Saturday, 11 January 2014


Fantasy Bob has already spent too much of this yet young year in front of the TV set. Not doing anything useful like watching endless reruns of the Ashes debacle in an effort to pinpoint what went wrong so badly so often.

Instead he has been immersed in watching the boxed set of Breaking Bad which the ever reliable Santa Claus deposited in his stocking on Christmas morning.

Breaking Bad has been heralded as the greatest TV programme ever; in the whole history of the world; the universe; the galaxy; and everywhere else. FB is not sure about how that accolade was arrived at, for there is nothing about cricket in the show.  A shame, for the show is set in Albuquerque New Mexico, and presented an admirable opportunity to consider the fortunes of the cricket team based there, the UNM Lobos.    Instead the show follows the misadventures of a middle aged chemistry teacher, who, like FB, has a great future behind him.  Finding he has advanced lung cancer, he takes to a life of crime through the manufacture of crystal meth to finance his treatment and provide for his surviving family. 

There is therefore a startling ethical issue underlying the show - does this motivation justify the misery that the crystal meth will cause amongst thousands of addicts? This is a judgement as morally difficult as whether the bodyline tactic was justifiable or whether Stuart Broad had any valid reason for not walking last summer. Or maybe it is to be read as an indictment of aspects of the economic system - that such behaviour is necessary to have access to appropriate health care, or more widely that economic activity in the US itself has at its heart exploitation and dubious moral propositions.  Like the IPL.

Anyway, much as he finds the show enjoyable, FB is sceptical of its claims to be the best TV show ever. For him that status belongs to a classic of British TV - Dennis Potter's Pennies from Heaven, made for the BBC in 1978.  This was a powerfully and startlingly original drama in which the action and motivations of the characters are underpinned through the innovative device of them breaking into routines lip-synching 1930s popular songs.  That the lead character - played memorably by Bob Hoskins - was a salesman of sheet music for such songs and believed in the highly optimistic and romantic world reflected in the lyrics was its own point.

Here is a sequence which demonstrates the power of this technique - shortly after beginning her doomed affair with the Hoskin's character demure school teacher Eileen, played by Cheryl Campbell, engages her class after an illicit night of passion.  Brilliant (and it was shot in the classroom in the forest of Dean where Potter himself was a pupil).

Pennies from Heaven was a tour-de-force which sadly seems well beyond the capacity of British TV to get anywhere near these days.  Although Potter's subsequent drama The Singing Detective is considered by some critics to be superior, FB remains loyal to Pennies from Heaven.  It is the best.  Test Match Quality.

Sadly there is no cricketing interest in it either show.  However Dennis Potter was father to Sarah Potter who gained some celebrity as a member of England's womens cricket team.  Sheo played 7 Tests in the late 1980s and subsequently wrote for The Times.  So he made up for this oversight in other ways.

Dennis Potter 1935-94


  1. Unlike FB, I was never a fan of Potter's plays, finding them clever but self-indulgent, but would agree that Pennies From Heaven is probably the most memorable. Some of his television and big screen adaptations also stand up well to scrutiny. However, for originality and sheer inventiveness in the television series genre, Andrew Davies' A very Peculiar Practice and Michael Dobbs' House of Cards trilogy would be near the top of my favoured list.