Dennis Potter: A Biography

Humphrey Carpenter, Author, Carpenter, Author St. Martin's Press $40 (704p) ISBN 978-0-312-22126-3
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)
Reviewed on: 05/03/1999
Release date: 05/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 672 pages - 978-0-571-17685-4
Paperback - 700 pages - 978-0-571-24832-2
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