Blade on the Feather

Blade on the Feather is a television drama by Dennis Potter, broadcast by ITV on 19 October 1980 as the first in a loosely connected trilogy of plays exploring language and betrayal. A pastiche of the John Le Carré spy thriller and transmitted eleven months after Anthony Blunt was exposed as the 'fourth man', the drama combines two of Potter's major themes: the visitation motif and political disillusionment. The play's title is taken from "The Eton Boating Song".

Blade on the Feather
DeepCover1980
Deep Cover U.S. VHS cover
Written byDennis Potter
Directed byRichard Loncraine
StarringTom Conti
Donald Pleasence
Denholm Elliott
Kika Markham
Phoebe Nicholls
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Production
Producer(s)Kenith Trodd
Tony Wharmby
Running time82 minutes
Release
Original networkITV
Original release19 October 1980
Chronology
Preceded byBlue Remembered Hills (1979)
Followed byRain on the Roof (1980)

Synopsis

Professor Jason Cavendish is the septuagenarian author of Cloud Cape, a children's fantasy novel. He lives in a secluded cliff-top mansion with his second wife Linda, his 18-year-old daughter Christabel and Mr Hill, his butler and personal secretary. They are visited one day by Daniel Young, who claims to be writing a thesis on political allegory in children's literature. After saving Cavendish's life when the old man has a seizure, Daniel is invited to stay by Linda and Christabel who fight for his affections. Mr Hill, meanwhile, is suspicious of Daniel's motives and concerned by Cavendish's reluctance to show him what he is writing.

Daniel seduces Christabel and, unknown to the others, murders Linda. Daniel reveals to Cavendish that his true name is Daniel Cartwright, and that his father Andrew was a British intelligence officer who was murdered by Cavendish while escorting a Soviet defector to the British embassy. Cavendish leads Daniel to a summer house at the bottom of the garden where the author reveals he has been writing his memoirs, implicating himself and Mr Hill, as well as several high-profile MPs, as Soviet sympathizers. Daniel convinces Cavendish to surrender the papers and shoot himself; the old man obliges, having grown weary of the enforced secrecy of his final years.

Having discovered Linda's body, Hill arrives at the summer house to execute Daniel. The young man reveals that he has been sent by the KGB at Hill's request to prevent Cavendish blowing their cover, and that Linda was a sleeper agent for MI6. Daniel leaves Hill to clean up the mess and leaves. The remorseful Hill approaches the summer house to attend his beloved friend's body.

Principal cast

Production

Blade on the Feather was originally conceived as a feature film to be produced by Potter and Kenith Trodd's own production company Pennies From Heaven Ltd., but problems with funding led to the drama being relaunched at London Weekend Television as the first of nine single plays: all produced by PFH Ltd. and commissioned by Michael Grade for broadcast on ITV between 1980 and 1981. Six of the plays were to be written by Potter, while the remaining three were to be shared between Jim Allen and an undisclosed writer. In the event, budget cuts and scheduling problems meant that only three plays were produced: Blade on the Feather, Rain on the Roof and Cream in My Coffee. All three dramas were shot on 16mm film stock and featured extensive location work.

In Potter on Potter, the author told Graham Fuller that although Cavendish is more closely based on Kim Philby than any of the other Cambridge spies he is not intended to be a fictional version of that figure. Philby is mentioned several times throughout the play, as are Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean: all of whom in the drama were apparently recruited by Cavendish. Nevertheless, Cavendish and Hill are an amalgamation of the three spies; despite the old man's denigration of the trio as 'drunks, queers and lefties,' Cavendish and Hill are both represented as heavy drinkers, Hill's faith in Sovietism is said to be bordering on fanaticism by the disillusioned Cavendish and the friendship between the two men is presented with a distinctly homoerotic undertone (most notably in their joint recitation of "The Eton Boating Song").

Director Richard Loncraine claimed he heavily rewrote several scenes in Potter's original script because they were unusable.

