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Dennis Potter: A Biography [Paperback]

Humphrey Carpenter
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 22 2009
Dennis Potter's death in 1994 deprived British television of its most controversial figure. Potter was a prolific writer of genius. Yet while his subversive television plays, such as "Pennies from Heaven" and "The Singing Detective", scandalized and delighted the nation, they also made him the butt of the tabloids, who nicknamed him 'Dirty Den' for his 1989 serial "Blackeyes". Humphrey Carpenter, acclaimed biographer of Tolkien, Auden, Pound, Britten and Robert Runcie, interviewed everyone who came close to Potter, and had exclusive access to Potter's archives, including the many unmade television and film scripts. Carpenter portrays a very different Potter from the aggressive public image: a deeply shy and reclusive man, who was psychologically as well as physically scarred by the illness which struck him down at the age of twenty-six. Potter was a man with a vast interest in sex but also a terrible loathing of it, thanks to an appalling experience he suffered in childhood. Potter was a man much gossiped about. Carpenter's remarkable biography establishes the extraordinary truth behind the rumours; describes Potter's strange, obsessive relationships with women such as Gina Bellman, who played "Blackeyes"; and gives a vivid portrait of the backstage dramas and fights behind Potter's screen triumphs. 'What is valuable about this book is that it reveals Potter's real private life, which barely features in his plays ...A wonderfully vivid portrait of the man: his generosity and cruelty, his coarseness and tenderness, and the thwarted sexual yearning that underlay everything' - Lynn Barber, "Daily Telegraph".

