Friday, 23 October 2009

Can you Ken Ken?

So, the back end of September and the majority of October- they weren't very eventful were they?


They're certainly not deserving of a rambling "What I did on my holidays" style travelogue...

September, I can't really remember my excuses for not posting here, except I did another draft on my sitcom idea which I think may have taken the thing off in another direction (largely by not quite being right in the direction it was actually going) we shall see what the next draft brings.
Then there was some fiddling around sorting out the Ken Campbell event in Sheffield on October the 10th, which I really enjoyed doing.
Audience wasn't massive and the cinema will have made a loss on it, but the enthusiasm of those who came was marvellous, including a few people who hadn't really known Ken's work but left with an understanding of why those who love it do so. I count that as a victory. I was also blown away by how good Peter Hall's Aquarius interview with Ken was from 1977, a real archive gem.
It was a particular bonus that Jeff Merrifield a collaborator, chum and chronicler of Ken of long standing was there to add his thoughts to mine, film-maker Sheridan Thayer's and critic Michael Coveney's, and we press-ganged him into joining the discussions. Michael and Jeff are both writing books on Ken which I think together will produce an illuminating portrait of this enantiodromatic figure.
Jeff has some great Ken stuff for sale here, and copies of Sheridan's documentary on Ken which is full of wonders are currently up for sale on Ebay.

Sunday the 11th saw me in Manchester for a Doctor Who book event, which I attended mainly to meet a couple of people who've been generous enough to pay me for silly words lately (more on this later). Met loads of nice folk and Ken reared his head again here. When I explained what I'd being doing the day before Andrew Cartmel, the Doctor Who script editor for the final years of the original series, and I was pleased to discover a lovely guy, fondly recalled Ken's legendary Doctor Who audition. I told Andrew how Steve Roberts at the BBC had thought they had it on tape last year only discover it wasn't on transferring the recording (this seems to date back to Doctor Who Magazine producer John Freeman misidentifying another auditionee on a VHS some years ago). Andrew then wondered if Ken's take had actually being recorded at all, saying he remembered him coming into the office and doing his piece but wasn't sure if it'd been caught on camera, so this mythical scary bull-like performance may have never captured at all, save in the memories of those who were there.

Monday the 12th involved more Ken because I went down to the National Theatre for Beyond Our Ken, the tribute to him staged at the Olivier.
I was there a bit early and accidentally messed up writer Robert Shearman's working day (which can involve a degree of pacing around the South Bank thinking and mumbling sometimes) by greeting him warmly and then remembering we've only really met a couple of times and there's no earthly reason for him to recall me while he was pinning the Muse down. The cures of email and Facebook contact. It isn't like real friendship at all, you can live in a book with a chap and your short stories never even talk! Unfortunately, my failed socialising meant the actor Steven Elder (who was caffeinating himself nearby) also spotted Rob, and Rob being polite put down his Muse chasing for a while to be nice at us in turn.
I later heard Steven on the 'phone excitedly telling someone what Rob was working on but I shan't pass it on, mainly because I only heard some of it.
Rob told me he's writing about Russia at the moment so that's clearly a play for the Royal Shakespeare Company. One for the theatricals there.

The actual Ken tribute that evening was an incredible show, allegedly 2 and a bit hours long but stretching to the correctly ridiculous Ken lengths in the performance. John Sessions compered with great wit and charm, Toby Jones, Alan Cox and Chris Fairbank presented extracts from Pigspurt that gave a spine to the show and from which hung sketches from Pilk's Madhouse, Ken Campbell's Roadshow, archive extracts, scenes from The Warp, Illuminatus!, Clowns on a School Outing, Skungpoomery, Makbed, and Nina Conti's riffing on The History of Comedy Part 1. The event culminated in Richard Eyre's announcement of a Ken Campbell bursary for deranged theatre practitioners, a moving tribute from Warren Mitchell and improvisation from Ken's last troupe The School of Night. There was much hilarity and a fair amount of weeping too. Lovely.
Three pathetically personal tear jerks came from rediscovering the two National Theatre booklets Ken gave me credits in and seeing a Ken clip on the big screen with him wearing the T-shirt I made him. Clearly it'd been a regular in the wardrobe around the time of the Hyphenator! show.
I had a lovely talk afterwards with Sylvester McCoy, discussing a project Andrew Cartmel had mentioned the day before, telling him how great I thought his clowning was in Big Jim and the Figaro Club, and chatting about our mutual friend Polly who I was off to see a few days later.
It was 1am as I passed under Big Ben to the sound of people saying "You mean St Stephen's Tower". Luckily, I was passing under the chiming bell Big Ben and couldn't hear the wrong pedants.
This stupidly overstuffed weekend which culminated in a hang around at Victoria Coach Station 'til 8am took a little recuperating from.

The next weekend I was in Bristol to do some improv with a mate (Simon- the other half of the aforementioned Polly) at the Bristol Old Vic as part of their improv festival (no Ken connections here, unless you count his School of Night and Showstopper people playing there in the same festival). It went surprisingly well, if leaving me a bit skinted with the whole getting a train to Bristol from Sheffield nonsense (London you can do ridiculously cheapily if you're prepared to stand around for four or five hours in the middle of the night waiting for Victoria Coach station to reopen). Simon has an account of the event here, which is accurate except for claiming I leaped into performing, when I was in fact dragged up when my actor refused to read the phonetic Glaswegian I'd written for her. I was astonished by how easy I found the comedy song impro- rhymes, sense and everything, and I feel my Glaswegian went well too. The idiot children seemed impressed anyway.
We may well do similar things again.

Rounding off the major events of the last few days I was back at the Sheffield Showroom on Wednesday introducing Southern Softies a film by Graham Fellows in the guise of John Shuttleworth and hosting a Q&A session with Mr Fellows afterwards. He's a very thoughtful, and warm guy with a perfectionism and attention to detail that's clear from his work, and I felt gave really interesting answers to everyone's questions. Sometimes performers can be a bit glib or mechanical in these sessions but he showed a remarkable candour and freshness, I thought. Being funny helps, obviously.

Ken Campbell sneaked in here as well, Graham had worked for him in a Liverpool Everyman revival of his kids' play Old King Cole (playing the same part that one of my other favourite comedy performers Richard Herring did at one of his first Edinburgh Festivals- coincidence? Almost certainly.), but we mainly talked about Ken Worthington, the subject of the song that this post takes its name from.

Perhaps the best thing about the last few weeks is not having had the time to experience any Liverpool Football Club games as they actually happened.

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