Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Ken Campbell: 'I'm not mad I've just read different books'

Ken Campbell (1941-2008) died on Sunday, not only an actor and comedian but an incomparable counter-cultural transmitter. With the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool he famously staged an eight-hour theatrical version of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus trilogy, having picked up a copy of the book in the late lamented Compendium Bookshop in Camden. Wilson himself took great pleasure in 'having this totally subversive ritual staged under the patronage of H.M. The Queen' (since it was at the National Theatre) - at one point Wilson came on as a naked extra chanting 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law' (source: Wilson's 'Cosmic Trigger').

In 1979 Campbell and Neil Oram co-wrote The Warp, a 22 hour epic that starts off with a 15th century Bavarian war resister and ends up in the 1970s with UFO conferences and New Age Travellers. It was revived in a production directed by his daughter Daisy Campbell in 1999, performed continuously in the 'Millennium Drome' beneath the arches of London Bridge station alongside a Megatripolis rave.

I saw Campbell at Battersea Arts Centre a few years ago doing one of his legendary monologues History of Comedy: Part One - Ventriloquism, a performance of rambling genius. As he once said, 'I'm not mad I've just read different books'.

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