The blossomest blossom

9 years ago this week Dennis Potter, one of the most innovative playwrights of the twentieth century, died of pancreatic cancer. He had named his tumour ‘Rupert’ in honour of Rupert Murdoch whom he expressed much dislike for.

Throughout my childhood and early adulthood Dennis Potter was a figure of some scandal and controversy. Regularly the tabloid papers would erupt into wing-spectacled fury at the latest ‘filth’ – as they described his writing. My early life, instilled with Irish Catholic coyness about all sexmatters meant his work had a yet more powerful impact beyond that on the wider society of the time. It was the era of the double entendre with repression to go. The age of Benny Hill, Larry Grayson, Dick Emery. The time when you could refer to ‘it’ obliquely but never mention ‘it’ directly unless you were a repulsive fat comedian in a smoke filled nightclub at 1am on ITV. In the midst of this a left leaning playwright with psoriatic arthropathy was given airtime to peddle his genius to a grateful audience. There was a sense of danger, of watching the forbidden and yet as you were watching you realised you were seeing something completely new. Drama that conveyed what ordinary people felt inside, that was not afraid to deal with the down and dirty and seek to explore it and in so doing understand it. This honesty and compuslive fearlessness against so much Daily Mail Disgust I believe helped to move us beyond Benny Hill. In a period when television is formulated like so many mass-moulded washing up bowls, when only the titles and faces change but the plot convulses one more time – it’s now difficult to recall the new minted power of Potters work. His conviction that television is a unique form shone through. Meaning that could not be conveyed in film came through in the intimacy and small scale of the television screen. The atmosphere of the interior shots in ‘Pennies from Heaven’ I still remember vividly. Bob Hoskins here was, in my view, at his peak – still relatively unknown and with the hunger that brings an edge to performance.

I remember the first time I bought, what was for me, an expensive suit. The shop was done out in those old fashioned walnut cabinets, floor to low ceiling. There the suits hung, each a true work of art; fine cloth well cut, hand detailing, racy linings – all reeking of quality – the best. Pennies from Heaven (1978), Blue Remembered Hills (1979), The Singing Detective(1986), Blackeyes (1987). The same feeling: a master has been at work and you have before you quality you won’t find on the high street. The socialist in me loves the ‘Potterism’ that a television audience is worthy of the best in writing and production. That television audiences are far more discriminating and responsive to sophisticated drama than now seems possible when you look at current schedules. But the ‘realities’ of a fragmented audience, a multi channel, multi media environment bring new pressures in TV production values. Quality, I believe, has suffered. Potter himself expressed the view that it was unlikely he would have been given airtime in the changed environment of the late eighties / early nineties.

Dennis Potter was more extraordinary because he was so ordinary. His biography charts humble origins but also his prodigious emergence. For me though, and the reason I find myself writing this 9 years on, the most meaningful thing that he ever did was connected with his writing only in that it explained so lucidly why he was able to write as he did. Shortly before he died he decided to give a ‘last interview’. Speaking to Melvyn Bragg, fortified with a flask of liquid morphine to dull his agonising pain he talked spellbindingly for eighty minutes about his life, his artistry and the meaning his imminent death brought to the present. As I recall it now I’m tearful. It was one of those rare moments when you get to see inside the soul of a person and it was the most affecting thing I’ve ever seen on television. I’m grateful to Dennis Potter because he expanded my view of what my life could be and he helped me to see my life and the world in a way that is here and now. The most poignant words from his interview remain with me.

“I can celebrate life.
Below my window there’s an apple tree in blossom. It’s white.
And looking at it – instead of saying, “Oh, that’s a nice blossom” – now, looking at it through the window, I see the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be.
The nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous.
If you see the present tense – boy, do you see it.
And boy, do you celebrate it.”

May he rest in peace.


Monday it was gaga today it’s googoo.

Lol : “Sachets to sachets, rusk to rusk”


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