Dennis Potter Criticism - Essay

Anthony Crosland (review date 12 February 1960)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Smashing Things," in The Spectator, February 12, 1960, p. 223.

[In the following review of The Glittering Coffin, Crosland examines Potter's critique of the Labour Party and the politics of social class in 1950s England.]

Mr. Potter is a twenty-three-year-old exchairman of the Oxford University Labour Club, who was also a prominent figure in the old Universities and Left Review. His book [The Glittering Coffin] is part autobiography, part polemic—against present-day British society, and against the Labour Party for allegedly not wishing to change it. It is disarmingly candid, and indeed courageous, since he wishes to go into Labour...

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Richard Wollheim (review date 1960)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "How it Strikes a Compatriot," in Partisan Review, Vol. 27, 1960, pp. 353-62.

[In the following review, Wollheim discusses the ideas on politics and class in The Glittering Coffin, providing a brief historical backdrop and examining the personal and social issues implied in the English class structure.]

In The Glittering Coffin Mr. Dennis Potter, a young working-class undergraduate just down from Oxford, raises a voice of genuine social protest. Unfortunately he accompanies it with so much rant and rhetoric that he virtually drowns his own words. It seems to me dubious whether the few scraps of coherent sense that are likely to drift across to the...

(The entire section is 3050 words.)

Benedict Nightingale (review date 6 December 1968)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Backwoodsman," in New Statesman, Vol. 76, No. 1969, December 6, 1968, pp. 812-13.

[In the following brief review of Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton, Nightingale points out Potter's lack of "critical astringency" while appreciating his daring.]

Dennis Potter has adapted his Barton plays from television to the stage under the title of the second and better of them, Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton—or, rather, he has shuffled them together like two decks of cards. There are scenes within scenes, flashbacks from flashbacks from flashbacks, and great must be the bustle among the shifters and carriers in the wings of the Theatre Royal, Bristol,...

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Paul Allen (Review date December 1977)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Stirrings in Sheffield," in Plays and Players, Vol. 25, No. 3, Issue # 290, December, 1977, pp. 36-7.

[In the follwoing excerpt, Allen reviews a stage production of Brimstone and Treacle, examining the play's premise, its characters and the production itself.]

Brimstone and treacle is apparently what the Victorians, stern administrators of all kinds of purgative, dosed themselves with in cases of constipation: the brimstone to do the job, the treacle to make the medicine go down. What if, so far as the swallower is concerned, they become as one? The medicine in Dennis Potter's Brimstone and Treacle (much publicised on account of its having been...

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Philip Purser (essay date 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Dennis Potter," in British Television Drama, ed. George W. Brandt, Cambridge University Press, 1981, pp. 168-93.

[In the essay below, Purser examines Potter's work in chronological order, exploring connections to biography, Potter's developing aesthetic and thematic interests and ideas about the medium of television.]

Dennis Potter's titles are meticulously chosen even when they're filched from popular songs, but none gives such a clue to the ruling passion of his work as the one he picked for a now forgotten—indeed, lost—little play of 1966, Emergency Ward 9. It was, obviously, set in hospital, which was a recent experience of Potter's, and one...

(The entire section is 9151 words.)

Rosalind Coward (essay date Winter 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Dennis Potter and the Question of the Television Author," in Critical Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 4, Winter, 1987, pp. 79-87.

[In the following essay, Coward uses Potter's The Singing Detective to consider the role of the author in the medium of television and as a case study in recent theories of meaning and authorship in a text.]

The question of the author poses particularly difficult problems for any attempt to understand the mass media by reference to critical models drawn from literary studies. While 'authorship' may not be the only or indeed the most crucial factor in the academic study of literature, it would be hard to deny its significance as a way...

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Therese Lichtenstein (essay date May 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Syncopated Thriller," in Artforum, Vol. XXVIII, No. 9, May, 1990, p. 168, 170-172.

[In the following essay, Lichtenstein studies the complexities of The Singing Detective's plot and its devices of merging and superimposing different levels of fiction.]

Oedipalized scenarios, traumatic psycho-sexual dynamics, and violence are the stuff that Dennis Potter's television plays and films are made of, moving across the taboo terrain of sexuality within the seemingly orderly nuclear family. The vehicle for these "perverse" scenarios is a dazzling montage of familiar dramatic genres, including the detective story, the musical, the psychological autobiography,...

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Mary Gordon (essay date Fall/Winter 1990/91)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Who's not Singing in The Singing Detective," in "Some Things I Saw," in Salmagundi, No. 88/89, Fall/Winter, 1990/91, pp. 118-122.

[In the following excerpt, Gordon opposes the "pervasive and seductive elements of adolescent male fantasy" that she suggests permeate the hard-boiled detective fiction that The Singing Detective is modeled after.]

The dreaming boy alone in the lush tree. The crooner by himself before the microphone. The walking detective (hard boiled dick), solitary, gun in hand, his heels clicking along the rainy pavement. Is he by himself because he wants to be? Is the role of the isolate, in proximate relation to things longer than...

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Richard Alleva (review date 27 March 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Silly Secrets," in Commonweal, Vol. CXIX, No. 6, March 27, 1992, pp. 24-25.

[In the following review, Alleva comments on Potter's directorial debut with his film Secret Friends.]

Dennis Potter's Secret Friends is a jigsaw puzzle that doesn't give you much to look at once you've assembled it. Of course, the fun of jigsaw puzzles is in the assembly, not the final result. But Secret Friends fails as mind teaser, too, because too many of its narrative twists can be easily anticipated. This movie testifies more strongly to Potter's work ethic than to his art. For his first directorial effort, he's written a script that's very busy yet quite cold,...

