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2-5 Graham

Remembering, repeating, and redemption Reflections on Dennis Potter’s Karaoke Richard Graham …There’s the music, and you have your own little line, yo...

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Remembering, repeating, and redemption Reflections on Dennis Potter’s Karaoke Richard Graham …There’s the music, and you have your own little line, you can sing it, and everything is written for you, and that is the way life appears to a lot of people and feels to a lot of people. For some you haven’t got much space, and even the space you’ve got, although you use your own voice, the words are also written for you. Dennis Potter1

A few years ago, when struggling to find the right example to show how certain patterns are repeated or transmitted through a family’s history, instead of turning to the familiar model of drama in which the family members are caught up, I found myself rediscovering Dennis Potter’s last great work Karaoke. Potter, with typical freshness and ingenuity, focused on the common man’s experience of his life being influenced by unknown factors through the entertainment of Karaoke. This in turn led me to re-view Karaoke and its companion Cold Lazarus, which was quite a revelation. In the aftermath of Potter’s death, inevitably, 1. Dennis Potter, Seeing the Blossom: Two interviews and a lecture, Faber and Faber 1994. 155


both had been disappointing in comparison with the earlier peaks of Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective. Clearly, one’s expectations were extremely high: Potter was, and remains, the most adventurous, taxing and moving of all television dramatists, an idiom itself almost lost at this time. And, in fact, a later viewing of both posthumous pieces suggested that there was enormous worth in both pieces, and that they had been criminally undervalued. That is not to say that the flaws are not still apparent, but to find any comparable work, with such emotional density and psychological complexity, would be nigh on impossible in Potter’s hated Murdoch empire. In these works, a myriad of interpretations lends further meaning - such is the richness of the writing; but at the core of Karaoke are the painful issues of identity, the course of personal development, and obstructions to this. Potter communicates the urge to find the ‘happy ending’ so poignantly, at the time of his own death: his understanding of both mind and self can be thought about through the lens of post-Kleinian psychoanalytic theory, to the enrichment of both. (David Bell showed this in relation to The Singing Detective in Soundings 2, spring 1996). n some ways, Karaoke and Cold Lazarus are connoisseur’s pieces, in which themes from earlier works are evoked or intrude (the protagonist of Karaoke, Daniel, mimes to Bing Crosby’s Pennies from Heaven at a Karaoke bar in the last part) with such subtlety that Potter’s past life really does pass before us. Yet the themes are utilised and transformed, woven together with such deftness that the works remind one of Wagner’s organisation of leitmotivs in Gotterdammerung. This use of leitmotivs takes us to the very core of the work the tension between repeating or reliving and moving on. A new song is to be sung, and a new story emerges. Unfortunately, little further discussion can occur without a fairly full summary of the narrative of Karaoke, even though it is impossible that this can do full justice to the work.


The story of Karaoke Karaoke opens in Potter’s typical, kaleidoscopic style: the opening scene of Karaoke (the drama within the drama), written by the protagonist Daniel (Dan = Den(nis)), is shown to the accompaniment of ‘Why Must I Be a Teenager in Love’. This scene is interspersed with shots of Daniel having a radiological investigation of his colon (‘You can see what is going on inside’) and shots of Arthur ‘Pig’ Mailion singing the same song grotesquely in the sleazy Karaoke 156


