Dramatic tribute to Dennis Potter

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The Independent Online
The celebration of the life of Dennis Potter was both curious and memorable. Little advertised, yesterday's service attracted barely 200 people.

Beneath the stained-glass windows of St James's Church in Piccadilly, a quintet burst into Thirties jazz. The congregation rose and sang ``Roll Along Prairie Moon'', one of the pre-war songs revived for Potter's Pennies From Heaven.

It was a service remarkably short on tributes, though there was a touching one from his daughter Sarah. She read from A E Housman's A Shropshire Lad, which was heard over the last scene of Potter's play Blue Remembered Hills, in which adults played seven-year-olds. It was one of the simplest yet most deeply lucid of all his works, she said. ``My father often wrote about the past, yet he thought nostalgia a cheap emotion.'' She quoted Housman's lines on childhood: ``The happy highways where I went and cannot come again.''

But in the main Potter was remembered through performance rather than tribute. Cheryl Campbell and Freddy Jones read their scene from Pennies From Heaven where the headmaster confronts the young pregnant schoolteacher, having to dismiss her while being secretly in love with her himself. As Jones stifled his tears, Campbell said: ``Nobody ever ever stops yearning.''

The singing of ``Roses Of Picardy'', which Potter chose as one of his Desert Island Discs, by the actress Imelda Staunton was haunting; and in a comic interlude Michael Grade, chief executive of Channel 4, Alan Yentob, controller of BBC1, and Kenith Trodd, Potter's producer, read a scene from Pennies.

Mr Trodd, who had a long and sometimes hostile relationship with Potter, told of their last meeting before the playwright's death from cancer: ``Dennis slugging Courvoisier, fortified by liquid heroin and morphine . . . after an hour he seemed to crumple and he said, `I do have one very real fear of death. It is that you might get asked to speak at my memorial service.' ``

Photograph, page 2