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  • Ken Potter


Updated: Dec 25, 2023

To move, to breathe, to fly, to float, to gain all while you give, to roam the roads of lands remote, to travel is to live.
​– Hans Christian Anderson

Ken Potter was born in London to an Irish father from Dublin and an English mother of Luxembourg extraction. He grew up in London and Essex, travelled widely, and now lives on the south coast of England.

His earliest memories include playing in the London bomb sites.

"Anything went in those days," he said. "Kids weren't cosseted. You got cut, got burnt, got lost – everything was an adventure."

Now what can we get up to 'ere then?

An early adventure with his Dad, exploring the London Aldwych.

Ken's other early adventures were in the creative field. He started reading at a young age. The first complete work of fiction he read was Robin Hood.

As well as being gripped by the story, he remembers being delighted by the implied colours – from the green of Sherwood Forest to the red of Will Scarlet's tunic – he pictured them vividly in his young mind's eye. Colour sparked his imagination.

It seemed a natural progression to start sketching and painting. In primary school, he dabbled with crayons. His Dad bought him an elaborate Swiss box of coloured pencils for Christmas and he began scrawling over cartridge paper with a passion.

Later, Potter graduated to the paintbrush and produced landscapes and pictures of Spanish galleons. But then his creative interests switched back to the written word.

An early success came when his short burlesque of Sherlock Holmes was broadcast over the school airwaves.

"It gave me a thrill thinking that 800 kids were tuned into my story," he said. " Didn't enter my head that most of them probably weren't listening."

Since those early days he has had short stories and articles published in magazines and online and has now made progress into playwriting.

As a child, his sense of the world and appreciation of the existence of other countries was enhanced when his father bought him a globe of the world. He studied it carefully – it probably laid the foundation for his desire to travel.

All present and correct, sir! Ken's Mum and Dad and younger brother at Western Esplanade, Southend-on-Sea, Essex.

Growing up with the advent of rock 'n' roll, he also became interested in music. He loved the early rockers – Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and in particular, Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

"There was something immediate and intimate about Buddy's music that I identified with" he said. "For a rocker, he was versatile, innovative – introducing strings, piano, and various effects to his music with the help of Norman Petty, his manager. Ahead of his time, I think."

This passion translated into Ken dabbling with the guitar himself. In the early days of skiffle, he bought Bert Weedon's Play In A Day and learnt the basic guitar chords.

For two or three years, he practiced guitar techniques, and took some lessons with Ivor Mairants who was a renowned jazz and classical guitar teacher.

Mairants ran the specialist guitar Musicentre in London's West End and had played with bands such as Geraldo and Ted Heath.

Ken (bottom left) with the Conchords at Windsor Great Park. They had a wild gig that night in a local, atmospheric blues club in Windsor.

It was all overkill really as Potter was never cut out to be a good musician. However, he enjoyed what he was doing and was invited to join a rock 'n' roll band – The Conchords.

They had a fair degree of success, playing in pubs and clubs and dance halls and cut a demo record. But, after about three years of gigging, Ken had to admit that he wasn't the most gifted musician in the world.

He left the band but his interest in music continued as did his interest in writing.

Another interest lay in the physical side of things. He always kept himself fit. At school, he played football and cricket and swam, but athletics remained his favourite sport.

He tried his hand at every running, throwing, and jumping event, eventually settling on the pole vault and triple jump for competitions.

Essex Beagles Athletics Club were based in Mayesbrook Park which wasn't that great a distance to travel so he became a member and won a few medals.

In training for the school's athletic championships.

Not all of his sporting involvements were as successful, however. In his last year at school, the physical training instructor talked him into entering the Schools Boxing Championships.

These kicked off at a local level that eventually led all the way to the national finals.

"I had only sparred a bit in the gym but thought, 'What the hell!' I'm in everything else. I might as well give it a shot."

His first fight was for the local district championships. In his year there was no one else at his weight so he had a walkover.

The same thing happened in the next round. And the one after that. Eventually, he arrived at the county championships in Barking as a regional champion without even having thrown a punch.

On the night of the finals, he glanced at the programme and saw he was fighting a boxer named 'Lee'.

As Ken stepped off the scales, another lad approached and asked if his name was 'Potter'. Ken said 'yes' and the youth walked away with what looked like a smirk on his face. It was his opponent.

