Series of massive promise

Arts (Television): Series of massive promise


22 December 1986

The Times

And so, six weeks after entering hospital, Michael Gambon walked down the corridor with Janet Suzman as Vera Lynn sang 'We'll meet again'. The Singing Detective (BBC1) was over and with it, as I am not afraid to say again, the best thing I have ever watched on television.

Not that it was a completely smooth ride. After thinking by the end of the second programme that Dennis Potter was Proust (to peddle a phrase from AN Wilson), there was a patch when he was just very good, when the parts became more interesting than the whole, when the flashbacks began to itch. Last night, however, like an Escher drawing, Potter's masterpiece joined the whole boiling lot together into something marvellous.

It was the programme when Gambon, the invalid, started singing for the first time, and his father (Jim Carter) reacted at last to his mother's suicide by changing his inexpressibly sad face into a scream. It was a programme full of all sorts of pain - pain that could only be endured by dissolving into childhood songs or a corny detectives story (in fact the detectives became over-tiresome at the end).

From the well of this self-conscious kitsch, Potter succeeded in drawing a character glistening with life; and in showing, with sometimes breathless effect, that we have only started scratching the surface of what it is possible to do with this medium.

Others must be singled out for praise, though: Jonathan Powell, head of BBC drama, for backing it; Michelle Guish for casting it; Bill Wright for his editing it; Jon Amiel for his directing; Kenith Trodd and John Harris for their production - and, of course, Joanne Whalley for her eyes. As for Gambon, he deserves every prize going.

last updated october 2014