Blue Remembered Hills

Written by Dennis Potter

Thurs 21st November - Sat 23rd November & Tues 26th November - Sat 30th November 1996

Directed by Neil Pugmire

It's a hot summer's day in 1943 and seven children play, laugh, sing and cry somewhere in the woods just before tea-time. In a whirl of constant activity, their lives are brim-full of joy and horror, anxiety and delight.

Dennis Potter's affectionate study captures the traumas of childhood beneath the apparently innocent surface. He reminds us that adults are children who have simply substituted subtlety for spontaneity. That rose-tinted nostalgia for the 'blue remembered hills' of our youth is not always justified.

AuthorDennis Potter

Dennis Potter (1935 - 1994)

Born in the Forest of Dean village of Berry Hill, Dennis Potter was moulded by its inward-looking, chapel-going character. The family moved to London when he was 11, and he made his mark at Oxford University as an 'angry young man' of the 1950s. He worked for BBC documentaries, and then became a feature writer with the Daily Herald in 1964 - an experience which shaped his first TV successes. 'Vote Vote Vote for Nigel Barton' and 'Stand Up Nigel Barton' (1965) were seminal Wednesday plays.

His mould-breaking small-screen style contrasted directly with the kitchen-sink realism of other 1960s TV drama, mixing dreams and fantasy to illustrate inner conflict. His portrait of Jesus in 'Son of Man' (1969) concentrated on the earthy self-doubting carpenter rather than the divine Christ, and his disturbing 'Brimstone and Treacle' (1976) tried to show how evil actions could have good consequences.

The popular six-parter 'Pennies from Heaven' (1978) involved 1930s characters bursting into full colour and lip-synching to the voices of Al Bowlly, Harry Roy and the like. The same device was used in 'The Singing Detective' (1986) and 'Lipstick on Your Collar' (1993). His much-reviled 'Blackeyes' (1989) was an attack on pornography which attempted to use the camera as voyeur, but was criticised for being pornographic itself.

From 1961 he had been afflicted with the painful disease psoriatic arthropathy - a rare hereditary disease which causes joints to swell and skin to crack and bleed. Although drugs kept it under control, it stayed with his for the rest of his life, bringing constant pain and bouts of depression. He became increasingly reclusive, but the fixing of his writing hand into a bunch of crooked knuckles simply encouraged him to write the harder.

In April 1994, he announced that he had incurable cancer of the pancreas, and gave a moving final interview to Melvyn Bragg about his impending death. He struggled successfully to complete the two mini-series 'Karaoke' and 'Cold Lazarus', telling Bragg "my only worry is that I die four pages too soon." They were screened in 1996 on both the BBC and Channel Four in accordance with his dying wishes.

He took delight in being hard to categorise. He was a sophisticated intellectual, but was deeply aware of his working-class roots. he persistently shocked the pious, but was a professed Christian. He excoriated the British, but was an intense patriot. Throughout his career he sought to extend the boundaries of the medium he chose to work in. Fathered by a coal miner, but with an intellect nurtured by Oxford dons, he held that TV was the only way of speaking to both classes.

PlayBlue Remembered Hills

'Blue Remembered Hills' was originally commissioned by the BBC as part of its 1979 Play for Today series. It won the 1980 BAFTA TV Award for Best Single Play

The story revolves around a summer's afternoon in a remote country setting - according to the script in the West Country, but probably meant to represent the Forest of Dean - in 1943. A group of seven seven year olds are playing in the forest. The play opens with Willie, eating an apple and pretending to pilot a war plane, when he encounters, falling from a tree as a parachutist, Peter. After a fight over Willie's apple - in which Peter attempts to show how powerful a bully he can be - the two eventually spot a squirrel and chase and corner it up a tree. They are joined by John and Raymond , and the group of lads attempt to force the squirrel down the tree and managed to trap and kill it. Meanwhile, in a barn nearby Donald Duck is playing with Angela and Audrey. As they engage in their fantasy game of Mummies and Daddies (and later, on Audrey's insistence, Doctors and Nurses) we see how vulnerable a child Donald is as he suffers some vicious teasing from the two girls.

The Bench Production

Blue Remembered Hills poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


WilliePete Woodward
PeterPeter Corrigan
JohnAndy Rees
RaymondSimon Walton
AngelaSally Hartley
AudreyJude Salmon
DonaldDavid Penrose


Director Neil Pugmire
Stage Manager Gemma Harding
Assistant Stage Manager Paul Southwood
Lighting Design Andrew Caple
Ingrid Corrigan
Lighting and Sound
Ingrid Corrigan
Wardrobe Sue Walton
Props Gemma Harding
Gemma Boyd
Sue Walton
Publicity Helena Whalley
Leaflet Design Pete Woodward
Programme Design Neil Pugmire
Jon Whalley
Set Design Neil Pugmire
Lucy Wallis
David Penrose
Set Construction Manager Tim Taylor

Director's Notes

Conceived as the events of one summer afternoon in 1943, Dennis Potter's affectionate study captures all the joy, horror, anxiety and delight of children at play.

Semi-autobiographical in nature, Blue Remembered Hills is set in a West Country forest similar to the one near which Potter himself grew up. Compared with most of his other plays, it is by far the simplest and most accessible - with none of his normal flashbacks, premonitions or other dramatic devices. It is therefore the easiest of his TV plays to transfer to the stage. But Potter did insist on one thing - that all the parts should be played by adults. He wanted to avoid the "Ahh!" factor of seeing fresh-faced children on stage and focus the audience's attention on the emotions they themselves felt as a child. "The adult body acts as a kind of magnifying instrument which, because it has to loosen up and let go, reminds us more of just how mobile and swift movement is in the childhood world, and yet how long time is," he said in 1978.

The challenge for actors and director alike is to remember the apparently trivial details of growing up which at the time seemed so important - the shame of coming to school with a new haircut or the joy of capturing a tadpole in a jar - and transfer those emotions onto stage. The story is a simple one, but it should spark into life a hundred similar memories of our own youth.

Neil Pugmire


The NewsSteve Pratt

Childhood memories

Adults are seldom encouraged to behave childishly, but the actors in this piece by Dennis Potter - adapted from his 1979 TV play - are positively encouraged not to act their age. The year may be 1943 and the setting the West Country, but the themes are timeless and universal. Potter demonstrates that human behaviour is the same no matter what age the participants are. The bullying, taking sides, picking on outsiders and make-believe of childhood games are merely played out on a bigger scale and long trousers as adults.

This Bench Theatre production is given a sure, short (90-minutes, no interval), sharp staging by Neil Pugmire. It's to the credit of the performers - Pete Woodward, Peter Corrigan, Andy Rees, Simon Walton, Sally Hartley, Jude Salmon and David Penrose - that they soon make you forget they're adults and draw us into their childhood of war games, squirrel-hunting and nose-picking. It continues tonight and Saturday, then November 26-30.

The News, 22nd November 1996

Production Photographs