On 15 March 1994 Melvyn Bragg interviewed the playwright and television dramatist Dennis Potter. The interview was broadcast on the BBC’s Channel Four on April 5. Potter died of cancer two months later on June 7. Potter smokes throughout the interview, holding the cigarette and lighter between the bunched fingers of his clawed right hand. Like his hero Philip E Marlowe, the mystery writer in perhaps his most celebrated work, The Singing Detective, the playwright had suffered for much of his life from debilitating and painful psoriatic arthropathy, a skin and joint disease which, in its chronic stages, formed lesions and sores over his entire body, partially crippling his hands and feet. He was eventually obliged to write with the pen tied to his wrist.
Beside his chair in the television studio he has a flask of morphine, which he drinks from at intervals during the conversation to control the pain. All of this would make the interview remarkable enough. But it is the quality of what is said, of Bragg’s questions and Potters responses, which allows me to call this ‘the finest television interview ever recorded’. Much of a media commentator’s time is given over to criticism in the negative rather than the neutral sense of the word. I thought it appropriate to redress the balance a little by inviting you to watch this small screen gem. The YouTube version is in seven parts, each just under 10 minutes long. If you’re unfamiliar with Potter’s work, Wikipedia or YouTube are both good places to start.