Dennis Potter’s 1978 serial Pennies from Heaven is one of the most influential television dramas ever made. If you are unlucky enough to have never seen it, you should make amends as soon as possible. One of its most powerful scenes occurs when the Headmaster of the village school is forced by the rules of the time (that he enforces strictly despite obvious discomfort) to inform Eileen Everson that her pregnancy means that she must leave her post at the school.* Many of the arguments expressed and hinted at in this remarkable piece of televisual theatre are ones that I personally find to be both important and true. Therefore in lieu of a detailed explanation of the point and purpose of this blog, I present to you, dear reader, the following extract from the script:
Headmaster: These children. Look – there’s a tree one of them has drawn, and it’s like a diamond. With different sorts of fruit on the same branch.
Eileen: A greengrocer’s tree. (Her laugh is tight and forced.)
Headmaster: No. no. A tree out of The Garden. And that’s how they see things, you know. I think they really do see things in a way that – in a way that they eventually lose. Not only lose, but forget they ever had.
Eileen: Yes, so why – (Again, she stops abruptly.)
Headmaster: No – do go on. Please say it.
Eileen: This is really not the time or the place, and it sounds unkind – but – oh, excuse me – but if you understand all that about a child’s mind – why – (Again, she stops.)
Headmaster: (Dully) Why do I hit them so often?
Eileen: (Quietly) Yes.
Headmaster: So that they can learn enough to keep a job in the pits, Miss Everson. What do they want with visions, or trees shaped like diamonds? Or any memory at all of the Garden of Eden? Cheap music will do, cheap music. And beer. And skittles.
Eileen: Oh but that’s – that’s –
Headmaster: (Bleakly) Dreadful. Yes.
This blog is the creation of someone who – like the Headmaster who later acknowledges this point with a yearning sadness – knows that there are indeed trees that are the shape of diamonds. That’s all.
*She later moves to London and becomes a prostitute. It’s a Dennis Potter drama, after all.