The best-known work of celebrated TV dramatist Dennis Potter, The Singing Detective is actually the second of a trilogy of series by Potter using the device of lip-synching to well-known recordings of popular music. The first, set in the 1930s, was Pennies from Heaven (1978), the third, set during the 1956 Suez Crisis, was Lipstick on Your Collar (1993). The Singing Detective focusses musically on the 1940s. (Much earlier, Potter had briefly used lip-synching in his 1969 play for ITV, Moonlight on the Highway.)
There are four mutually interfering narrative strands in The Singing Detective. First is the hospital-ward story, described by Potter as a "sitcom", which owes a certain debt to an earlier play, Emergency--Ward 9 (itself a satirical reaction to the popular hospital soap opera of that time, Emergency--Ward 10, which Potter had watched while hospitalised, like his protagonist Philip Marlow, with a flareup of psoriatic arthropathy). Second is the detective story being created mentally by the protagonist, Philip Marlow, as he lies helpless in his hospital bed. The third strand consists of flashbacks to Marlow's childhood in the Forest of Dean, and the traumatic experience of witnessing his mother's infidelity one day in the woods, combined with guilt over her later suicide in London. The fourth strand concerns Philip's ex-wife, Nicola, whom he imagines is conspiring with a shady film producer to bilk him out of film rights to his novel.