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A British Miniseries of the 1980s written by Dennis Potter. The plot concerned Philip Marlow, a writer of pulp detective novels, who is hospitalised after a severe attack of psioriasis (a debilitating skin disease). In order to escape from his misery, he fantasises that he is the hero of one of his novels, The Singing Detective, who is a nightclub singer and private detective. However, a combination of drugs and a fever causes him to lose the ability to tell fantasy from reality, and his dreams of his novel, his day-to-day life in hospital and his memories of his childhood all begin to merge. The series attracted controversy at the of broadcast due to a graphic sex scene, but it is now recognised as one of the best TV dramas ever.

It was adapted into a hollywood movie in 2003 (starring a pre-career-resurrection Robert Downey, Jr.) that was poorly receved and is now pretty much forgotten.

Philip Marlow is played by Michael Gambon, who would go on to play a similarly debilitated and miserable hero in Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince.


Due to Dennis Potter's love of genre drama, numerous tropes are lampshaded, subverted, justified, played with and/or played straight. Among them:

  • And You Were There: Pretty much every character in the series has at least one counterpart; for example, Mark Binney appears both in the 'Private Eye' story and as a character in Philip Marlow's childhood.
  • Anvilicious - In universe example when Philip Marlow drops his guard to write a paragraph expressing his extreme disgust with sex. His psychologist wonders what this is doing in a pulp detective novel.
  • Author Avatar: Two of them, both in-universe and out. Marlow is Dennis Potter's avatar, and the Singing Detective is Marlow's.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Surreally, but still satisfyingly, in the finale.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Subverted with both the detective-story version of Mark Binney and Marlow's old teacher. She's excited about the war coming to an end while he seems like a nice guy in over his head at a club. It turns out that Binney represents all of Marlow's misogyny and she's a Sadist Teacher.
  • Exotic Detective: In universe example - the titular character is both a private detective and a night club singer.
  • Fever Dream Episode: Pretty much the whole of the series.
  • Freudian Excuse: Every single childhood incident we see.
  • Her Codename Was Mary Sue: The title character.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Both the titular character and his enemies engage in a gunfight at the end, managing to spray huge amounts of ammo, but hitting only random patients.
  • Mind Screw: Most of the time, we can't be sure what is real and what is just a hallucination of Marlow's. Not even Marlow is particularly sure.
  • Mood Whiplash
  • Muse Abuse: Both played straight (Marlow's characters are often thinly veiled portraits of significant others, usually with a sizeable side of Take That), played with, once the life/art, real/imaginary lines really get blurring, and semi-subverted in the way Marlow's imaginative abilities are both a trap and a way out of it.
  • Musical Episode: Justified as part of the main character's hallucination.
  • Musical World Hypothesis: This gets complicated. Most of the time it is clearly 'All in their heads', especially when a group of doctors burst into a rendition of 'dem bones' this is clearly in Marlowe's fevered imagination. The actual 'singing detective' sequences could be said to be 'The Diegetic Hypothesis' (after all the lead character is a nightclub singer with a fully rehearsed big band) until you realise that Philip Marlowe is not singing in his own voice (or even the voice of Michael Gambon) but miming to the actual 1940s recordings which means even the in-universe songs are still 'All in their heads'.
  • Name's the Same: As the Raymond Chandler character.

 Marlow: Who'd name a child Philip, with a name like Marlow? No e, but it sounds the same.

Nurse: As what?

Marlow: ...Philip Marlowe!

  • Private Eye Monologue
  • Think Unsexy Thoughts: As the Hospital Hottie slathers his thighs with emollient grease, Marlow tries to think of the most boring things he possibly can, including the speeches of Ted Heath and the Bible (which unfortunately leads him to the Song of Solomon...)
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Lampshaded with two unnamed hitmen who hang around the edges of the scenes, before realising that they haven't been named and going in search of their writer to punish him for not naming them.
  • Stylistic Suck
  • Word Association Test
  • Write Who You Know: Often debated as to how close Philip Marlow (a writer who suffers from crippling psoriasis) is to his creator Dennis Potter (a writer who suffered from crippling psoriasis). Dennis Potter denied any resemblence saying he just used psoriasis as he didn't have to research the condition.
    • The notorious moral guardian Mary Whitehouse assumed that the programme was largely autobiographical and claimed in a radio interview that Potter had been mentally scarred as a child by seeing his mother having adulterous sex, as the young Marlow does. Potter's mother sued for libel and won.
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