Radio

Radio 4's 'When Diane Met Ken' is great, even before it's been broadcast

When you combine Radio 4, Diane Morgan and the late great Ken Campbell you know it's great even before you hear it says Robin Ince

Ken Campbell

Ken Campbell was a great autodidact and theatrical force who through charm, hectoring, and chaotic force of personality,  changed the lives of almost everyone he worked with, whether they wanted that or not. Terry Johnson, writer of Dead Funny, Insignificance and Hitchcock Blonde, beautifully evoked the brutality of Campbell’s creativity in his recent work, Ken. He described Campbell as causing the creation of half of him, the best half, the half that has written and directed award-winning theatre over the last four decades. Diane Morgan is rightly revered as one of the funniest actors around. Her portrayal of Philomena Cunk is both utterly absurd and beguilingly believable. What happens when Diane and Ken meet? I don’t know because When Diane Met Ken hadn’t been broadcast on Radio 4 Extra at the time of writing.

I am taking the risk of reviewing something I have not heard because I cannot believe it won’t be worth hearing and if I wait until my next column, this documentary may well be fading out of iPlayer.

Some subject matter is almost impossible to make lifeless and Four Extra has a good record in creating evenings which celebrate the artistically interesting at length. It is a station for those who are just a little bit more obsessed than the regular BBC listener, so they won’t feel the need to flip after an hour. The subject matter of this devoured life and made a lot of noise while he did it.

As well as Terry Johnson, and a lot of Ken Campbell archive, other contributors include the ventriloquist Nina Conti, whose BBC Four documentary about both ventriloquism and her relationship with Campbell was a soul-baring masterpiece, also takes part, as well as hugely underrated writer and actor, Neil Edmond and Ken’s daughter, Daisy, who was conceived backstage at her father’s nine-hour adaptation of the cult conspiracy theory Illuminatus! trilogy, a major part of the work of his Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool.

Campbell toured pubs with his variety troupe Roadshow, which included David Rappaport, Bob Hoskins and Sylvester McCoy. His science-fiction theatre included Bill Nighy and Jim Broadbent and its carpenter was Bill Drummond, who went on to form the KLF and burn £1m.

I am taking the risk of reviewing something I have not heard because I cannot believe it won’t be worth hearing

Nine hours not being long enough for true Stockholm Syndrome to be engendered in an audience, Campbell went on to co-create a 22-hour theatre piece called The Warp based around poet Neil Oram’s search for his female identity. After the Royal Shakespeare Company’s hit with Nicholas Nickleby, Campbell faked a series of letters from artistic director, Trevor Nunn, declaring that Shakespeare was to be dropped and it was set to become the Royal Dickens Company, this led to great confusion and embarrassment for the RSC and some ignominy for Ken.

Theatre critic Michael Coveney wrote in his obituary of Campbell, “There have been few stranger people in Britain, let alone the theatre, than Campbell.” For Coveney, Campbell was Puck made flesh. His solo shows covered quantum mechanics, Jungian archetypes and pet funeral oratory.

As his greatest work was theatrical and live and he is dead, it is doubly unrepeatable but always a delight to hear of the bruises and ego bumps that led to each unique event.

If that is not enough to make you want to listen, I have failed dismally in my duties.

When Diane Met Ken is available on the iPlayer

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