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Interview with Dennis Potter, An (1994)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Interview with Dennis Potter, An (1994)
A Without Walls Special, LWT for Channel 4, tx. 5/4/1994
70 minutes, colour
DirectorTom Poole
ProducerNigel Wattis
EditorMelvyn Bragg
InterviewerMelvyn Bragg

Television writer Dennis Potter speaks openly to Melvyn Bragg about his life and work, and about the fatal cancer which has left him with only a few weeks to live.

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Dennis Potter was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas and secondary cancer of the liver on 14 February 1994, and given only a few months to live. At the time, he had been helping to nurse his wife, who was herself terminally ill with cancer. In his final television interview, he smilingly recalled the Valentine's Day announcement from the doctors as a "kiss from someone or something".

The interview was conducted by Melvyn Bragg on 15 March. While Potter is comparatively serene throughout, Bragg is clearly emotional and rarely able to sustain eye contact with his subject, while remaining an able facilitator for a wide-ranging conversation which touches upon religion, politics and the media, as well as Potter's childhood and his response to the controversies surrounding many of his plays.

In typical Potter fashion, the interview is laced with black humour, which both leavens and highlights the poignancy of the occasion. When sitting down in his seat, Potter's first words are "I think mine is the one with the ashtray". His defiant chain-smoking of "this lovely tube of delight" is matched by his genuine regret over what he perceived as mistakes in Blackeyes (BBC, 1989) and a feeling that he was now closer to his late father as he approached his own death.

What is perhaps truly extraordinary about the interview is how coordinated, lucid and cogent Potter's responses are. Despite the pain, and his reliance on liquid morphine to control it, his style is almost epigrammatic and always to the point. Potter is also wonderfully funny, as in the priceless moment in which he reveals that he has called his main cancer after Rupert Murdoch ("I would shoot the bugger if I could"), which he then turns into an inevitably chilling but invigorating dissection of the hoary cliché of what one would do if given only a few months to live.

The interview is at times simultaneously striking and moving, as when Potter describes the blossom in his garden as "...the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be". He ends by stating his hopes for his last two plays: "I want it to be fitting, to be a memorial. I want to continue to speak". It is a touching and low-key conclusion to what remains one of the finest interviews broadcast on British television and a significant addition to the body of work by Dennis Potter.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. A little kiss (3:00)
2. Blossom (2:28)
3. Stars in my crown (2:40)
4. Rupert (3:15)
Potter, Dennis (1935-1994)