Bad news, seekers...
September 1, 2008 1:35 PM   Subscribe

The legendary Ken Campbell has died. Interested in everything, apparantly. Just as excited to visit Damanhur as he was to go to CERN, just down the road. Fluent in Bislama, the creole of Vanuatu, into which he translated Macbeth. Founder of the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool, which performed epic productions of The Warp, Illuminatus! and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Not quite Doctor Who (he was beaten to the role by former protogé Sylvester McCoy). A fount of knowledge on the theatre, comedy, Fortean strangeness and science and anything else you care to mention, all of which he spun together with extensive flights of imagination into glorious, hilarious one-man shows. Totally irreplaceable, and devastating loss.

on the big bang ... Brainspotting (it all seems to be on there in ten-minute chunks. Have a root around) ... DIY Seance 1 2 3 ... on Robert Anton Wilson (there's a lot more of that there, as well).
posted by Grangousier (16 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Really, really, very sad.
posted by ntk at 1:38 PM on September 1, 2008

Just saw this in Ansible. A great loss - I remember seeing Makbed blong Willem Sekspia. An amazing man.
posted by crocomancer at 1:52 PM on September 1, 2008

I didn't know he was up for Doctor Who, and I don't know what to think about it. He would certainly have been way better than Sylvester McCoy. He might have been brilliant. But with the scripts they were writing then, he might have done an eye-rolling comic version, denting the otherwise profound respect in which I hold him.

Nothing could do more than dent it, though - if only there were more people around who could do stuff like Illuminatus, the world would be a better and more interesting place - and perhaps the West End wouldn't be filled with crummy juke-box musicals.
posted by Phanx at 2:02 PM on September 1, 2008

The best Doctor we never had...

Brainspotting was a work of total (mad) genius... ever since watching it, whenever I read the work 'qualia' I always sub-vocalise it in Ken's voice (which admittedly is not that often, but there you go)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:05 PM on September 1, 2008

posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:19 PM on September 1, 2008

posted by jiroczech at 3:05 PM on September 1, 2008

Very sad news indeed.

Bill Drummond also worked on stage sets for the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool's production of Illuminatus! back in the 70's before embarking on his own unique career (thoroughly embracing RAW's ideas along the way). Now with Wilson gone and Campbell as well, I start to worry about Bill and his generation.
posted by panboi at 3:29 PM on September 1, 2008

posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 5:01 PM on September 1, 2008

posted by Fenriss at 5:04 PM on September 1, 2008

I saw that production of Illuminatus! here in Liverpool back in the day. Coincidentally, for a drama that was so influential, it was mounted in a building on the same block as the original Cavern. Prior to the production proper, you could go and sit in the theatre space -- which also served as a cafe during the day -- and watch the crew rehearsing, improvising, generally fucking about, etc.

I remember sitting there, watching rehearsals one Saturday afternoon back in what, 1976, when a local gangster called Howard Clayton wandering in and caught up with me. Howard had been a sweet kid, one of the few black hippies on the Liverpool scene. But he'd been sent away to Borstal for something or other, and came out thoroughly damaged and a complete psychopath. When he caught up with me that day, he dragged me out onto the street where he proceeded to kick the living shit out of me -- over some trivial perceived status/disrespect nonsense.

My beating was interrupted by a crowd of people and a guy I knew vaguely from the bars and clubs picked me up off the street and took me home to his house on Catherine Street to get cleaned up. He fed me, we smoked a few spliffs and then he started harrassing me to come out that night with him and his wife -- to the same very spots where this gangster hung out.

Now I'm notoriously dumb but I'm not that dumb, so I was very reluctant. I didn't want to get another beating. But the reason he'd been in town that afternoon was to buy his wife a houseplant, and as he'd been repotting it, he showed me the fine japanese knife that his wife had bought him for Xmas. So I told him that the only way that I'd go out was if he lent me the knife as a deterrent.

Bad plan.

He rejected my proposal, but told me that he'd take the knife out with him, and that way, if I needed it, he'd lend it to me. (I should point out at this stage, that not only had I never carried or used a knife before, neither, to the best of my knowledge, had my samaritan friend.)

So we go out. Me, this guy and his wife. During the course of the evening, we don't run into my assailant, but we do run into some friends of mine and our party expands further. We drink until closing time in The Philharmonic, and then make our way to the Somali Social Club on Upper Parliament Street -- at one time, a notorious dive, but now catering mostly to a hippie/boho set with a taste for faux slumming.