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From Amazon

British screenwriter and teleplaywright Dennis Potter--best known to American audiences, perhaps, for Pennies from Heaven (and even then, for the Steve Martin adaptation, though the original British miniseries starring Bob Hoskins be less well known)--was a brave man. His private life was a torture of extreme psoriasis coupled with arthritis, which turned his hands into claws and his skin into snowflakes. His public life was a constant bombardment of censorial criticism as he pushed the boundaries of television with his challenging psychosexual dramas. Yet his genius was never questioned--and the viewing public were ultimately forced to readjust its couch position. The biography begins with Potter's childhood in the Forest of Dean, through a highly political Oxford career and his marriage to his childhood and lifelong sweetheart. After this comes the work, a mutated hybrid of Potter's own life and a dream world constructed from songs and sexual fantasies. Carpenter treads carefully; there are still many living friends and relatives, and some of the material is emotionally complex. He presents Potter through detailed accounts of his work and extensive interviews with friends, lovers, and colleagues, leaving readers to make up their own minds about this fiery, brilliant, demanding man. Potter's life has often been reduced to a tabloid blur of slurs; this biography offers readers a chance to see the man in all his guises. --Hannah Griffiths, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Quirky, reclusive and prolific, the English writer Dennis Potter (19351994) reinvented serious TV with his frequently harrowing and much-lauded teleplays. Also a critic, novelist and cinema screenwriter, Potter was a man of spectacular contradictions, as Carpenter makes abundantly clear in this revealing and astute biography. A coalminers son who graduated from Oxford, Potter lived with his wife in an expensive Victorian mansion but openly attacked class prejudice and flaunted his working-class roots. A lifelong socialist and unsuccessful Labor Party parliamentary candidate who called for the breakup of the BBC monopoly, he turned away from his parents fundamentalism but periodically embraced a vaguely Christian, optimistic faith in a benevolent God. A family man and a father of three, he confessed compulsively to friends that he visited multitudes of prostitutes; his plays, full of relentless self-exposure, often allude to the sexual abuse he suffered at age 10 from a homosexual uncle. A manic-depressive, Potter overused tranquilizers, steroids and booze, partly to seek relief from crippling, disfiguring psoriatic arthropathy (psoriasis compounded by arthritis). Potter died at 59, from cancer, outliving his steadfast wife by just a few days. His last works left critics divided: was he a Swiftian genius or an overrated icon? In this candid, authorized biography, Carpenter (biographer of Tolkien, Auden, C.S. Lewis and Benjamin Britten) refrains from taking sides. American audiences will be most familiar with Potters BBC musical serials, Pennies from Heaven (1977) and The Singing Detective (1986)both aired here by PBSyet this convivial biography takes the full measure of a prodigious talent whose output ran the gamut from science fiction to political satire. Photos.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Dennis Potter Explained Dec 7 1999
Format:Hardcover
Dennis Potter wrote remarkable things about ordinary people. He may be best remembered for his musical trilogy covering the '30s ("Pennies From Heaven"), '40's ("The Singing Detective"), and the '50s ("Lipstick On Your Collar") employing the device of using popular music to express the hidden thoughts of his characters ... and not new, emotion-charged renditions of the music of those times mind you, but actual phonograph records of the original British artists. Can there be more pathos than bedraggled Arthur Parker in "Pennies From Heaven" lip-synching the bright romantic tune "Roll Along Prairie Moon" ... or more horror than Philip Marlow in "The Singing Detective" witnessing nurses and doctors performing a big production number around the novelty song "Dry Bones", convinced that his illness is making him lose his mind? This biography is a treasure for Potter enthusiasts, going a long distance explaining the root cause of his innovative genius. I personally was thrilled to see that there is a link between Potter and American author Alice Hoffman (hint: it's revealed toward the end of the book -- but no fair using the index!).
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Format:Hardcover
Ken Trodd, like Potter a "scholarship boy" at Oxford, went on to produce Potter's finest works in a relationship bubbling with catalytic ferment and often boiling or exploding. As Trodd observes (in a probably unpublished review)he personally appears in this biography more often than DP's wife,mother,or agent, but his relevant insights, like his essential role in DPs creativity, are not apparent. Carpenter was not given to hack P.R jobs! Whyever did he agree to an "authorized" (i.e. supervised and censored) biography?
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars Revealing Glimpse of the Genius of TV plays Oct. 18 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Without question, Dennis Potter changed the way we think about TV drama. Or, at least he did in the UK. In the US, his work has had very little exposure. The bio is fair, and explains a lot of Potter's obsessions (they all became material for his work, which is a deconstructionist's paradise). A little repetitive in places, Carpenter gives us a non-hagiographical overview of the guy behind the twisted visions.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dennis Potter Explained Dec 7 1999
By Dick Baldwin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Dennis Potter wrote remarkable things about ordinary people. He may be best remembered for his musical trilogy covering the '30s ("Pennies From Heaven"), '40's ("The Singing Detective"), and the '50s ("Lipstick On Your Collar") employing the device of using popular music to express the hidden thoughts of his characters ... and not new, emotion-charged renditions of the music of those times mind you, but actual phonograph records of the original British artists. Can there be more pathos than bedraggled Arthur Parker in "Pennies From Heaven" lip-synching the bright romantic tune "Roll Along Prairie Moon" ... or more horror than Philip Marlow in "The Singing Detective" witnessing nurses and doctors performing a big production number around the novelty song "Dry Bones", convinced that his illness is making him lose his mind? This biography is a treasure for Potter enthusiasts, going a long distance explaining the root cause of his innovative genius. I personally was thrilled to see that there is a link between Potter and American author Alice Hoffman (hint: it's revealed toward the end of the book -- but no fair using the index!).
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revealing Glimpse of the Genius of TV plays Oct. 18 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Without question, Dennis Potter changed the way we think about TV drama. Or, at least he did in the UK. In the US, his work has had very little exposure. The bio is fair, and explains a lot of Potter's obsessions (they all became material for his work, which is a deconstructionist's paradise). A little repetitive in places, Carpenter gives us a non-hagiographical overview of the guy behind the twisted visions.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A ponderousm pedestrian tome, not worthy of Carpenter June 10 1999
By ishmail@mediaone.net - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Ken Trodd, like Potter a "scholarship boy" at Oxford, went on to produce Potter's finest works in a relationship bubbling with catalytic ferment and often boiling or exploding. As Trodd observes (in a probably unpublished review)he personally appears in this biography more often than DP's wife,mother,or agent, but his relevant insights, like his essential role in DPs creativity, are not apparent. Carpenter was not given to hack P.R jobs! Whyever did he agree to an "authorized" (i.e. supervised and censored) biography?
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