Magazine article The Spectator

Potter Tribute

Magazine article The Spectator

Potter Tribute

Article excerpt

After reading the Stephen Potter books Gamesmanship and Lifemanship many years ago, I thought I would put some of his ploys to the test. One involved how to get a word in edgeways. When someone is hogging the conversation the quickest way to interrupt him if, say, he's talking about a people or a country, is to say, 'But not in the south.' While the speaker is pausing to consider this, you can take over the discussion. Try it; it never fails.

Potter remains funny today, 56 years after Gamesmanship was first published. This series of books, with their social satire, made his name. Stephen Fry, a connoisseur, paid tribute to him in Pottermanship on Radio Four (Saturday). Fry pointed out that, although the word gamesmanship already existed, it meant skill at gamekeeping. Potter defined it as 'the art of winning games without actually cheating', an idea easily extended into many other areas of life. Now, of course, it's come to mean something closer to cheating.

Fortunately, Pete Atkin, the producer of this excellent programme, found some of Potter's early radio appearances in the sound archives, including, miraculously, his very first schools broadcast, on Chaucer, in the 1930s, which was considered innovative at the time. Later he collaborated with Joyce Grcnfell in a series of How to . . . programmes, such as how to - and how not to - conduct an orchestra or how to give a party in wartime. These were to give him some material for his later books. The actual idea for Gamesmanship came from a game of tennis he played when he was an English lecturer at Birkbcck College, London. His tennis partner was Professor Cyril Joad, the philosopher, well known for his appearances on radio's The Brains Trust. Joad's expression before answering almost every question was, 'It depends what you mean by . . . ', which became a popular catchphrase at the time.

Potter recounted how he and Joad found themselves playing against two very tall and athletic young men from University College, whom he called Smith and Brown. They realised they had no chance against them, especially as the first service was cracked at Joad like a cannon-ball. 'He was unable to get near it with his racket, which he did not attempt to move. The next one did graze the edge of my racket frame.' Then the server sent down another corker, and Joad managed to strike the ball but sent it back into the stop netting, without it touching the ground. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.