Remembering, repeating and redemption

bar that he owns. The radiologist suggests to Daniel that he observe the monitor showing the dye passing through his colon; the escape of internal reality into external reality is revealed as Daniel hallucinates the words of the song on the X-ray monitor as if they were on a Karaoke screen. This confusion of inner and outer reality continues as Daniel leaves the hospital: he is flooded with abdominal pain following an argument with his agent, on whom he is terribly dependent; he then hears a couple speaking lines from his Karaoke script. The scene changes to the cutting room where Karaoke is being edited. Reality becomes even more disturbing for the viewer as a Potter look-alike is walking down a road, carrying an umbrella in torrents of rain and miming to ‘Your Cheating Heart’. The character enters into a brasserie, where he eats alone, but is totally absorbed by the presence of a young woman across the room, who is being persuaded by a male figure to prostitute herself. e soon see Daniel and the producer of Karaoke (Anna - the warm, pained intermediary between director and writer) having dinner together in the same brasserie. They discuss how the director of Karaoke has changed the first song from ‘Teenager in Love’ to ‘Your Cheating Heart’. After much disagreement, whilst ‘Teenager in Love’ is actually played over the restaurant loudspeakers, Daniel becomes distracted.


Daniel The fan - reflected on the top of the - For a moment there I thought I was getting a message from somewhere else - or - or - the way the - on the surface of the - (He tails off into sudden embarrassment, and then registers a wince of pain from his stomach.) Anna Daniel. Why are you repeating your own lines? Daniel Am I? Yes. I - Oh, this stomach. God in heaven. Speaking my own lines? Well - isn’t that rather the point? Isn’t that what my script’s about? Karaoke! As a metaphor, I mean. The music’s written and performed by someone else, and there’s this piddling little space for you to sing yourself, but only to their lyrics, their timing. It’s that feeling that … Anna Dan? Are you alright? 157


Daniel The way we hear - see - think that what is so - say out there. In front of us - the way we feel it’s somehow or other all been arranged in advance…2

Following this astonishing moment an attractive young woman, Sandra, arrives at the brasserie with a male, and Daniel starts to hallucinate the words that Sandra and the male are speaking (words from the script). He registers to himself that this must be the case as they are too far away to hear what is being said. aniel soon leaves the restaurant, and, manifestly confusing Sandra with the female protagonist in his Karaoke script, he follows her in the pouring rain, noting that the character in his script comes to a bad end as he says ‘got to save her or re-write’. He then intimates his wish for a happy ending. He follows her down into the Karaoke club, run by Arthur Mailion, where many escort girls try to engage him. Inebriated, confused and frightened, he talks of how his ‘belly is in his head, and his head in his belly, and both are a fucking mess’. Finally Sandra appears as an escort girl, and talks to Daniel, who by this time is in a state of worsening pain. He splutters, ‘I’m a writer. I put words in other people’s mouths.’ The pain worsens and he finally collapses. In the second part we see that Daniel has been admitted to hospital, but quickly we are returned to the cutting room where the restaurant scene is played back again and again, and as the director watches the scene it is clear that he is as much absorbed by the actress playing the girl as the male protagonist in the drama is by the character she plays. He comments on how the protagonist sees in the girl something that he longs for, a yearning for something that was lost before. In the hospital Daniel talks of how there has been a discovery that he has a blockage in his pancreas (the kind of tumour of which led to Potter’s death), and that he has to have an endoscopy ‘to look inside’. He later learns that this obstruction needs to be biopsied. Amidst this gloom, Sandra visits Daniel in hospital to check that he is alright, despite having been frightened by his behaviour in the Karaoke bar. As they talk Sandra speaks of the owner of the bar, Arthur ‘Pig’ Mailion (‘that’s what he is, a pig’) and Daniel realises that the fictional character in his Karaoke script actually exists. During this time it has also emerged that the director of Karaoke has been having an affair with


2. All quotes from Karaoke and Cold Lazarus are taken from Dennis Potter, Karaoke and Cold Lazarus, Faber and Faber 1996. 158

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the actress in Karaoke. He is caught telephoning her at a bar by his wife. However, as he telephones the actress, we see that Arthur Mailion is with her in her flat, his presence indicating that an entrapment of some sort is in progress. It is then time for Sandra to leave the hospital, and in a wondrously tender scene, Daniel escorts Sandra to a newly discovered garden in the middle of the hospital. They sit on a bench; Daniel winces with pain: I’ve been on the wrong diet. Eating and drinking my own thoughts. And I kept hearing what I thought were my own lines coming back at me.