Structure and themes

The play contains none of the non-naturalistic flourishes that dominate much of Potter's work, however it does contain two flashback sequences that hint at Daniel's motives in coming to the house. The first of these flashbacks shows the murder of Daniel's father as he escorts the Soviet defector to the British Embassy, while the second features the young Daniel and his father by the polar bear enclosure at London Zoo; Daniel drops a book he is carrying into the water, whereupon it is fished out by a zoo keeper and revealed to be Cloud Cape. Daniel later states to Mr Hill that he bears no malice towards Cavendish for his father's murder as their infrequent trips to the zoo are all he remembers about him. What the audience presumes to be a fond memory therefore becomes an unreliable one and ties into one of Potter's major themes of memory as a malleable source.

The visitation motif that Potter explored in several of his other works (see below) is an important narrative thread in Blade on the Feather. In the play, Daniel is named after his biblical counterpart ('a Daniel come to sit in judgement') and in his role as disruptive outsider ultimately restores peace to the troubled household.

The central theme of Blade on the Feather is betrayal—both political and personal—and throughout the course of the play each character betrays the other. Cavendish betrays Hill by writing his memoirs, while Hill betrays Cavendish by calling in Daniel to execute his old friend; Linda betrays Cavendish in her role as a sleeper agent brought into the household to spy on her husband, while Christabel betrays her father by sleeping with the visitor. Daniel's role as KGB assassin means that instead of seeking vengeance for his father's death he is ultimately protecting Cavendish's cover, therefore betraying his father.

Political disillusionment is another key theme; the consequences of an individual's cynicism towards an established social order leading them to more prescriptive ideologies. Cavendish reveals to Daniel that he was drawn to the communist fervor at Cambridge in the 1930s as a means of escaping the rigidities of his traditional upper-class English background, only to find himself tarnished by his association with Sovietism. When Christabel attempts to reassure him that their way of life is safe following Thatcher's victory at the general election, Cavendish tells her:

There isn't any sort of England someone of my generation would think he had inherited [...] Take away the pudding and the baked jam roll and the custard and there isn't very much left.

Broadcast and reception

Blade on the Feather was broadcast on ITV on 19 October 1980 and attracted favourable reviews.

Denholm Elliott won the BAFTA Best Actor award in 1981 for his performance. The play also won for its graphics (Pat Gavin) and was nominated in four other categories.

Intertextuality

Potter explored political defection and its consequences in Traitor (1971), Gorky Park (1983), The Singing Detective (1986) and Cold Lazarus (1996).

The visitation motif plays a central role in The Confidence Course (1965), Shaggy Dog (1968), Angels Are So Few (1970), Joe's Ark (1974), Schmoedipus (1975), Brimstone and Treacle (1976), Rain on the Roof (1980), Track 29 (1987) and Secret Friends (1992).

Daniel's anecdote about the Pakistani waiter sweeping up in a fast food restaurant and the outraged response this provokes from a disgruntled diner is taken from Joe's Ark, in which Dennis Waterman's character reacts in the same way after receiving news of his sister's terminal illness.

Commercial releases

This filmed play has been issued in Region 1 and 2 DVD along with other Potter works for LWT. In the United States, it was released on VHS tape under the title Deep Cover (Prism/Paramount) in 1990.

Sources

  • Humphrey Carpenter, Dennis Potter: A Biography; 1998
  • Graham Fuller (Ed.), Potter on Potter; 1993
  • W. Stephen Gilbert, Fight & Kick & Bite: The Life and Work of Dennis Potter; 1995
Alexander Rose (author)

Alexander Rose (born 1971) is an author and a historian.

Blue Remembered Hills

Blue Remembered Hills is a British television play by Dennis Potter, originally broadcast on 30 January 1979 as part of the BBC's Play for Today series.

The play concerns a group of seven-year-olds playing in the Forest of Dean one summer afternoon in 1943. It ends abruptly when the character Donald is burnt to death partly as a result of the other children's actions. Perhaps the most striking feature of the play is that, although the characters are children, they are played by adult actors. Potter first used this device in Stand Up, Nigel Barton (1965) and returned to it in Cold Lazarus (1996).

The dialogue is written in a Forest of Dean dialect, which Potter also uses extensively in other dramas incorporating a Forest of Dean setting, most notably A Beast with Two Backs (1968), Pennies from Heaven (1978) and The Singing Detective (1986).

