REVIEW / Potter returns to talk among the living

LAST NIGHT Dennis Potter returned, a revenant talking about his own death. Channel 4 had chosen to pay tribute to him by repeating the interview he gave Melvyn Bragg just two months ago, an interview in which he revealed that he was already defying the grim clinical timetable of his disease. Treatment has effectively ceased, he said with a flickering smile, all that's left is 'analgesic care until 'Goodnight Vienna' '.

In other circumstances Channel 4's commitment to honouring its own might have looked a little underwhelming. What? No analysis? No survey of the work? No wreaths of words taken in solemn procession to the grave's edge? They could hardly claim they had been taken by surprise. But watching Bragg's interview again you could see the decision made sense. The BBC had already done the decent thing on Wednesday night, with a programme which assembled mourners for a celebration of the life. They rose to the occasion well. But Channel 4 had the occasion on tape - that extraordinary encounter which almost certainly changed the nature of the obituaries that followed Potter's death.

Before that interview the judgements would have been highly approving but also equivocal - a slight sense of a career that had wandered into the sands, a great deal of critical scale-balancing. After that interview such a summary was impossible - it was Potter, not a loyal friend after the event, who reminded everyone of the value of his passion. It was Potter, not a critic, who insisted that his last two plays might be his most important. Watching him talk again last night you could see what an audacious and characteristic performance it was - Without Walls runs an occasional series called 'The Obituary Show', in which celebrities deliver a verdict on their own lives. Potter outdid them all.

There were other ironies here, beyond those supplied by Potter's sense of mischief. That morphine, for example, sipped from a flask when the pain threatened to interrupt the flow of words. It is difficult to think of a less 'analgesic' writer than Potter, one more dedicated to avoiding the 'relief of discomfort' which is often the last resort of the cancer patient. His ambition was quite opposite, to break through the natural opiates which people draw on to get through their lives, whether it was popular song or received opinion. There can be no doubting his ability to do this - in the BBC tribute one of his early producers recalled walking down a commuter train corridor and hearing discussions of the previous night's play from every side. It didn't always result in earnest discussion of course - Potter could be an embarrassing playwright and a disgusting one, as a brief clip from Brimstone and Treacle demonstrated in the BBC tribute. His point was that it was usually worth finding out why you wanted to look away.

A few weeks ago the playwright David Hare asked why 'nobody writes tragedy anymore'. He presumably exempted himself from this generalisation but he must either have forgotten Potter or disregarded television as unworthy of inclusion. Hare's answer to himself was that 'we are reluctant to accept there are situations where forces are at work about which you can do nothing', which is as good a summary of Potter's central concerns as any we've heard over the last few days. Trevor Griffiths suggested on Wednesday that if he had written for the stage, rather than this odd, corruptible, mercantile medium, then he would have been regarded as another Shaw. It's nice to know that we don't have to decide about that judgement yet. We can still look forward to the latest Potter, even if it's also the last.

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific