Karaoke and The South Bank Show


Potter sceptics will have had their worst fears confirmed. Not five minutes in to Karaoke (BBC1) and "television's greatest dramatist" is disappearing up the rectal passage of a television dramatist. We first meet Daniel Feeld (Albert Finney) as he is being given a barium enema in an attempt to discover the origin of a griping abdominal pain. This will be misdiagnosed, just as Potter's own pancreatic cancer was, as the result of a spastic colon. At the time, this scene strikes you as absolutely characteristic of Potter in its silky pleasure at mentioning the unmentionable. "You'll feel as though you want to defecate," murmurs the doctor performing the operation. "Needless to say I'd be extremely obliged to you if you don't."

By the end of Karaoke, though, after you've struggled to untangle a plot about a fictional television playwright, whose current screenplay also contains a fictional playwright (played by Ian McDiarmid, who bears a startling physical resemblance to Dennis Potter), even a devotee might begin to wonder whether that opening scene doesn't have a larger significance. If we had looked more closely at the medical monitor, crammed with the shadowy sinuosities of the lower bowel, could we have spotted a cameo profile of the author? Si monumentum requiris, circumspice? Potter, of course, is hardly unaware of the joke. It may even be a sly final gift to the critics, because he knew full well the hazards of this sort of thing. In his preface to the published screenplays of Karaoke and Cold Lazarus, he describes the "almost overwhelming temptation" to further complicate the scheme by having Daniel Feeld effectively write his own death scene. "Fortunately, the temptations were finally scourged and driven off," he continues, "otherwise the whole edifice would have been twisted into the kind of game, or cheat, that it had so far resisted becoming."

Some viewers are likely to feel cheated even so - dismayed to find quite so much that is familiar, so little that has the fresh splash of newness. Potter, with the recklessness of imminent death upon him, wrote that the plays are "as fitting a summation as they are a testament both to my character and my career". Certainly the opening episode of Karaoke appears to offer a condensed tour of his principal artistic trademarks - a monorail trip through Potterland. There's the erotic obsession with directable women, in this case a bar hostess who may, or may not, end up garrotted; the potency of cheap music, the dread of hospitals, the dark potential of creative invention, the delicious exercise of spleen - and this sense of a career regurgitated is unlikely to diminish as the series unfolds. Karaoke ends with the singing of "Pennies From Heaven" and references to the Methodist hymn which Potter quoted in his final interview with Melvyn Bragg - "Will there be any stars, any stars in my crown". Anyone who has seen Potter's play Double Dare, in which a television playwright finds his lines coming disturbingly to life, will hear a stronger echo still of earlier work. Karaoke is funny and unexpectedly gentle at times. For the moment, though, it is more an aide- memoire to Potter's past achievements than a fitting memorial to them.

As Daniel Feeld, Albert Finney gives it his all - indeed he's out of breath with acting, delivering a gasping, rumpled performance that is as characteristic of his style as the script is of Potter's. "You just have to blow," he said in The South Bank Show (ITV), using a jazz image for his unsystematic method. Gerald Fox's film, shot over lunch and accompanied by far too much chummy joshing about Bragg's drinking habits, was either screamingly incestuous or thoughtfully self-referential, according to your taste. I tentatively came down on the side of the latter, persuaded by useful echoes between drama and interview (and between Finney and Potter, grammar school boys who made it into the Soho aristocracy), but it was a damned tight call.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living