Playwright sounds sour cultural note: Maggie Brown finds the television dramatist Dennis Potter in a bleak mood as he shows the press his new work

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The Independent Online
DENNIS POTTER, clutching his glass of red wine, was sitting at a table in the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in the lunch break yesterday between screenings of his Channel 4 series Lipstick on Your Collar, his first television drama since Blackeyes flopped four years ago.

He was not a happy man. The state of British culture, and the television industry to which he has dedicated his artistic output since Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton was broadcast in 1965, depresses him profoundly.

He had spent the morning watching cynical journalists, not his favourite people - the tabloids dubbed him 'Dirty Den' after the lustful Blackeyes - watching his pounds 5.8m drama, which is set in the summer of 1956, the year of Suez.

He sees Lipstick as part of a trilogy about the making of contemporary Britain, completing themes that Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective began. He uses pop songs such as Connie Francis's Lipstick on Your Collar as 'political messages' to underline the way society is changing.

The young male characters fret at National Service, just as Potter did, while Britain is about to have its imperial dreams cruelly exposed. The playwright worked in the Department of Military Intelligence as a Russian language translator, as does one of the central characters, a gauche young Welshman.

'You have no idea the kind of shit I have to put up with . . . the inner language, the syntax, of the people who control the mass media. People talk about co-production, the number of scenes on a page. It is as bad here as when I went to Los Angeles.' The malaise affects the BBC (for whom he is making a film) every bit as much as commercial television, he said. 'With a culture shift it is very hard to chart, but the whole BBC is caught up with it, front end on. It is not just commercialism, it is the way language can shift.'

He added 'the strongest passion in my life is a love of England', and talked wistfully of the old one-nation Toryism, which would not have been prepared to abandon whole inner city areas of illiteracy and crime, he said. He railed against other signs of the times. 'Michael sodding Green is giving money to the Conservative Party and he may be chairman of ITN . . . If you read the Independent you might think this is a good newspaper until you read its editorials and you ask yourself: What smug brain is writing this?'

Despite his gloom, the series has a lighter touch than previous work, with less explicit sex, and fewer flashbacks.

Mr Potter, who wrote the script in the aftermath of Blackeyes, was asked by Channel 4 not to direct it, and chose instead Renny Rye, with whom he is now making a film, Midnight Movie, for the BBC.

Mr Rye said: 'I think Dennis would be a great director of someone else's film. You need someone to say no. When Dennis is making a film he wants to change it, he gets bored with going from A to Z, but that rather obfuscates. I straightened out the sequences; there are fewer flashbacks.'

Lipstick on Your Collar starts on Sunday 21 February at 9pm and runs for six episodes.

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