Dennis Potter belonged to a now lost epoch in British television. During
the 60s and 70s British television drama was at its height not just during
the era of HughCarleton-Greene as Director General of the BBC in the late
60s (worlds apart from John Birt) but also the 70s. Those decades saw the
creative work of figures such as Ken Loach, Tony Garnett, Nell Dunn,
Jeremy Sandford, David Mercer as well as Dennis Potter.
Who could imagine a four part series dealing with working-class history
from World War I to the 1926 General Strike (the Loach-Garnett DAYS OF HOPE)
ever appearing now under the Thatcherite domination of John Birt?
Dennis Potter belonged to an world in which television did offer a creative
forum for talented writers. It is not without significance that Potter named
his cancerous tumour "Rupert" in the poignant last interview. The virulent
nature of Thatcherism and its final moves to end the BBC as many knew it
will make British television as bad as its American counterpart as well
as make it impossible for talents such as Potter to ever use the medium
according to its true creative potentials.
Potter is dead but he has left an important legacy which ought to be more
available on video in the USA than it actually is. Ken Loach has now left
television and gains both funding and respect for his films from Europe. By
contrast, he is either ignored or abused by the British media.
For those of us living in areas where the Saturday night highlights of
PBS stations involve thirty-year old repeats of The Lawrence Welk Show or
repeats of UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS (perhaps in the hope that American audiences
will learn to respect their betters in the manner of classical Hollywood
cockneys - "Ta Guv. Ye're a real toff), it is very unlikely many of us will
see Potter's posthumous works KARAOKE and COLD LAZARUS.
Perhaps the debate on Potter may now focus on the reception of both these
works? Did they represent Potter's crowning achievements thus suffering
critical attacks from Britain's commercially-minded press reviewers embarrassed
at any attack on the cultural wasteland of 18 years of Tory rule? Or
were they something of a disappointment?
I'm sure SCREEN-L would appreciate feedback from British readers and those
fortunate to have seen these two works in areas with better PBS programming
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