Obituary: Dennis Potter

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The Independent Online
MARK LAWSON's obituary of Dennis Potter (8 June) contains an error. Vote Vote Vote for Nigel Barton was not postponed until after the 1964 election, writes Ron Brewer. At that time I was Potter's election agent. He told me during the election that he was writing a play about electioneering. His preface to The Nigel Barton Plays (1967) explains that Vote Vote Vote for Nigel Barton was due for transmission on 23 June 1965 but that it was removed from the schedules just a few hours before it was due to be shown. It was eventually televised on 15 December of that year.

It was shortly after his adoption as Labour candidate for East Hertfordshire that Potter was struck by the illness that was to dog him for the rest of his life. But he never spoke of abandoning his candidature and the fight for Labour in this hopeless seat.

The electors were in for a treat. His election pamphlet was exquisitely written (it is the only one I have kept from more than 30 years of electioneering). His thoughtful speeches sparkled. They were made without notes and, though they lacked rhetorical flourish, caught his audience by their sheer honesty, language and wit. He gave no sign that a few minutes before he entered the hall, he had taken a trip round the back where he could ease the nausea and vomiting caused by his medication.

Potter urged me to watch his play. It was a shock. I knew that writers took much of real life in to their writing and many of the scenes in Vote Vote Vote had a basis in events during two years of campaigning. But I was shaken to see and hear a television character repeating episodes of my life which I must have discussed with Potter. If that were not enough, my sly asides, more joky than cynical, were repeated in the play as a heavy sardonic approach. John Bailey, who took the part of Jack Hay, the election agent, even used my gestures. But I understood that Potter, who had come to hate and dislike the process of seeking out votes, was trying to explain how those who strove for political ideals had somehow to protect themselves by developing a veneer against pain and hurt.