Cover image for Dennis Potter a biography
Dennis Potter a biography
Carpenter, Humphrey, 1946-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York St, Martin's Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 672 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
PR6066.O77 Z615 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Dennis Potter was a prolific writer of genius whose subversive television plays, such as Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective, scandalized and delighted his native Britain and the world. His death in 1994 deprived television of one of the most controversial figures it has ever known.

The first serious writer of teleplays, Potter's work has canonized him in England and bestowed cult status on him throughout the world. Acclaimed writer Humphrey Carpenter, the author of candid biographies of Benjamin Britten, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Ezra Pound, now turns his talents to chronicling Potter's extraordinary life. Carpenter has interviewed everyone who came close to Potter and was given exclusive access to Potter's archives, including never-produced television and film scripts. This remarkable and official biography establishes the extraordinary truth behind the rumors that surrounded Potter and paints a vivid portrait of the dramas and fights behind his screen triumphs.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Anyone who has seen The Singing Detective or Pennies from Heaven will recognize Potter as one of the most challenging and creative television writers over the last quarter century. Known mainly for his scripts for the BBC and ITV in England, Potter also wrote numerous books, articles, and screenplays (including Gorky Park, Brimstone and Treacle, and James and the Giant Peach). Potter's fame and life are well known in England, but very little has been published in this country concerning his life. Growing up in a poor coal-mining family, he attended Oxford on scholarship, briefly was a Labour Party politician in the 1960s, and then dove headlong into writing. He was also tortured by crippling psoriasis that destroyed his joints and sent him regularly to the hospital. His medicine eventually caused the pancreatic cancer that killed him in 1994. This valuable work by the biographer of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. C. Lewis will provide considerable insight into the life and creativity of one of England's preeminent writers. --Eric Robbins

Publisher's Weekly Review

Quirky, reclusive and prolific, the English writer Dennis Potter (19351994) reinvented serious TV with his frequently harrowing and much-lauded teleplays. Also a critic, novelist and cinema screenwriter, Potter was a man of spectacular contradictions, as Carpenter makes abundantly clear in this revealing and astute biography. A coalminers son who graduated from Oxford, Potter lived with his wife in an expensive Victorian mansion but openly attacked class prejudice and flaunted his working-class roots. A lifelong socialist and unsuccessful Labor Party parliamentary candidate who called for the breakup of the BBC monopoly, he turned away from his parents fundamentalism but periodically embraced a vaguely Christian, optimistic faith in a benevolent God. A family man and a father of three, he confessed compulsively to friends that he visited multitudes of prostitutes; his plays, full of relentless self-exposure, often allude to the sexual abuse he suffered at age 10 from a homosexual uncle. A manic-depressive, Potter overused tranquilizers, steroids and booze, partly to seek relief from crippling, disfiguring psoriatic arthropathy (psoriasis compounded by arthritis). Potter died at 59, from cancer, outliving his steadfast wife by just a few days. His last works left critics divided: was he a Swiftian genius or an overrated icon? In this candid, authorized biography, Carpenter (biographer of Tolkien, Auden, C.S. Lewis and Benjamin Britten) refrains from taking sides. American audiences will be most familiar with Potters BBC musical serials, Pennies from Heaven (1977) and The Singing Detective (1986)both aired here by PBSyet this convivial biography takes the full measure of a prodigious talent whose output ran the gamut from science fiction to political satire. Photos. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Dennis Potter may be well known only in the United Kingdom and in PBS circles, but he is considered a prolific writer whose works are both original and controversial. Most here would be familiar with his teleplays The Singing Detective and Pennies from Heaven, which scandalized some and delighted others. Growing up in England's remote Forest of Dean, an area from which few escaped, Potter actually wanted to be a miner. But his talents led him to Oxford, and from there he worked as a BBC writer and a television critic. He suffered from depression and chronic psoriasis, a condition graphically shown in the semi-autobiographical The Singing Detective. British biographer Carpenter, who has written lives of Tolkien, Auden, Pound, and others, interviewed everyone close to Potter and was given exclusive access to his archives. He has produced a scholarly and exhaustive treatment of a complicated man about whom little has been written. Highly recommended for college and public libraries, despite the price.ÄRosellen Brewer, Monterey Bay Area Cooperative Lib. Syst., CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Perhaps the most innovative writer in the history of television, Potter wrote for the stage and screen and for newspapers and periodicals. Viewers in the US know him best for Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective. Carpenter does full justice to Potter's impressive career and treats his rather cranky personality with understanding. Carpenter has published well-received biographies of poet W.H. Auden (CH, Dec'81), composer Benjamin Britten (CH, Dec'93), and other figures in the arts, and his status as Potter's authorized biographer (though Carpenter acknowledges that Potter wanted no biography written about him) gave him complete access to Potter's papers and to his friends and family. Both those who know little of Potter and those who have studied him will find this biography insightful. Devotees will find especially intriguing Carpenter's accounts of scripts that never got produced and reports of the gossip that swirled around this controversial, feisty figure. Carpenter's book shows how valuable a biography can be, whatever its flaws and whatever the obstacles. Includes detailed source notes and a chronology of Potter's work. All academic collections. C. Rollyson; Bernard M. Baruch College, CUNY