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Mick Imlah (review date 26 March 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Surreptitious Overturnings," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4695, March 26, 1993, p. 17.

[In this short review of Potter on Potter and Lipstick on Your Collar, Imlah briefly examines the elements of Potter's dramatic devices.]

Dennis Potter is exceptional: a television dramatist worth the weight of a whole book of interviews. What justifies Potter on Potter, though, is less the special quality of the work it analyses—some of which was screened once and can never be seen again—than the hard intelligence with which Potter surveys the personal history that informs his plays to such an unusual extent: the working-class upbringing in the...

(The entire section is 657 words.)

Martin Wiggins (essay date 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "'Disgusted, Shepherd's Bush': Brimstone and Treacle at the BBC," in Essays and Studies, 1993: Literature and Censorship, Vol. 46, 1993, pp. 131-43.

[In the following essay, Wiggins discusses Brimstone and Treacle and the issue of censorship in relation to the themes and dramatic features of Potter's teleplay.]

Any discussion of censorship at the BBC will necessarily contain an element of speculation. All successful censorship makes its object invisible, but at the BBC the censorship itself is also invisible. The decision not to broadcast an item is entirely an internal matter, closed to public scrutiny and accountable to no outside body: there is...

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Robert H. Bell (essay date 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Implication Without Choice: The Double Vision of The Singing Detective," in Literature/Film Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 3, 1993, pp. 200-08.

[In the following essay, Bell elaborates a reading of The Singing Detective as the story of "a sick man's soul," "a pilgrim's progress from despair to redemption," and looks at the significance of Potter's contribution to the television mini-series.]

The Singing Detective, the six-episode film broadcast on BBC in 1986 and on PBS in 1988, is an extraordinary achievement for which its author, Dennis Potter, has been justly celebrated. Vincent Canby hails Potter for setting "a new standard for all films. He...

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Joost Hunningher (essay date 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Singing Detective (Dennis Potter): Who Done It," in British Television Drama in the 1980s, Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 234-55.

[In the following essay, Hunninger, Principal Lecturer in Film and Television Production at the University of Westminster, examines every aspect of the production of The Singing Detective to determine how it is able to represent "objective and subjective realities" in the extraordinary manner that he suggests it does.]

Dennis Potter dislikes academic critics. In the preface to Waiting for the Boat: On Television, he wrote: 'It is no news that there is a contemptuous, hard-eyed hatred of humanistic...

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Boyd Tonkin (review date 17 June 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Last Blast," in New Statesman and Society, June 17, 1994, p. 40.

[In the following brief obituary Tonkin comments on Potter's life and influence.]

The green remembered glades from Dennis Potter's Forest of Dean childhood nestle on the edge of the Cotswold Euro-constituency, which Labour came within 4,000 votes of capturing this week. Among his many roles, the late playwright gave new voice to the survival of a historic rural radicalism. He helped explode the lie that only the metropolitan "chattering classes" really bother about social change. Potter was many things; but he was never trendy.

In spite of these roots, though, his journey up...

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Christopher Hitchens (essay date August 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Potter's Field," in Vanity Fair, Vol. 57, No. 8, August 1994, pp. 36, 38, 40.

[In the following essay Hitchens assesses Potter's life work, his achievements as a writer and his contributions to television and to English society in general.]

You might care to picture this. A man—you may tell by the deference paid him that he is a celebrity of some sort—is being escorted into a television studio. The technical staff is tense and expectant, and the interviewer is grinning with nerves. All this the audience sees, because in a concession to vérité the preliminaries are being broadcast. A certain latitude is permitted to the interview subject, as is...

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Richard Eyre (essay date 3 May, 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Man in Short Trousers," in New Statesman and Society, May 3, 1996, pp. 18-19.

[In the following essay, Eyre offers personal impressions of Potter, places him in television history, considers his work among his contemporaries writing for the stage, and discusses the aptness of Potter's work for the medium of television.]

I first met Dennis in 1978, just before I joined the BBC as producer of Play for Today. We were in Edinburgh for the annual television conference and somebody introduced us. I remember advancing my hand and Dennis glaring at me. "I don't shake hands." No explanation, no "sorry", just this childlike, abrasive, bullying quality that's...

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Fay Weldon (review date 3 May 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Sex-lies on Videotape," in New Statesman and Society, Vol. 9, No. 401, May 3, 1996, p. 20.

[In the following review, Weldon looks at the gender issues raised in Karaoke and Cold Lazarus, and evaluates the merit of these plays.]

I watched four Potter Karaokes and Cold Lazaruses, at one sitting, and was, let me declare myself at once, absorbed, moved and exhilarated by the experience. Glued, as they say (or used to say when such things were more common), to the set. Writers' television once again.

What a relief. The technology serving the words on the page; actors obedient and trusting; producer and director as the...

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John J. O'Connor (review date 20 June 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Posthumous Send-Off for a British Original," in New York Times, June 20, 1996, p. 133.

[In the following review, O'Connor comments on Karaoke and Cold Lazarus in which the author recognizes Potter's distinctive devices and themes.]

Dennis Potter, the most important voice in television drama (Pennies From Heaven, The Singing Detective), died of pancreatic cancer two years ago this month. Appropriately, the notoriously cantankerous British writer has been given an extraordinary send-off.

While he was dying, and sipping morphine to ease the pain, he told Melvyn Bragg in a Channel Four interview that since he had spent his...

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