Daniel explains what he thought had happened at the brasserie, and of how it seemed similar to the plot of Karaoke. As he speaks, he mentions names of the characters and Sandra’s face becomes stricken with fear. When Daniel describes how the character of Sandra in Karaoke is murdered, Sandra rushes off in terror, leaving behind a bag in which Daniel discovers a gun. The third part of Karaoke opens to the sound of children singing a hymn ‘Will there be any stars in my crown’ - as Daniel leaves the hospital, this time with some morphine. When he returns home there is a touching exchange between Daniel and his agent in which Daniel reveals his wish to write a screenplay about cryogenics and virtual reality. But this description is also a ruse to get the agent away. He listens to his answering machine and hears the message from the producer that ‘Pig-Mailion’ is a real person. Terrified, he gets Sandra’s bag, and goes out to visit her. t Sandra’s house, a strange, scarred and unnerving woman opens the door; Sandra’s mother. She settles back to doing a jigsaw, and soon Sandra arrives, furious that Daniel is there. She tells Daniel that it was ‘Pig-Mailion’ who scarred her mother. As Sandra had rushed off the night before, worried that Daniel was psychic and could foresee her terrible end, Daniel plays her the answer-machine message, to show that by mistake he has incorporated a real person into his drama, and that he is not psychic. Daniel asks Sandra why she carries a gun, and she tells how, when her mother was pregnant (carrying Sandra), ‘Pig-Mailion’ attacked her face with a broken milk-bottle. She only tracked down ‘Pig-Mailion’ four months ago, and so took the job to get close to him. Distressed, Sandra retches and vomits; soon after Daniel doubles up with pain - Sandra asks what is wrong: ‘Another smashed bottle’.




During this, there are also interspersed scenes of the director and actress, with the latter informing the director that the flat they met in was bugged, and that their sexual encounters were filmed from behind a one-way mirror. The blackmail scenario becomes complete. At the flat the director sees the blackmail letter, but instead of buckling he becomes dignified, and talks positively of Daniel, with whom he has previously been at war: That story of his shows that when a particular obsession cracks open - an obsession of any kind - there is a terrifying freedom poking out, and in that freedom one might even see the faint outlines of a funny little thing called dignity.

The actress tells ‘Pig-Mailion’ of the director’s refusal to pay, that they are dealing with a different class of people; and in response to Pig-Mailion’s rage she says, ‘It’s like being in a some sort of story and it’s all gone wrong’. art four of the drama opens with Daniel angry in his flat at dawn - ‘How many more Fridays?’ he asks heavenwards. He rewrites his will, and during this spills coffee on a pile of papers. As he brushes away the coffee he discovers a picture of Pig-Mailion from a newspaper, with the comment, ‘good idea for a character’, on it. His own blurring of truth and fiction becomes apparent. He discusses this with his agent and states that he wants to come clean about his quotes, and admit culpability for the use of the name. The director meanwhile has re-cut Karaoke, using less shots of the actress. We see her speaking the lines, ‘All I know is people keep putting words into my mouth’. But whilst doing this Pig-Mailion’s henchmen arrive, and he is beaten up. Daniel’s agent visits Sandra at her home and tells her that Daniel has changed his will to include her. He speaks uncertainly of Daniel’s past, suggesting its influence upon the present: his parents had died young, he had a twin brother who had committed suicide five years earlier, and, notably, Daniel had not married because something terrible had happened before his wedding. The will is structured so that Daniel is leaving two thirds of his estate to a cryogenics organisation, in which his brother had been involved, and the other third to Sandra. The agent then drives Sandra to the hospital to see Daniel. Daniel is in a hospital room; his consultant tells him that he should be



Remembering, repeating and redemption

thinking of getting his affairs in order. Daniel replies that he is about to write a screen play for something on cryogenics and asks if he will have the twelve weeks needed to put the final full stop in place. The consultant suggests instead that eight weeks for a shorter work might be more manageable. Daniel then reflects upon his experience of getting ill: When all these dreadful pains began - I mean, at the same time as they started to burn me up - I was kind of, well, going a bit dippy. I thought that a story that I had written had somehow got out into the world - like a contagious disease. My words, my script, wandering about out there - right in front of me. But no. They aren’t, thank God. There’s been another story going on all the time. This one. The one I didn’t know about. It’s just that well, the ending is sooner than I thought.

