Ken Campbell, RIP

Monday, September 1, 2008 by

Ken Campbell, 1941-2008

Ken Campbell, 1941-2008

Although his heart, and much of life, lay on the stage, Ken Campbell graced a succession of high-class TV series with equally convincing bit parts, cameos and supporting roles.

He was the kind of character actor you’d be hard pushed to see emerge to prominence now, not just because the worlds of theatre and screen are more mutually exclusive, but also due to the broadcasting industry’s latterday self-conscious mistrust of such unaccommodating mavericks and outspoken entrepreneurs.

Campbell’s 40-year TV career began back in the 1960s, with occasional appearances in the likes of Dr Finlay’s Casebook, Redcap and The Wednesday Play.

He then concentrated on theatre until the late ’70s, when turns in Law and Order (as Alex Gladwell), The Professionals and Fawlty Towers began to hand him small screen ubiquity.

The ’80s was the decade Campbell really muscled his way into the public consciousness, however, with his hirsute and expressive features gracing episodes of Home to Roost, Supergran, The Gentle Touch, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Bulman, Rockcliffe’s Babies, Colin’s Sandwich and Minder. He also had a semi-regular stint as Fred Johnson, alongside his old mate Warren Mitchell, in In Sickness and in Health.

If he’d become Doctor Who in 1987 instead of Sylvester McCoy, a role for which he auditioned, his career would taken a very different turn, most likely seeing him eek out his days doing the rounds of sci-fi conventions and tiny radio studios for the recording of little-heard audio adventures.

Instead, while he never enjoyed such concentrated TV exposure again, more recent years found him winning sporadic guest roles in Casualty, Judge John Deed, Heartbeat and The Bill – all high profile productions, reflecting the esteem and respect he still commanded.

Throughout all of this, Campbell strode the stage, as he had done ever since joining RADA and the Colchester Repertory Theatre in the 1950s. He founded the Ken Campbell Roadshow, an experimental travelling band of performers and entertainers which at one point boasted Bob Hoskins and McCoy among its number, and also the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool. This latter project involved co-founder Chris Langham, Jim Broadbent, David Rappaport and Campbell’s wife Prunella Gee, and was responsible for treating the world to a brave if rather hapless stage production of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, with Langham as Arthur Dent.

While Campbell undoubtedly inspired many fellow actors and writers through his astonishingly creative work as writer, director and improviser, he unquestionably entertained millions whenever his slightly impish yet avowedly homely face loomed into view on the box.


2 Responses to “Ken Campbell, RIP”

  1. Larry on September 2nd, 2008 12:36 am

    Ken’s finally learnt the art of invisibility, though this time it’s not by simply ‘hiding in front of things’. I’ll miss him greatly, as will we all…his endless inventive wit, his love of characters and the stories they told, his rasping articulate voice, his deep knowledge of cosmic and synchronistic events, his arcane curiosity, his ability to make you see the world in a completely different light and make you laugh ’til you cried. But most of all, I’ll miss his love of life and everything in it. Together with his many, many friends here in Liverpool whose lives were made infinitely richer by knowing him, we say that his inspiration lives on in the Creative Centre of the Universe.

  2. Chris Orton on September 11th, 2008 1:51 pm

    I’ve always thought that Campbell was a very, very good actor indeed (especially when playing serious roles). I was only watching him in Law and Order the other week and he was excellent.