IN the current lead up to a general election, it’s interesting to look at the character ‘Nigel Barton’, an aspiring Labour Party candidate in the semi-autographical television programmes directed and authored by Berry Hill dramatist and screenwriter Dennis Potter in the mid 1960s, when there were two general elections. 

‘Stand up Nigel Barton’ and ‘Vote Vote Vote for Nigel Barton’  were the television programmes, and they were certainly not party political programmes.

The title ‘Vote Vote Vote for Nigel Barton’ is a reminder of an old political musical battle cry, when partisan supporters would chant ‘Vote vote vote for (insert your candidate here), (s)he’s the one to win the day, as for old (insert your candidate’s main rival) we will throw him/her in the (insert name of your local river), and (s)he won’t come a-voting any more’.

Nigel Barton is based on Dennis Potter’s experience as a Labour candidate in an unwinnable constituency. During his campaign in the constituency of Hertfordshire East in the general election of 1964, he became so disillusioned with party politics that at election time he didn’t even bother to vote for himself.

He went to Oxford University, but the Forest was always part of his literary armoury, and ‘Between Two Rivers’ (not to be confused with Dick Brice’s song of the same name) was his first television production in 1960, when perhaps the gentrification of the Forest was slowly starting to emerge.

His interviews with  local people captured the last years of the Forest’s coal mines when  ‘the green forest has a deep black heart beneath its sudden hills, pushing up slag heaps and grey little villages clustering around the coal’, and miners had the right to walk along the middle of the road, and the gentrification of the Forest was beginning.

Perhaps the most important Potter television project was ‘Blue Remembered Hills’, which was a title taken from the poem in the Shropshire Lad anthology by AE Houseman, a sad and sentimental memory of a long lost rural age, broadcast again last Sunday. ‘Blue Remembered Hills’ was first shown on television, and has subsequently been performed by many theatre groups around the country. 

The play is set during the Second World War, and is set in the Forest with a cast of mainly children. However, these children’s  parts are played by adults, and this unconventional instruction from the playwright, with adults as children fighting and running and playing and ganging up on each other works out really well, if properly directed and acted, as it was in a Forest production some years ago. The broadcast version, shown on television last weekend, was another fine performance.

In 1994 Dennis Potter was diagnised with pancreatic cancer. His last television appearance was an interview with Melvyn Bragg, when he defied his illness to complete the interview although in great discomfort. It was a great television occasion, with Dennis able to point out the simple joy of seeing the blossom. He died a few weeks later.