"Strangely, his face looked familiar and I thought I recognised his name," said Potter. "Then I remembered."

"I had watched him the previous year, winning the semi-finals of Great Britain. Oh, shit! Come the fight, he had me down three times in the first round and my corner threw in the towel in the second."

His creative and sporting endeavours were sporadic. They took a back seat as his lust for life-experience took over.

With Kathy, his first love.

"Dad spent quite a bit of time in the pub. I was brought up, leaning against a bar, with a pint in one hand and a smoke in the other." Much of Ken's twenties was spent partying in bars and nightclubs.

(Above) Ken (second from right) drinking with friends at a holiday camp.

In his early teens, a school trip to Kandersteg in Switzerland triggered what was to become a lifetime penchant for travel. The mountains and the crisp clean air enthralled him.

Partying in Chelsea bars and nightclubs became routine in the 1970s. Here he's pictured with Nina and friends at the Barbarella Restaurant in the Fulham Road.
But he didn't always have a comfortable lifestyle. Sometimes he hit rock bottom.

In Churchill's Nightclub in London's West End with Monique.

His first passport opened a door to seemingly endless horizons. Trips to Europe came first, followed later by more far-reaching adventures.

His peripatetic nature also extended to his working career. When he left school, he didn't know what to do next. He drifted into a bland office job which didn't last long.

It was the first of a long string of diverse jobs.

He has worked in everything from a 'blue-button clerk' on the London Stock Exchange to a salesman selling office equipment; from a cloakroom attendant in a strip joint in the West End to a minicab and taxi-driver; from a croupier in pre-revolutionary Iran to a doorman in the 'roughest pub in Sydney'.

Alone with his thoughts: drinking and thinking in a villa on the casino complex in Ramsar, Iran.

The freedom of the Australian outback inspired Ken.
​Here he is with Valda at her parent's farm near Albury.

"I once worked for a huge American company as a 'Scheduling and Releasing Clerk'. That title baffled me."

"From the first day until the last, I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to be doing. I'm not sure that anyone else could either."

"It wasn't busy – bit of a skive really – but we would pile up the overtime and grab extra cash as though we were inundated with work. Aaahhh...the swinging sixties."

But it wasn't always like that. In part, due to his lifestyle, with long periods spent travelling and his disinclination to stick at a career, his bank manager wasn't always friendly. Sometimes, especially abroad, things became difficult.

"During my travels, I arrived to Sydney broke and ended up on a park bench, sharing a cheap bottle of plonk with a homeless guy who told me he'd been a prisoner-of-war.

"We spent the night philosophising, with just the stars above and the lights of the city visible through the trees in the distance. We were in the middle of a city but cut off from everything.

"There was a certain charm about the experience but, unlike my new-found friend, I had no desire to sleep on park benches forever.

"The next day, I returned to society, tramped the streets, and eventually found a job. I often wonder how my one-time-bench-buddy made out.

Potter remains a bachelor but his love-life over the decades has come and gone and come again like his fortunes.

Unsurprisingly, there's been an international flavour with most of his main lovers hailing from other parts.

Kathy, his first love, came from Scotland, Monique from Spain, and Natalie and Valda from Australia.

Ok, there have been home-grown girlfriends – Nina was from Chelsea – but to him, dating girls from another culture seemed to bring an additional element to the relationship.

Sometimes though, cultural differences could have their drawbacks.

"A South American girl I met had the most beguiling accent. I invited her out. We thoroughly enjoyed the first date so I invited her to a second.

"This stretched to a third but by now I'd realised that, although each time we were spending quite a lot of money on rounds of drinks and expensive meals, never once did she offer to pay for anything.

"In these days of equality that didn't seem fair, especially as I wasn't earning much at the time. So, at the beginning of the next date, I suggested we go Dutch."

"Oh," she said. "I no mind what I eat!"

'The Trip' came about in 1975. Potter had been working in London casinos for about five years. That was a long time for Ken. He was due for a change. Little did he realise how big a change it was going to be.
"I was abroad for eight years. Without doubt, they were the most intense, action-packed, instructive, experience-laden years of my life. I just had to write a play about them."
For the last couple of decades, Ken has worked as a writer, actor, and director. He has now written a play about the trip – Beyond Borders: The Quixotic Adventures of Sir Ken.

British eccentricity is not dead!

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