV play, The Confidence Game, a satire of the Dale Carnegie Institute, displayed elements that would come to define his work: a scandalous critique of cherished institutions (the Carnegie Institute threatened to sue), non-naturalistic stage direction (characters address the audience directly), incorporation of cultural references (here alluding to the 19th century philosopher William Hazlitt by a character’s name). And while the post-modern, often surreal combination of these elements detoured from the realistic aesthetic of his contemporaries, Potter’s projects always contained a part of himself. Elements of betrayal (echoing the abuse he suffered as a child) often show up in his work. In his 1986 masterpiece The Singing Detective, the main character suffers from a debilitating strain of psoriasis, a condition that equally afflicted Potter. But perhaps the most powerful theme in all his work was the power of the imagination. If television had been condemned as a technology of escapism, Potter revolutionized television by making escapism, in all its many forms, his central subject. In Cassanova, the title character escapes himself through seductions. In Pennies From Heaven, a sheet-music salesman continually tries to escape his dreary life through the popular 30s music. And in The Singing Detective, a mystery writer, wreaked by pain, falls into a fantasy world of a ‘30s noir detective. It was Potter’s singular gift to create powerful flights of fancy that could both extol the pleasures of the imagination while tracing its tragic limits as well.