British Academy Television Award for Best Actor

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Cambridge Five

The Cambridge Spy Ring was a ring of spies in the United Kingdom, which passed information to the Soviet Union during World War II and was active from the 1930s until at least into the early 1950s. None were ever prosecuted for spying. The number and membership of the ring emerged slowly from the 1950s onwards. As far as the general public was concerned, this started with the sudden flight of Donald Maclean (cryptonym: Homer) and Guy Burgess (cryptonym: Hicks) to the Soviet Union in 1951. Suspicion immediately fell on Kim Philby (cryptonym: Sonny, Stanley), but he did not defect until 1963. Anthony Blunt (cryptonyms: Tony, Johnson) and John Cairncross (cryptonym: Liszt), the last two of the group, confessed to British intelligence but this remained a secret for many years, until 1979 for Blunt and 1990 for Cairncross. In time the Cambridge Four evolved to become the Cambridge Five. In the innermost circles of the KGB, they were supposedly dubbed as the Magnificent Five.

The term "Cambridge" refers to the recruitment of the group during their education at the University of Cambridge in the 1930s. Debate surrounds the exact timing of their recruitment by Soviet intelligence; Anthony Blunt claimed that they were not recruited as agents until they had graduated. Blunt, an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, was several years older than Burgess, Maclean, and Philby; he acted as a talent-spotter and recruiter for most of the group save Burgess.All of the five were convinced that the Marxism–Leninism of Soviet Communism was the best available political system, and especially the best defence against the rise of fascism. All pursued successful careers in branches of the British government. They passed large amounts of intelligence to the Soviet Union, so much so that the KGB became suspicious that at least some of it was false. Perhaps as important as the intelligence they passed was the demoralizing effect to the British Establishment of their slow unmasking, and the mistrust in British security this caused in the United States.

Many others have also been accused of membership in the Cambridge ring. Blunt, Burgess and Cairncross were all members of the Cambridge Apostles, an exclusive and prestigious society based at Trinity and King's Colleges. Other Apostles accused of having spied for the Soviets include Michael Straight and Guy Liddell.

Cream in My Coffee

Cream in My Coffee is a television drama by Dennis Potter, broadcast on ITV on 2 November 1980 as the last in a loosely connected trilogy of plays exploring language and betrayal. A juxtaposition between youth and old age, the play combines a non-linear narrative with the use of popular music to heighten dramatic tension and strongly anticipated The Singing Detective (1986). Cream in My Coffee was awarded the Prix Italia for best drama in 1981 and Peggy Ashcroft gained a BAFTA Best Actress award in 1981. The play's title is taken from the popular song "You're the Cream in My Coffee", from the 1929 Broadway musical Hold Everything!

Denholm Elliott

Denholm Mitchell Elliott, (31 May 1922 – 6 October 1992) was an English actor, with more than 120 film and television credits. Some of his well-known roles include the abortionist in Alfie (1966), Marcus Brody in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Coleman in Trading Places (1983), and Mr. Emerson in A Room with a View (1985).

Elliott earned critical acclaim in his later career. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in A Room with a View and won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in three consecutive years in the 1980s, becoming the only actor ever to have achieved this. The American film critic Roger Ebert described him as "the most dependable of all British character actors." The New York Times called him "a star among supporting players" and "an accomplished scene-stealer".

Dennis Potter

Dennis Christopher George Potter (17 May 1935 – 7 June 1994) was an English television dramatist, screenwriter and journalist. He is best known for his BBC TV serials Pennies from Heaven (1978), The Singing Detective (1986), and the television plays Blue Remembered Hills (1979) and Brimstone and Treacle (1976). His television dramas mixed fantasy and reality, the personal and the social, and often used themes and images from popular culture. Potter is widely regarded as one of the most influential and innovative dramatists to have worked in British television.