He continues: I always used to tell myself a story when I was in pain or in fear as a child, and make believe I was in the middle of a kind of book - the one bright book! - in which there was shape, a meaning and a good ending ... Where I can tidy up all those loose bits and bobs, tie up all of the loose ends, find the shape of it – Yes … I’m back in charge of my own story. I can take control of it now. I’ve got it back into my own hands and my words.

There then follows a number of moving scenes in which the director’s wife forgives him and they are reunited after his affair and the subsequent assault upon him, and Daniel’s agent and Sandra say goodbye to him in the hospital. Daniel tells Sandra of how she woke up a part of him - he was awakened by her - and of the conditions of the will, which includes a forgetting of the gun, and of any plans for revenge. When Sandra has left, Daniel waits, then takes the gun, leaving the hospital at nightfall. As he leaves via the garden he pauses in front of the statue of Eros and softly speaks the words of the hymn heard earlier, sung by school children, at the opening of part three: Will there be any stars, any stars in my crown, When at evening when the sun goes down? 161


When I wake with the blest, In the Mansion of rest, Will there be any stars in my crown?

He proceeds to the Karaoke club, where he sings Pennies from Heaven (actually mimed to the voice of Crosby) with such authenticity and style that all the hostesses and visitors to the club are won over. ‘Pig-Mailion’ is also impressed and invites Daniel to his office; there Daniel tells him that he needs a few ‘stars in his crown’, and shoots him in the head at point blank range. At this point Karaoke finishes, Potter leaving us with a decisive action on behalf of life and the future rather than the approaching death of Daniel.

Reflections on Karaoke Of course, what is impossible to convey is the way in which the drama is enhanced by extraordinary and subtle acting, the equal of any in the previous dramas. Indeed what marks the last work apart from previous dramas is the tenderness of many of the scenes. The performance by Albert Finney of the role of Daniel is certainly one of his greatest achievements, and there appears to be no weak link in the cast. The performance by Roy Hudd as Daniel’s agent is perhaps the most startling because of one’s memories of him in very different roles - the scenes with Daniel are almost unbearably touching. s stated earlier, as with all Potter’s output Karaoke is particularly ripe for the application of psychoanalytic ideas to its narrative. This is particularly important as Potter eschews any sentimental wading through his past at the time of his death, and brings to us his forward-looking thoughts on contemporary matters. Perhaps the last century will be recognised by history as the one in which technology developed especially in areas which allowed identity to become totally fluid. Phantasies of having been somewhere, or of being someone else, are concretely confirmed by all manner of recording devices. A photograph or video replaces memory, and the recording of sound takes us to that event. Given all the wondrous moments captured - all those great artists - it can seem that current reality can hardly compete with the past. The riches of an idealised past become a nostalgic retreat from the present, and technology facilitates not just a ‘I was there’ phantasy, but a ‘I am there’ phantasy. Someone else’s reality is adopted, all in vivid Technicolor, but the personality



