A sort of 'on this day in history' courtesy of The Guardian with this review of Pennies from Heaven (1978) by Nancy Banks-Smith, 8th March 1978. Hard to remember / imagine (depending on your age!) that Potter was, as Nancy points out, only 42 when this was produced. Groundbreaking television at the time, a prompt for wistful thoughts on Potter alive today - Netflix? Cross platform? Transmedia experience? Spotify playlister?
Christmas 1977 saw Dennis Potter once again return to the theme of The Forest of Dean in a special programme for BBC Radio 4. A Christmas Forest, was broadcast on Boxing Day, and was described in the Radio Times thus:
Dennis Potter spent his childhood in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. The sounds of childhood Christmas still ring in his ears, and the images remain as powerful as ever.
BBC Radio 4 FM, 26th December 1977 14:15
The programme, produced with Brian Patten of BBC Bristol, included Berry Hill Band and the children of Berry Hill School. One of the readers was Potter's own son Robert. It seems that as ever Dennis was involved hands on in the making of the programme as evidenced by an intriguing recording held by the Dennis Potter Archive at the Dean Heritage Centre in Soudley, Forest of Dean. Potter's daughter, Jane, recalls how her father purchased a Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder in 1965. Amongst the fascinating recordings of every day Potter family life, are the raw unedited recordings made in Berry Hill of the school children singing and the band playing/rehearsing for the Christmas radio programme. Whether these are copies of those made for the programme by the production team, or Potter's own recordings is unclear. This, and the other recordings in the collection offer an invaluable insight into the important role of family and community in Potter's life and work - and ever more so in all our minds at this time of year.
A Christmas Forest was repeated the following year on 23rd December.
The BBC are reporting that actor Keith Barron has passed away at the age of 83 after a short illness. Although known more recently for his role in the sit-com Duty Free, one of his early roles was as the eponymous 'Nigel Barton' in two of Potter's early plays for television. In Stand Up Nigel Barton (1965) he plays the young Oxford educated Nigel struggling to adjust to his new social standing. Coming from a mining community yet now moving amongst the elite he's now 'between two rivers' - no longer feeling he fits in either setting. In Potter's sequel play Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton (1965) he stands for election. Much of the two plays see Barron acting out scenes remarkably close to those of Potter's own life. Barron also playied the young Nigel in flashback - adults playing children, a technique that resurfaced to great effect many years later in Blue Remembered Hills (1979).
After the show - Praveen and Russel with Dennis's daughter Jane
How to capture the essence of writer, his biography, work, influences, impact? And when it’s a writer such as Dennis Potter – dramatist, journalist, novelist, commentator. There’s realism, naturalism of course – tell the story, facts, dates, works. But that wouldn’t do for a writer who famously felt that drama was the better form for telling ‘truth’ – and at that, drama that further played with ideas of inside and outside the head, the past and present, and multiple layers of ‘reality’ intersecting and interplaying. ‘No biography’ gasps Daniel in his last breath, a request ignored by those who reanimate his head for the purposes of entertainment (in DP's Cold Lazarus).
So, what a relief – what a thrill – to finally get to see Project Adorno’s Dennis Potter in the Present Tense. Developed and written after extensive research, interviews with scholars, enthusiasts, and members of his family, it’s incredibly well-informed. It is though a million miles from any dusty academic study or realist biography. With songs, audio clips and striking – often abstract - visuals the show (for that’s the only way to describe it) was an entertaining, amusing, thought provoking and touching, tour de force. As Potter fans, the (sadly too small) audience at this performance at Coleford’s Festival of Words, were appreciative of the insights the pair had clearly got from their visits to the Forest of Dean, and studying Dennis Potter's work. There were references to his upbringing in the Forest, but also fabulous songs and clips relating to Al Bowly, Hammersmith Bridge, razoxane, and Blackeyes - and much more. A feast for the brain, eyes, ears and soul, if you ever get the opportunity to see this short but wonderfully formed show – grab it!