Born in Gloucestershire and graduating from Oxford University, Potter initially worked in journalism. After standing for parliament as a Labour candidate at the 1964 general election, his health was affected by the onset of psoriatic arthropathy which necessitated Potter changing careers and led to him becoming a television dramatist. His new career began with contributions to the BBC's Wednesday Play anthology series in 1965, and he continued to work in the medium for the rest of his life. He also wrote screenplay adaptations for the Hollywood studios. He died of pancreatic cancer in 1994.

Dennis Potter bibliography

Dennis Potter (May 17, 1935 – June 7, 1994) was an English dramatist with a large canon of work.

Donald Pleasence

Donald Henry Pleasence (; 5 October 1919 – 2 February 1995) was an English actor. His best known film roles include psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis in Halloween (1978) and four of its sequels, the villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967), RAF Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe in The Great Escape (1963), SEN 5241 in THX 1138 (1971), Clarence "Doc" Tydon in Wake in Fright (1971), and the President of the United States in Escape from New York (1981).

Eton Boating Song

The "Eton Boating Song" is the best known of the school songs associated with Eton College that are sung at the end of year concert and on other important occasions. It is also played during the procession of boats. The words of the song were written by William Johnson Cory, an influential Master at the school. The melody was composed by an Old Etonian and former pupil of Cory, Captain Algernon Drummond and transcribed by T. L. Mitchell-Innes. The piano accompaniment was written by Evelyn Wodehouse. It was first performed on 4 June 1863. Ordinarily, only the first, sixth, seventh and eighth stanzas are sung. Contrary to popular belief, the "Eton Boating Song" is not the school song of Eton College, that being "Carmen Etonense".

The song has been the subject of significant parody over the years, and numerous obscene versions exist, the most notable being 'The Sexual Life of the Camel'.

Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight (; also referred to informally as The Island or abbreviated to IoW) is a county and the largest and second-most populous island in England. It is in the English Channel, between 2 and 5 miles off the coast of Hampshire, separated by the Solent. The island has resorts that have been holiday destinations since Victorian times, and is known for its mild climate, coastal scenery, and verdant landscape of fields, downland and chines. The island is designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

The island has been home to the poets Swinburne and Tennyson and to Queen Victoria, who built her much-loved summer residence and final home Osborne House at East Cowes. It has a maritime and industrial tradition including boat-building, sail-making, the manufacture of flying boats, the hovercraft, and Britain's space rockets. The island hosts annual music festivals including the Isle of Wight Festival, which in 1970 was the largest rock music event ever held. It has well-conserved wildlife and some of the richest cliffs and quarries for dinosaur fossils in Europe.

The isle was owned by a Norman family until 1293 and was earlier a kingdom in its own right. In common with the Crown dependencies, the British Crown was then represented on the island by the Governor of the Isle of Wight until 1995. The island has played an important part in the defence of the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth, and been near the front-line of conflicts through the ages, including the Spanish Armada and the Battle of Britain. Rural for most of its history, its Victorian fashionability and the growing affordability of holidays led to significant urban development during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Historically part of Hampshire, the island became a separate administrative county in 1890. It continued to share the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire until 1974, when it was made its own ceremonial county. Apart from a shared police force, there is now no administrative link with Hampshire, although a combined local authority with Portsmouth and Southampton was considered, this is now unlikely to proceed.The quickest public transport link to the mainland is the hovercraft from Ryde to Southsea; three vehicle ferry and two catamaran services cross the Solent to Southampton, Lymington and Portsmouth.

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Kenith Trodd

Kenith Trodd (born 1936, Southampton, Hampshire) is a British television producer best known for his long association with television playwright Dennis Potter.

The son of a crane driver, Trodd was raised in the Christian fundamentalist Plymouth Brethren. A graduate of Oxford University, and following work as a university teacher in West Africa, Trodd began his career in television as an assistant to Roger Smith, script editor of The Wednesday Play in 1964. A problem with the script of Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton first brought Trodd into contact with Dennis Potter, the play's author. A desire to adapt a short story for an episode of BBC 2's Thirty-Minute Theatre, led to a phone call from its author, Simon Gray, beginning Trodd's association with him and Gray's work in drama.In 1968, with colleagues Tony Garnett and Ken Loach, he set up Kestrel Productions, a company which was affiliated with London Weekend Television. From now on Trodd worked as a producer, and the short-lived Kestrel saw the beginning of Trodd's professional relationship with Dennis Potter with Moonlight on the Highway (1969) and Lay Down Your Arms (1970), Potter's first play produced in colour. British Sounds (aka, See You at Mao, 1970), a film directed by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Henri Roger, which Trodd produced, had a particularly deleterious effect on Kestrel's relationship with LWT, who banned it.

