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Lost script discovered from Dennis Potter, the creator of TV's celebrated ‘The Singing Detective’

Michael Gambon in 'The Singing Detective'
Michael Gambon in 'The Singing Detective' Copyright BBC
Copyright BBC
By Jonny Walfisz
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A new script has been uncovered from one of the greatest TV writers, nearly 30 years after his death.

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In his day, English television dramatist Dennis Potter was peerless. Born in 1935, he was best known for creating the massively popular BBC drama ‘The Singing Detective’ in 1986.

Featuring Michael Gambon (Dumbledore in Harry Potter) as Philip Marlow, a man suffering so badly from the skin disease psoriasis that he enters a fantasy world where he’s a noir detective, Potter based ‘The Singing Detective’ on his own experience of psoriasis.

Despite only having six episodes, ‘The Singing Detective’ is still considered one of the greatest shows in TV history. 

Now, a previously unknown script by Potter, detailing plot points that would later show up in his masterpiece has resurfaced.

The 60-page script, called ‘The Last Television Play’ was discovered by John Cook, a professor of media at Glasgow Caledonian University. Cook was researching the Potter archive at Dean Heritage Centre when he came across the script.

“This was it. I’d found not only an unknown television play by Dennis Potter but the seeds, the origins of The Singing Detective, his most famous work. It’s a remarkable, wonderfully inventive piece, very experimental,” Cook said.

Potter died in 1994, but he had previously alluded to the existence of ‘The Last Television Play’ in an interview where he’d described writing scenes set in a hospital ward prior to writing ‘The Singing Detective’. However, when asked by Cook in his lifetime, Potter had suggested it was unlikely they remained as he destroyed most of his unused work.

Cook’s discovery of the prototype script came as the result of a research into the origins of ‘The Singing Detective’. “I hoped to find fragments but what I found was a completely previously unknown television play,” he said.

While the final show was aired on the BBC, Cook has realised the former script was likely developed for a competitor as it includes advert breaks, which the BBC doesn’t have.

Within the newly found script, there’s even a mock eulogy for Potter, written over a decade before his actual death from pancreatic cancer. In the eulogy, a vicar refers to the way Potter is overlooked for his writing because of the medium of television.

“To put the adjectival noun Television in front of the noble old word Playwright is the same kind of diminution as putting the adjective processed in front of the even more ancient word cheese,” the eulogy goes, before the vicar explains that Potter supposedly died choking on smoked salmon while flying to the US on Concorde.

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