Ken Campbell (1941-2008) was a one-man whirlwind who tore through the British theatre establishment using well-rehearsed anarchy and a genius for surreal comedy. Starting out in rep at Stoke-on-Trent, he founded the Ken Campbell Road Show, whose members included the then-unknown Bob Hoskins and Sylvester McCoy, and which toured pubs and clubs with dramatised urban myths and shaggy-dog stories. His later shows included Illuminatus! - the first show at the National Theatre's studio - and the 22-hour The Warp, the longest play in the world. On television he played corrupt lawyer Alex Gladwell in the 1970s series Law and Order, and was Alf Garnett's neighbour Fred Johnson in the sitcom In Sickness and in Health. He later found a devoted audience with his mesmerising one-man shows, which he toured worldwide. Theatre critic Michael Coveney was given unrestricted access to Campbell's letters, notebooks and original scripts. From these and from interviews with Campbell's many devoted/bemused collaborators, he has chronicled the life of the anarchic and uncompromising genius that was Ken Campbell.
Michael Coveney was brought up in the same patch of suburban Essex as was Ken Campbell. After editing Plays and Players, he went on to be staff theatre critic on the Financial Times, Observer and Daily Mail. He has published biographies of Maggie Smith, Mike Leigh and Andrew Lloyd Webber. He is currently chief critic for Whatsonstage.com.
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