Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Archive on 4: Capering With Ken Campbell

From the Radio 4 website-

"Saturday, 20:00 on BBC Radio 4

Ian McMillan explores the world of the actor and director Ken Campbell, who died in 2008.

Campbell's acting credits included Fawlty Towers, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Brookside, Law and Order and In Sickness and In Health, as well as performing one-man shows. He also directed theatrical events, including the nine-hour Illuminatus trilogy, a 22-hour production of The Warp and Macbeth in pidgin English.

His daughter, Daisy, gives Ian McMillan a tour of Ken's home in Essex, where he didn't have a bedroom and had a parrot run in every room. He also talks to Campbell's manager Colin Watkeys, theatre director Richard Eyre, fan and collaborator Ian Potter and fellow actors Julia McKenzie and Jim Broadbent."

I'm inordinately proud that some of my fannery seems to have made the edit. I don't know if any of the gig Ken did for me will be in there, I do hope so.

Friday, 23 October 2009

The Panda Book of Horror

I've another short story coming out!

It's in the Iris Wildthyme collection The Panda Book of Horror.
If you don't know Iris she's a sort of chaotic bag lady who travels through time and space barging into other people's stories and messing them up. A comedy, magic realist, science fantasy, label rejecting force of nature. She's sort of a Doctor Who spin-off character but actually she spun into Doctor Who from earlier novels and has spun back out.
She's created by the very clever Paul Magrs who has co-edited this collection with the extraordinarily svelte Stuart Douglas, who you may have seen around the internet arguing passionately with people about Doctor Who as if either his or their opinions actually mattered.
It was largely to meet Paul and Stuart that I went to Manchester the other week.

Here's their press-release:

Ding Ding! All aboard! Room for a little 'un at the back!

Iris, Panda and their transtemporal double decker Routemaster bus are just about ready to leave the terminus and set out on their most terrifying adventures yet!

Yes, The Panda Book of Horror will soon be on its way to the printers, with a publication date in mid November 2009!

Along for the ride this time are...

Paul Magrs
Mark Clapham
Mark Michalowski
Simon Guerrier
Ian Potter
Dale Smith
Phil Craggs
Eddie Robson
Nicholas Nada
Blair Bidmead
Matt Kimpton
Mark Morris
Jac Rayner & Orna Petit

Many of these names will be known to Who book fans from the Virgin, BBC, Telos and Big Finish ranges, but new to Who fiction are Nix Nada and Blair Bidmead, both of whom submitted stories via the Obverse website, and Phil Craggs, fiction editor of blankpages magazine. As for Orna Petit, who can say? All we know is Jac insisted and who are we to argue...

With cover art by Paul Magrs and a pretty damn nifty pastiche of the original Pan Books of Horror design by Cody Schell, we think you'll enjoy The Panda Book of Horror...though perhaps enjoy is the wrong word...

Available for pre-order soon from Obverse Books - why not buy a copy of the Celestial Omnibus while you're waiting

I've read work by a lot of these writers and really rate them, and I've been lucky enough to read the two stories by Matt Kimpton and Jacqueline Rayner and Orna Petit in this collection (Matt and Jac are good pretend e-friends), both of which I thought were really funny.
I was disappointed not to bump into Orna at Manchester, I thought she was going to be there but no-one I know saw her. I think she knows Jac from some kind of weird Prisoner Cell Block H thing that I've decided not to ask about. Anyway, I rather like her writing style and thought you could tell she was French writing in English somehow from some of it, though Stuart now tells me she's actually Flemish.

Anyway- buy the book, the bits I've seen by others are a hoot!

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.