Anyway, as we're having our first drink in the Somali, my friend and my rescuers wife get into some kind of argy bargy. She makes a comment about how everyone else in the place is somehow her social inferior. He insists that she not include him in her company, because were he not with us, she'd be including him in the disparagement. Words lead to more words, and bad feeling grows.

I'm not paying much attention as my friend, Billy, goes for a piss. But I notice Samaritan's wife all in his ear, giving him shit about how my friend should apologize to her. But it all seems like bullshit, and I'm not paying much attention at all, just sitting at our table at the bottom of the stairs outside the toilet, watching the dancers grooving to Lorna Bennett's skanking version of Dusty's 'Breakfast in Bed'.

And then a body comes falling down the stairs. Followed rapidly by my samaritan looking white as a sheet.

'Lets get out of here. Now!'

On the way from the club, which was located at the bottom end of Upper Parliament Street -- which just a few years later was to be the scenes of local rioting and pitched battles with the police in the notorious Toxteth riots -- to his apartment on Catherine Street, just a couple of blocks away, he told me his account of what had happened.

He'd been outside the toilets, arguing with my friend about how he needed to apologize to his wife, when a third party started to intervene on my friend's behalf. This third party was barely known to anybody, but my samaritan tells him to fuck off and mind his own business. Third party then goes for Samaritan's throat, at which point, Samaritan pulls the japanese knife from his pocket, thrusting it towards third party's chest in a gesture aimed at getting him to back off.

Only he doesn't back off, he keeps on coming. And extremely sharp japanese knife meets third party's chest. And that kept on coming too.

Poor bastard never knew what hit him. He turns around, and walks away, stumbles a few steps and falls down the stairs.

I spend a fraught night in Samaritan's house as he and his wife worry about what to do next. I accompany her onto the streets as she dumps the knife down a local drain -- just outside the old brothel known as the Embassy Club on Falkner Square. Anyone who recalls the old Albert Finney movie, Gumshoe will know Falkner Square as it's where most of the action in that movie takes place. Finney's apartment is on Falkner Square.

Anyway, we go back and we're listening to the radio for an hour, trying to pick up some news, listening to sirens go crazy as we're just a couple of blocks from the club on a main road. After a couple of hours, we realize we're listening to Radio Manchester, and so switch to Radio Merseyside, and on the first news broadcast we learn that the man had died before reaching the hospital.

As soon as first light comes, I leave, promising that I'll be back as soon as I can find out what happened when we left the club. I do no such thing though -- happy enough to simply get the fuck out of Dodge before the Marshalls come kicking down his door. I learn nothing more about his plight until the Monday, when the police turn up at my doorstep, wanting to interview me about the events of the previous Saturday night.

Apparently, he'd hung around for a few more hours after light, then gone down to the police station with his wife and turned himself in, confessing everything. The police are interviewing me as a corroborating witness. They bundle me into a car and drive me to St. Anne's Street station, where I spend the next five or six hours getting grilled.

After I get out, I decide that I'll head for the home of my friend -- the guy who had been arguing with Samaritan's wife, and then with Samaritan at the top of the stairs. The guy who may well have closely avoided being stabbed to death himself that night. And as I'm walking to his house on North Hill Street, a car draws up alongside me, and out of the car bounces Howard Clayton and two of his cronies.

All I could remember was the first kick to the head as I went down, but as I'm recuperating in the hospital a few days later, I remember thinking that the circular, synchronistic nature of the events of the previous few days felt as though they'd come from the very pages of the Illuminatus! trilogy themselves.

Here's another weird fact: Ken Campbell's co-writer on that Illuminatus! production was none other than Chris Langham

Here's a . for the late, great Ken Campbell, and a . for that unknown third party who died that night in the Somali Club back in 1986, and a . for Chris Langham's career.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:31 PM on September 1, 2008 [6 favorites]

Ugh. The 1986 in that last sentence should be 1976, dammit!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:34 PM on September 1, 2008

That's a real shame, he was awesome. Best eyebrows ever.
posted by Artw at 6:14 PM on September 1, 2008

Also, PeterMcDermott, er, wow.
posted by Artw at 6:18 PM on September 1, 2008


the great weirds leave us one at a time and we are duller and poorer for it.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:28 PM on September 1, 2008

'I'm not mad, I've just read different books' - A life in pictures: Ken Campbell
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:26 AM on September 2, 2008

posted by low_horrible_immoral at 12:19 PM on September 4, 2008

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