The Singing Detective (1986)

TV Mini-Series  |   |  Drama, Musical, Mystery
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Ratings: 8.8/10 from 3,404 users  
Reviews: 47 user | 11 critic

Tormented and bedridden by a debilitating disease, a mystery writer relives his detective stories through his imagination and hallucinations.

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6 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »
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Complete series cast summary:
 Philip Marlow (6 episodes, 1986)
 Mark Binney / ... (6 episodes, 1986)
 Nurse Mills (6 episodes, 1986)
 Mr. Hall (6 episodes, 1986)
Gerard Horan ...
 Reginald (6 episodes, 1986)
Leslie French ...
 Mr. Tomkey / ... (6 episodes, 1986)
 First Mysterious Man (6 episodes, 1986)
 Second Mysterious Man (6 episodes, 1986)
Sharon D. Clarke ...
 Night Nurse (6 episodes, 1986)
Lyndon Davies ...
 Philip (aged 10) (6 episodes, 1986)
Geff Francis ...
 Porter (6 episodes, 1986)
 Nicola (5 episodes, 1986)
 Mrs. Marlow / ... (5 episodes, 1986)
 Mr. Marlow (5 episodes, 1986)
 Staff Nurse White (5 episodes, 1986)
Janet Henfrey ...
 Schoolteacher (5 episodes, 1986)
 Dr. Gibbon (4 episodes, 1986)
William Speakman ...
 Mark Binney (aged 10) / ... (4 episodes, 1986)
 Dr. Finlay (4 episodes, 1986)
Charles Simon ...
 George Adams (4 episodes, 1986)
Wally Thomas ...
 Grandad Baxter (3 episodes, 1986)
Kate McKenzie ...
 Sonia (3 episodes, 1986)
Trevor Cooper ...
 Cloth Cap / ... (3 episodes, 1986)
Charon Bourke ...
 Amanda (2 episodes, 1986)
Mary MacLeod ...
 Sister Malone (2 episodes, 1986)
Thomas Wheatley ...
 Registrar (2 episodes, 1986)
 Uncle John (2 episodes, 1986)
 Aunt Emily (2 episodes, 1986)
Niven Boyd ...
 First Soldier (2 episodes, 1986)
Angela Curran ...
 Mary (2 episodes, 1986)
 Second Soldier (2 episodes, 1986)


Reworking material from his first novel, "Hide and Seek" (1973), and folding this into a prismatic blend of autobiographical details, popular music and 1940s film noir, Dennis Potter delivered a drama now regarded as a 20th-century masterwork. Detective novelist Philip Marlow (Michael Gambon) suffers from the crippling disease of psoriatic arthritis. Confined to a hospital bed, Marlow mentally rewrites his early Chandleresque thriller, "The Singing Detective," with himself in the title role, drifting into a surreal 1945 fantasy of spies and criminals, along with vivid memories of a childhood in the Forest of Dean. As past events and 1940s songs surface in his subconscious, Marlow's voyage of self-discovery provides a key to conquering his illness, while his noir-styled hallucinations evoke the Philip Marlowe of Chandler's "Murder, My Sweet" (1944), starring Dick Powell, who later became a "singing detective" on radio's "Richard Diamond, Private Detective" (1949), crooning to ... Written by Bhob Stewart <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


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Release Date:

16 November 1986 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Az éneklő detektív  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


(6 episodes)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


'Dennis Potter' originally wanted the hospital scenes to be shot on videotape, so they would look like a TV sitcom. Producer Kenith Trodd convinced him that they could get a better director if the whole thing were shot on film. See more »


Philip E. Marlow: Bastards. I'll wipe you out. Don't you know who I am? I'm the... I'm the Singing Detective!
See more »


Referenced in Forever Ealing (2002) See more »


Peg o' My Heart
Music by Fred Fisher
Performed by Max Harris & His Novelty Trio during the credits
See more »

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User Reviews

As Good As TV Gets
20 February 2002 | by (L.A. CA) – See all my reviews

I absolutely adore this piece of work. Jon Amiel's sensitive, clever direction, Dennis Potter's biting, brilliant script and the towering lead performance by the great Michael Gambon makes this a treat to watch. It's for those viewers who like to be treated as if they have a brain in their head and they don't need everything spelled out for them and telegraphed what is about to happen. With patience, this story unfolds with amazing power and in the long run, stunning optimism. There are three stories going on, really: an ill writer with a horrible skin condition is hospitalized and he rants and yells at all of those who come by him; fellow patients, nurses and doctors. But as he lays in bed, he begins to hallucinate from his high fever and he begins to re-write an old crime noir novel he once wrote called, The Singing Detective. He also is completely overwhelmed with memories from his childhood and growing up amongst a poor, ignorant coal-mining family in the woods of England. Aside from the amazing Gambon, this film is loaded with great performances: from Janet Suzman to Bill Patterson to Alison Steadman (as his unhappy Mother). I own a copy of this magnificent mini-series and I watch it over and over. A masterpiece. Mr. Potter, rest in peace, sir.

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