As part of this year's Festival of Words the entertaining and thought-provoking duo Project Adorno bring their mixed-media show Dennis Potter in the Present to Coleford. Written following extensive research, including visiting the Dennis Potter Archive and talking to people in the Forest of Dean, the show uses music, song, and audio recordings to explore Potter's life and his relevance today. The show on 6th July is just one of a packed programme of events at this year's festival in Coleford. Tickets can be booked in advance via Eventbrite or through Coleford Tourist Information Centre
82 years ago today Dennis Potter was born, at Brick House, Joyford, just down the lane form Berry Hill in the Forest of Dean. Who would have known he would go on to have such an influence on the mass culture in the Uk (and wider world) in the latter half of the twentieth century? With a massive impact on television - drama in particular - he was also a journalist, commentator and novelist. So, over twenty years after his untimely death is the memory of the man and his work fading away? Well, not quite. There seems to be very much a flurry of activity - imminent (yes Ken) but promising to bear fruit very very soon...A new theatre production is in development that promises to bring a whole new audience to Potter, his work, and ideas. With a team that includes people behind some of the biggest West End adaptations of recent years it seems set for success. Meanwhile, Project Adorno's 'Dennis Potter in the Present Tense' will be performed at the Forest of Dean literary week 'Coleford Festival of Words' in June this year. After a last minute cancelation (not Adorno's fault) their mixed media show is eagerly awaited. Other projects in the Forest of Dean should see at last a permanent recognition of DP through a piece of public art as new project Reading the Forest is working with a local mural artist hoping to paint Potter large in Coleford, the nearest town to Berry Hill. And only today, that same project has launched it's Forest authors page with who else, but Dennis Potter.
And this one's for you Dennis....!
Writing and performance duo Project Adorno bring their "electro-pop, ambient, audio-visual celebration" of Dennis Potter to the Forest of Dean this January. DENNIS POTTER IN THE PRESENT TENSE was first performed at the Buxton Fringe Festival in July 2016 following extensive research by Praveen Manghani and Russell Thompson. This included a visit to the Forest of Dean to see the exhibition and archive at The Dean Heritage Centre, and to meet local people associated with DP and his work. They have performed several times at the Edinburgh Fringe Festical, and previous projects have included firms, somgs and performances such as Jarman in Pieces. DENNIS POTTER IN THE PRESENT TENSE comes to Coleford's Main Place (the library) on Frdiay 27th January at 7pm. Tickets cost only £3 - more details here.
The Dean Heritage Centre in Soudley, the Forest of Dean, is hosting a new exhibition about one of Potter's most controversial early plays. Find out more on our Events page.
Things move pretty fast in Potterland, 'Am I right or am I right?' It took long-time pottermatters friend Professor John Cook to remind us that it's the 30th anniversary of the iconic The Singing Detective (1986) serial. Now one of the world's most significant Potter experts John interviewed Dennis Potter whilst still a research student. His rare, one-to-one, interview formed the basis of John's PhD thesis, leading to his publication Dennis Potter: A Life On Screen (1995). John was an instrumental member of the team that secured Potter's papers for the nation, and in setting up of the Dennis Potter Archive and permanent exhibition in the Forest of Dean. On The Conversation website this week John reminds us that 30 yrs on, The Singing Detective continues to be considered one of the best ever pieces of television. With much of our viewing dominated today by US-originated 'box sets' John makes the case that the innovative interweaving of narrative strands has rarely since been matched. Read John's piece online here.
Meanwhile in the Forest of Dean plans have been announced for a new 'Potter Trail' around the Forest villages where Dennis was born and grew up. The local West Dean Parish Council, backing the idea, also intends to take over the Five Acres Theatre renaming it the Potter Theatre with the trail starting there. News of the plans were announced in The Forester newspaper this week here.
Before that there will be yet another opportunity for locals and visitors to the area to indulge their passion for Potter with a new temporary exhibition at the Dean Heritage Centre's Gallery 41. For those who missed last year's A Beast with Two Backs...is back! event in Lydbrook, much of that exhibition will be restaged at the home of the permanent Dennis Potter Exhibition and Archive in Soudley. Added to the display will be new information about the production gathered by researchers on the day. The exhibition opens on the 16th of December and runs until 12th of March.
For any of you who have a Google Alert set for "Dennis Potter" you'll know that the most regular Potter story is about a new stage production of Blue Remembered Hills. First seen on TV in 1979 the play featured adult actors playing children. As Potter explained, this device was employed to prevent the audience engaging sentimentally with the children, allowing us instead to see the impact - the cruelty - of the events unfolding. The power of the script, the challenge for actors, and the continuing 'bankability' of this play are perhaps the reasons why there seems to always be a production - amateur and professional - on stage somewhere in the UK. Over twenty years after his death so much of Potter's work - this play included - continues to have currency.
This latest production is by The Southwick Players at The Barn Theatre 12th - 15th October. More details here.