The death of Dennis Potter may have been authored by God, but it was adapted for television by Potter himself. It began after a brief report in the Guardian suggested that Potter's terminal cancer related to his lifelong addiction to nicotine. By return there was a gleeful letter from Potter revelling in the Potteresque fact that far from his 'beloved cigarettes' being the culprits, his forthcoming death from pancreatic cancer was probably iatrogenic: the result of years of lethal medication. The Guardian letter assumed its readers knew that he had suffered all his adult life from psoriatic arthropathy, which, of course, they did. But tellingly, so did the readers of the Sun and the News of the World, who were more familiar with Potter as the'Dirty Drama King' and 'Television's Mr Filth'. Very few playwrights have had this kind of reach, and none has put it to such dramatic and manipulative use as Dennis Potter in his leavetaking broadcast to the nation. Though Potter was a Methodist, it was a final performance worthy of the archetypal Yiddisher momma having her guilt-laying, emotional-blackmailing finest hour. He may, as a lad, have gone three times every Sunday to a chapel called Salem, but it's not for nothing that one of his plays was entitled Schmoedipus - as in the old Jewish joke, 'Oedipus, schmoedipus, what does it matter so long as he loves his mother?'
LRB 14 December 1995 | PDF Download