Remembering, repeating and redemption

withdraws from real life, and is handicapped by this process. (It is fundamental to psychoanalysis that growth only occurs through acknowledgement of present reality.) This theme is explored in Cold Lazarus, the sequel to Karaoke, shown on Channel Four after the BBC’s Karaoke. Karaoke mirrors Cold Lazarus in that it is more preoccupied with intrusions in to the lives of others, whereas Cold Lazarus is more preoccupied with the violation of the self. Karaoke as form of entertainment can be seen as representing a crude first technological step in a progression to a total virtual reality, where all phantasies can be actualised without any recourse to other people or external realities; this is indicated by Potter as a dawn, and certainly not just a kitsch sunset. Whilst Karaoke does show the absurdity of adults pretending to be someone else, it also reveals the desperate wish to escape oneself and one’s fate. This idea was fruitfully explored by Melanie Klein in her paper ‘On Identification’.3 In her paper she explores a novel in which a character repeatedly shifts identity - which also is illuminating of her concept of projective identification.4 otter’s use of Karaoke as a metaphor contains (at least) two possible meanings. Firstly, there is the sense that Karaoke is a reflection of life in which the individual has only a slither of freedom with which to act. Potter’s awareness of the restrictiveness and predictability of many lives reveals both his sympathy for our desire to ‘sing our own song’, and concern that the destructive aspects of history (both personal and global) are so relentlessly repeated. This suggests that the individual, to use another model, might experience her/himself as something of a puppet, in which strings are pulled by unknown forces (and in psychotic illness this can concretely be experienced as just this). Potter does repeatedly suggest to us in Karaoke that aspects of oneself can also act like the puppeteer - for example in his continuous references to putting words into other people’s mouths. There is, of course also the reference to Shaw’s Pygmalion - perhaps a reflection, albeit an overly self-critical one, of the playwright’s view of himself. Secondly, it is implicit in the work that the process of Karaoke is a retreat from the world and oneself, and in this psychic retreat there are considerable


3. M. Klein, ‘On Identification’, in The Writings of Melanie Klein Vol 3, Envy and Gratitude and Other Works, Hogarth Press 1955. 4. Klein, ‘Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms’, in The Writings of Melanie Klein, Vol 3, Envy and Gratitude and Other Works, Hogarth Press 1946. 163


dangers. In Melanie Klein’s paper ‘On Identification’ the character in the novel keeps a slip of paper in his pocket with his name on, so that he can always get back to himself, and not get lost in his temporary identifications. Potter reveals the early roots of this putting oneself into someone else, or into another world, in his reference to the ‘one bright book’ with a good ending - the one he thought of when in pain or frightened as a child. He also implies that one can get lost in such phantasies when he states that he has now got the story back in to his own hands - ‘back in to my own hands and my words’. There is clearly a great deal of terrifying confusion for the character of Daniel in Karaoke; the boundaries of his mind are quite frayed at the opening of the work. Inside and outside are blurred. His head is in his belly, and his belly is in his head. It clearly has to be asked at this point why Potter should choose to explore this process at the end of his life. While it is true that some of his works, notably Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective, used a proto-Karaoke dramatic device (the miming to old songs) to evoke and surprise, there are clearly other aspects. It was the view of early psychoanalytic thinkers that the psychoanalysis of elderly adults was not possible, since the accumulation of memories - the stuff of analysis - was so great that the analysis would be interminable. But Hanna Segal revealed in her paper ‘Fear of Death: Notes on the Analysis of an Old Man’ that the infantile conflicts that so influence our personality throughout life are just as active at the end of life - and perhaps more so - and are just as available for work.5 Potter confirms this, and reveals to us an aspect of what we assume is his internal world, that as death approached, he wanted to repair; and, in the most tender way, repair he does. It cannot be escaped that Potter was struggling with an aspect of his relationship to women, and perhaps especially to his internal mother, that was fuelled by sadism and perversity. From a psychoanalytic perspective, the narrative of Karaoke, the drama within the drama, could be seen to represent a violent, murderous coupling of man and woman - in phantasy the parents. The murder of Sandra by Pig-Mailion in Daniel’s Karaoke (the drama within the drama) is the representation of this. It is not apparent to us why this should be so, but its 5. H. Segal, ‘Fear of Death: Notes on the Analysis of an Old Man’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 1958. 164