Trodd returned to the BBC, and worked on Play for Today. On an annual freelance contract, it was not renewed in 1976. The BBC's Personnel Department objected to Trodd's political contacts; he had attended meetings in the early 1970s of the Workers' Revolutionary Party, which attracted a small minority in the media, but Trodd had never joined the organisation. A letter signed by Trodd's colleagues was sent to Alasdair Milne, Director of Programmes, Television, and Ian Trethowan, Director General of the BBC. The BBC backed down and Trodd was reappointed.Following the success of Potter's serial Pennies from Heaven (1978), Trodd and Potter reasserted their desire for autonomy and formed a new production company which had an arrangement with LWT. Budgetary problems meant that the connection was again short-lived, and only three Potter-scripted productions were completed, Blade on the Feather, Rain on the Roof and Cream in My Coffee (all 1980).

Unlike Potter, Trodd was committed to the move to shooting television drama on film, instead of the electronic multi-camera television studio, and oversaw nearly a dozen productions in the BBCs Screen Two strand. At the end of the 1980s, Trodd fell out with Potter over his Blackeyes (1989) project, but the two men repaired their professional relationship shortly before Potter's death from pancreatic cancer in 1994.

Trodd's other credits include the film A Month in the Country (1987), adapted from the J. L. Carr novel by Simon Gray, and the Stephen Poliakoff scripted Caught on a Train (1980) which was shown in the BBC2 Playhouse series.

On 11 December 2011, Trodd attended a screening of Potter's rediscovered Emergency – Ward 9, on which he worked as script editor, at the BFI Southbank in London, introducing the play and answering questions afterwards about its production and his broader working relationship with Potter.

List of Doc Martin episodes

Doc Martin is a British television medical comedy drama series starring Martin Clunes in the title role. It was created by Dominic Minghella after the character of Dr Martin Bamford in the 2000 comedy film Saving Grace. The show is set in the fictional seaside village of Portwenn and filmed on location in the village of Port Isaac, Cornwall, England, with most interior scenes shot in a converted local barn.

Doc Martin has aired on ITV since 2 September 2004, with a first season of six episodes. The episode number for the second series increased to eight. This was followed by a TV film and a third series of seven episodes. The next four series aired eight episodes each. Series 8 began on 20 September 2017. While it was initially reported that the series would end after Series 9 in 2019, Martin Clunes has clarified that it had only been commissioned as far as the next year, thereby not ruling out future plans by the broadcaster.As of November 8, 2017, 62 episodes of Doc Martin have aired.

List of film director and actor collaborations

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Phoebe Nicholls

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Rain on the Roof

Rain on the Roof is a television drama by Dennis Potter, broadcast by ITV on 26 October 1980.

It is the second in a loosely connected trilogy of plays exploring language and betrayal produced for London Weekend Television by the independent company Potter and producer Kenith Trodd established after a breach in the playwright's relationship with the BBC. A psycho-sexual thriller, the drama is an example of the visitation motif: a key theme in Potter's work. The title of the play is taken from the 1932 Al Bowlly song of the same name.

Richard Loncraine

Richard Loncraine (born 20 October 1946) is a British film and television director.

Loncraine received early training in the features department of the BBC, including a season directing items for Tomorrow's World. Before his career in film, he was a sculptor and the first to create a chrome Newton's cradle. In 1996, he won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 46th Berlin International Film Festival for Richard III.

Tom Conti

Thomas Antonio Conti (born 22 November 1941) is a Scottish actor, theatre director, and novelist. He won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play in 1979 for his performance in Whose Life Is It Anyway? and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for the 1983 film Reuben, Reuben.

Works by Dennis Potter
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plays
Television
serials
Films
Novels
Films directed by Richard Loncraine

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