Saturday, 6 September 2008

This is not a full stop. This is a hyphen coming straight at you.

Hello. While I was away where the internet don't shine and incoming calls are hard to pick up I lost another hero. This time though, I was lucky enough to have known him too.
I probably first became aware of Ken Campbell in the early 1980s, a shadowy figure who it progressively turned out was woven into the story of so much I loved- theatre, Liverpool, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, conspiracy theories, urban legends, Doctor Who, the KLF, esoteric physics, ridiculous hoaxes and general mucking about... wait a minute or delve a foot or two deeper into anything that caught your eye and there would be Ken, staring back. Geoffrey Perkins, as you may know, once had to impersonate Ken in order to get a radio performance out of Ken that came over Kennish. That's a good Ken story, as typical is his response when I asked if it was true 'Yeah. Probably.'

I first saw him perfom on stage at the Library Theatre in Manchester in the early 1990s in one of the most thrilling pieces of theatre I've ever seen- Pigspurt or Six Pigs From Happiness, a virtuoso one man show, that went from Bad Manners to Ken Dodd via Philip K Dick and pulled out of me more species of laughter than anything I'd ever seen before, my snigger, my bellow, my guffaw and probaby a few more besides, and managed to provide food for thought as well. I left him a note among his stage paraphenalia after I saw his follow up show Jamais Vu, in which I suggested a few extra links to his Cathars and Cathode Ray Tube conspiracy, and he 'phoned me up for a chat. For a few years after that, London became a place I mainly went to do things that would allow me to pop in on Ken afterwards. Calls to and from Ken were great sources of fun and wonder, and I hugely enjoyed discovering bits and pieces for Ken on Elizabethan clowns and Egyptian pygmies, tracking down old telly of his, or doing drawings for him and discovering his new obsessions. Ken calls were commissions, calls to misadventure.

Ken also supplied me with several more highlights of my theatre going life in that time, an amazing performance of his show Mystery Bruises at Manchester's Royal Exchange, a beautiful intimate version of his History of Comedy Part 1 – Ventriloquism in the Crucible, Sheffield which towered above the same show at the National where I felt it was slightly lost and a bespoke version of Theatre Stories he presented at a cyber-cafe for my stag do, which will be a long treasured memory.

I saw less of him over the last few years particularly after he moved out to Essex, but I was very pleased to catch up him last December at a great gig at the British Library, and was very touched that he spotted me in the audience and asked me not to rush off at the end. We had a lovely chat, promised to keep in touch, and he introduced me to one of the chaps there as his 'friend, Ian' which was something I felt very privileged to be. I don't remember now when he first called me that rather than a 'fan' it may well have been backstage at some theatre to help justify and dignify my presence there to some stage door border guard, but the title remains a badge of honour.

He was a warm, funny, mischievous, exciting, intelligent and challenging human being, I utterly adored him, and now he's gone.

The thing is though, remembering Ken now, for all the tears I've shed for what won't happen next (how dare the world have shunted him off before the big CERN gnothing gnowing gnockabout next week?), is basically a joyous thing, because pretty much all my memories of him are of laughter, wonder and at times utterly transcendent hysteria and I can find nothing there to be sad about whatsoever. He was a force of nature, and I'm not actually convinced being dead will curtail his activities so much as redirect the way Kenness is expressed in the world. His example and influence have enabled me to do a lot over these last few years that I would never have done without him, and I've decided the best way to honour him in the years to come is remain open for incoming calls and be ready to receive my next commission.
Don't rest, Ken- it isn't you.