Remembering, repeating and redemption

significance to Potter is undoubted. Of course such a phantasy may have been re-awoken in Potter following the illness and death of his wife just before his own, but its use in the narrative suggests that it was a central part of Potter’s inner life; it is something that has recurred throughout his work, most clearly in the hideous, haunting murder of the blind girl in Pennies from Heaven. It is also apparent, though, that this caused a great deal of distress to him. At the opening of Karaoke, the character of Daniel is quite oblivious to the internal significance of this situation. He requires the assistance of others to look inside him and tell him there is something wrong. As a means of controlling and escaping the situation, he retreats from the terrible, deadly internal state of affairs into madness, putting words into the mouths of others, and ‘eating and drinking his own thoughts’. Fortunately there is help at hand in the form of other supportive and kind figures (the doctor, rather like the psychiatrist in The Singing Detective, appears to be a benign paternal figure) who assist him towards an increased contact with the reality of his ‘blockage’, the obstruction inside himself. Indeed there is a recognition that many other characters, such as the producer Anna, and the director, assist with this process of acknowledging reality. This blockage is clearly the correlate of the murderous phantasy in himself, and soon Daniel, after ‘getting messages from somewhere else’, seeks to repair the damage - to create a happy ending. But his wish to repair is put in context by the Karaoke metaphor. It is something that is repeated again and again, as if ‘arranged in advance’, such that his producer asks him, when he appears to be more in touch with himself, ‘Why are you repeating your own lines?’ The drama, both internal and external, revolves round the question of how such lines can be changed. Daniel says ‘got to save her or re-write’. ny uncertainty that we might have as to the nature of the cancer that is eating away at Daniel is dealt with in the illuminating scene between Sandra and Daniel at her home. It is the scene in which Daniel learns of Pig-Mailion’s attack upon her mother. This was clearly no ordinary attack the scarring of a pregnant woman with a broken milk bottle. It is difficult to avoid the hypothesis that this represents a phantasied attack, in the mind of a child, upon his mother when she is pregnant. The volcanic eruptions of envy, jealousy and hatred, as so vividly described by Melanie Klein, are here displayed in the narrative, and all good things are smashed and broken. The vehicle for




the longed for milk - the bottle, but presumably in phantasy the mother’s breast - itself is attacked, becoming a vicious weapon in the process. Such is the force of this that Sandra vomits. Daniel winces with pain from his abdomen, but when asked what is wrong, comments that the ‘smashed bottle’ is inside him. It is thus apparent that the cancer in himself is the attack not only upon the parental couple, but on the mother-pregnant-with-sibling. et it is Daniel’s contact with Sandra that appears to bring him alive, and stir in him a wish to repair something that was lost long ago, and perhaps find redemption. It is this particular quality that lends Karaoke a warmth that has sometimes escaped Potter, whatever the vigour of the drama. The warmth reflects both the genuine wish to repair the damage caused by one’s impulses and actions as described by Melanie Klein in her formulation of the depressive position and the consequence of doing so; warmer, more loving feelings emerge in the aftermath. Daniel is no longer the writer of a murder, but the protector of a young woman who represents something lost, for which he still yearns. When he can be in contact with this reality, he feels less mad, feels the story is back in his own hands, and is more able to act. This is the core of psychoanalysis, that when an internal situation can be acknowledged, whatever the painful feelings of remorse, shame and guilt, there is a freedom. As the director puts it: ‘when a particular obsession cracks open - an obsession of any kind - there is a terrifying freedom poking out, and in that freedom one might even see the faint outlines of a funny little thing called dignity.’ In this case, one could argue that when Potter’s own obsessions (which recur throughout his works, and are expertly revealed in Karaoke), as revealed by his core destructive phantasy, are acknowledged and worked upon, it leads to relief and dignity. Paraphrasing Freud, there is a shift from remembering and repeating to something more akin to redemption. His uncertainty though (‘will there be any stars in my crown’) contrasts with the somewhat manic, or magical, resolution to the drama, when Pig-Mailion is simply eliminated; the link to an aspect of himself is rather fudged. It is certainly possible that Pig-Mailion represents a ‘Murdoch-like’ intrusively voyeuristic gangster-journalist, using the lives of others for his own ends. Yet this remains distant from Potter’s acknowledgement of something similar in himself: he deals with it by killing that part off. This will increase the stars in



