Dennis Potter

Humphrey Carpenter
Date Published
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Dennis Potter’s death in 1994 deprived British television of its most controversial figure. Potter was a prolific writer of genius. Yet while his subversive television plays, such as Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective, scandalized and delighted the nation, they also made him the butt of the tabloids, who nicknamed him ‘Dirty Den’ for his 1989 serial Blackeyes.

Humphrey Carpenter, acclaimed biographer of Tolkien, Auden, Pound, Britten and Robert Runcie, interviewed everyone who came close to Potter, and had exclusive access to Potter’s archives, including the many unmade television and film scripts. Carpenter portrays a very different Potter from the aggressive public image: a deeply shy and reclusive man, who was psychologically as well as physically scarred by the illness which struck him down at the age of twenty-six. Potter was a man with a vast interest in sex but also a terrible loathing of it, thanks to an appalling experience he suffered in childhood.

Potter was a man much gossiped about. Carpenter’s remarkable biography establishes the extraordinary truth behind the rumours; describes Potter’s strange, obsessive relationships with women such as Gina Bellman, who played Blackeyes; and gives a vivid portrait of the backstage dramas and fights behind Potter’s screen triumphs.

‘What is valuable about this book is that it reveals Potter’s real private life, which barely features in his plays … A wonderfully vivid portrait of the man: his generosity and cruelty, his coarseness and tenderness, and the thwarted sexual yearning that underlay everything.’ Lynn Barber, Daily Telegraph


Humphrey Carpenter was born and educated in Oxford, and attended the Dragon School and Keble College. He was a well-known biographer and children’s writer, and worked previously as a producer at the BBC. He wrote biographies of J. R. R. Tolkien, W. H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, Ezra Pound, C. S. Lewis and Dennis Potter. Among his many books for children…

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