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The Singing Detective (BBC Drama, Michael Gambon)

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The Singing Detective BBC Drama, Michael Gambon

In The Singing Detective, Philip E. Marlow (Michael Gambon), a writer of cheap detective fiction is in hospital with a terrible skin condition, drifting in and out of consciousness Marlow imagines he is the hero of one of his novels and also remembers his childhood in the Forest of Dean.

One of the most important BBC drama products of the 1980’s and certainly one of Dennis Potter’s best, taking many elements from his previous works – the Forest of Dean, the cast breaking into songs of the 30’s and 40’s, the preoccupations with sex etc.

Michael Gambon is superb as crime writer Philip Marlow languishing in his hospital bed with a dreadful case of psoriasis but falling back into memories of his childhood in the forest of Dean and lapsing into pages of his book The Singing Detective – a noir thriller set in the 1940’s.

Most of the cast appear in all three segments, of course this can make for a confusing narrative but it all comes together beautifully in the end; Potter’s habit of allowing the cast to break into song is a classic touch, he’d tried it before of course most notably with the play Moonlight on the Highway and the classic series Pennies From Heaven.

Potter came under Heavy fire from the tabloids in the UK for much of his later work, unfairly so, Blackeyes was a little self indulgent for sure but The Singing Detective is a recognised classic and a powerful piece of work. If you are not familiar with Potter’s work then the Singing Detective is the ideal primer, fusing as it does so many elements of his work.

The serial was made into a poorly received movie in 1993 with Robert Downey Jr and Mel Gibson.

Cast: Michael Gambon as Philip Marlow; Patrick Malahide as Mark Binney / Raymond / Finney; Janet Suzman as Nicola; Joanne Whalley as Nurse Mills; Alison Steadman as Mrs Marlow / Lili; Bill Paterson as Doctor Gibbon; David Ryall as Mr Hall; Gerard Horan as Reginald; Leslie French as Mr Tomkey; Jim Carter as Mr Marlow; Imelda Staunton as Staff Nurse White; Lyndon Davies as Philip as Aged 10); Ron Cook as First Mysterious Man; George Rossi as Second Mysterious Man; Geoff Francis as Porter

Writer: Dennis Potter / Production Design: Jim Clay / Executive Producer: Rick McCallum / Producer: Kenith Trodd, John Harris / Director: Jon Amiel

UK / BBC One / 6 episodes of various duration (usually 60-75 minutes) / Broadcast 16 November – 21 December 1986