Remembering, repeating and redemption

his crown. On the other hand Sandra is saved through this action, and so the action also appears to be a recognition of true badness in the world - something that is of quite a different order from the destructive phantasies inside Daniel. As Potter worked upon, and thus acknowledged, this destructive aspect of himself, he developed a greater capacity for discrimination, and through this freedom to act. What I also found so compelling about Karaoke, as stated earlier, was its evocation of intergenerational dynamics in families, such that Sandra was still caught up in the drama of what had happened before her birth, as if everything had indeed been arranged in advance. In family life, there is sometimes very little space for the individual members to sing their own song, and this sense of constriction not only evokes what Potter himself might have experienced in his own family, but is also a potent promoter of envious or jealous feelings, as the new baby is felt to take more than just mother’s breasts away. The need to find one’s position, and not to simply fit in with what has been arranged or orchestrated, remains the struggle, and our approach to such struggles becomes the foundations of our-selves. Although it is beyond the scope of this article to comment in detail on Cold Lazarus, it is important to note that many of the issues and themes so alive in Karaoke find their echoes here. It certainly contains what is perhaps the most gentle and tender love scene in any of Potter’s work, which seems to relate to Potter’s early relationship with his wife. One should not underestimate the devastation that must have been brought to this relationship by Potter’s psoriasis, although Cold Lazarus shows us other episodes that must be considered. It includes the most unsensational yet harrowing portrayal of child sexual abuse, and it is hard to believe that Potter wasn’t finally revealing something that had been hinted at before, but never fully disclosed. otter also comes clean about two other aspects of himself that warrant further attention. Perhaps somewhat obviously, it reveals that the avoidance of death, either as a reality for oneself or others, brings with it such enormous problems, that, again, there is relief in accepting the painful reality. More disturbingly, Cold Lazarus reveals an aspect of Potter that is sometimes lost in the sweep of his dramas. Potter’s hatred of Rupert Murdoch is well recorded, and his naming of his cancer as ‘Rupert’ is proof of it. But a study of intrusion into the self, and voyeurism, reaches back very early in Potter’s life.




His documentary on his family, of his daughter’s christening, for the BBC, and comments made in a draft for a novel (the protagonist comments that he treated his own life as if it were a novel6), suggest that there was an aspect of Potter himself akin to Murdoch, and that he used himself ruthlessly for material. Such characters pervade Cold Lazarus, and as this particular obsession cracks open there is the dignity or release of death at the close of the work. he struggles clearly continued until the end for Potter, for Cold Lazarus also contains an unpleasant and perhaps gratuitous murder of a young woman; but we are a long way from the shocking, terrifying murder of the girl in Pennies from Heaven. Unlike the ‘one bright book’ of Karaoke, there remain many loose ends both in the work itself and in an attempt such as this to think about it. Potter seems both to embrace the possibilities of technology and recoil from them; for myself, I would hope that developments in technology would at least afford us greater access to Potter’s work, which is at present locked away in the BBC archives, or on poor video copies - a situation loaded with frustration. His richness of thought, unflinching portrayal of many aspects of inner life, and compassion for the ordinary person, lend his works the possibility of re-view, and of learning something different again. Potter did learn to re-write his story, and in his life moved beyond many of the orchestrations of family, class, culture and illness. For many of us there will always be many stars in his crown.


6. Quoted in H. Carpenter, Dennis Potter, Faber and Faber 1998. 168