About this site
Recommended by the BBC
This site began its life in 1994 while I was preparing to teach a module on Dennis Potter's work to groups of students at what was then the Ripon Campus of the University College of Ripon & York, St. John as part of their BA Hons degree in Cultural Studies. The site has now outlasted both the degree and the Ripon Campus but is still supported by what is now York St John College, who host the site on their web server.
The module was called "Clenched Fists" and that's how this site got its name too. I took the phrase from Potter's James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture, given in Edinburgh in 1993. Having delivered an almost frenzied piece of invective against "some of the nastiest people besmirching our once-fair land", Potter held up his glove-protected hands to the audience and explained that he was speaking so passionately because he objected "to the manner in which too many of us too much of the time half hide behind the anonymous, the over-smoothed, over-soothed and anodyne." Something he chose never to do. His fists, he explained (and it was clear for all to see) were "already clenched".
"Clenched Fists" seemed to me perfectly to encapsulate his passion. His passion both in the old-fashioned sense of the word - the suffering he endured throughout his life from the crippling disease psoriatic arthropathy - and his passion as it referred to his enthusiasm for what TV might do in people's lives, his energy as a "wordsmith using his tools as weapons and as soothing balms", his love and devotion to his wife Margaret and to his children, and his vehement anger at the wrongs and injustices he saw around him, especially in the media and occasionally directed at him and his work.
Over the last decade I have attempted, with the help of many friends and colleagues, to provide a repository of information, analysis and commentary on the life and work of Dennis Potter for those who have been captivated by the man's creative genius and vision but have been frustrated by what until fairly recently has been a dearth of opportunities to re-visit his work.
Since his death in 1994 Potter's work has been elusive - seldom if ever screened and almost impossible to obtain. It was as though this titan of television drama risked being lost to new generations who might never have come to appreciate his individual and questioning critiques of the "window on the world" which was television and the significant contributions he made to the ways in which we view the "palace of varieties" in the corners (in every corner these days) of our rooms.
In the last two years, however, he has made a Lazarus-like return. In June 2004 his life and work were celebrated as the central part of the Voices in the Forest festival in his homeland, the Forest of Dean. In December 2004, BBC screened three new documentaries on aspects of his life and work and launched a season of classic Potter pieces including Pennies From Heaven, The Singing Detective and a further ten single plays. DVDs of The Singing Detective, Pennies From Heaven, Brimstone and Treacle and Casanova were released by BBC. Much of this, in particular the development of the documentaries, was facilitated by Potter's children, Jane, Sarah and Robert and by his agent and friend, Judy Daish.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate, with my friend and colleague, Dr. John Cook, in the Festival proceedings in June 2004 and had the opportunity to meet up with Jane Potter. The family has now agreed to adopt the Clenched Fists web site as the official Dennis Potter site, and for that I am very privileged and grateful.
In 2000 I spent a few days in the Forest of Dean, photographing places known by Potter and talking to local people, including, to my great delight, his sister, June. I also visited St Mary's Parish Church in Ross-on-Wye, where the memorial stones of Dennis Potter and his wife Margaret are located. The inscription across both stones reads, "All the way to heaven is heaven ... All of it a kiss." It is taken from Alice Hoffman's novel "Turtle Moon" and was chosen by Margaret Potter.
I never had the privilege of meeting Dennis Potter (except through his work) but as a mark of respect and thanks to him, I rolled up 'a lovely tube of delight', took a drag and shared the rest with him.
Last updated: 20th January 2005