Network: My Technology: Just call me a copycat

The playwright Ken Campbell extols the many virtues of his Xerox photocopier

The frustrating thing about photocopiers is that they haven't managed to make them work 100 per cent; you need a good service contract or you'll quickly have a load of junk on your hands.

I once had a portable Xerox personal copier, and part of its instruction was where to sellotape the handle! The one I have now is a reconditioned, second-hand model, built like a tank. I keep it in my basement because it's where I do rehearsals.

I got the Xerox5018 earlier this year after my daughter said she wanted to be a theatre director, and I suggested she began with the longest play in the world. It's roughly 23 hours long, with a cast of about 40, but the problem is that the text has never been published, so it was a case of doing a vast amount of photocopying. That's the use of the machine, in a practical sense.

And it's a director's tool. For example, the whole script for Pidgin Macbeth is 30 pages, but I like to break it down so that each page shows the important moments, or beats, within each scene. With the photocopier you can collage different pages together, and try out a new page or a different order.

But the reason why I am most fond of the photocopier as a piece of modern technology dates back to 1976, when Chris Langham and I adapted the Illuminatus! trilogy. This is the ultimate conspiracy buff's manual. The allegations and suggestions of what is really happening around the world are so striking that my head was full of it, so I made copies of what I had adapted and tried these ideas on whoever I encountered.

My friend Martin Walker, the Guardian writer, told me that during oppressive times in Russia, information didn't get published in newspapers. Instead they copied and sent information without a covering letter, or anything to explain why it was sent.

Martin told me this after a strange experience I had. One morning I answered the door to a man I didn't know. We chatted a bit about people we possibly had in common, then he asked whether he could smoke a joint, and told me he was a roving reporter for High Times [the marijuana enthusiasts' magazine]. He had heard I was interested in conspiracy, and brought out something like 23 pages of closely typed carbon copy called The Gemstone File. He had been carrying it around for some time, unable to work out what to do with it. He left it with me, and I never saw him again.

The Gemstone File was the entire background of the Kennedy assassination; names and addresses, who had done it, and the historical perspective. Back in 1976 newsagents didn't have copiers, and the nearest one was Swiss Cottage library. But I opened the door to go there and then thought, who was that man? In the great conspiracy web, the problem is that you don't know who or what people are working for. The curtains twitched in the house opposite. I remained inside the whole day, unable to work out how to get the manuscript photocopied without arousing suspicion. Finally, I rang Martin Walker and he made 40 copies, 20 for each of us to send out. To have your own copier is a comfort. I can still recall the irrational paranoia of that day.

Other than my love of photocopiers, I think much of modern technology - mainly the Internet, computers and television sets - has damaged the spirit of today's children. About 20 years ago I used to go into schools for various reasons, and my concern was keeping order. Then I had a lapse of 20 years and went back into a school, and found that kids are dead.

I asked why this was, and people mumbled about the curriculum, but I suspect it's the computer and television screens.

There is a very good book called Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, by Gerry Mander, and one of his arguments is that a television or computer screen fires images into the brain (cinema doesn't, because you are watching a reflected image), and that because of this it's impossible to remain interactive with the subject matter for more than six minutes.

I think that's why the children are not just passive, but dead. In my day, you were told to sit a certain distance away from the screen and to look away from the television screen every three minutes. Technological projects are now accepted unquestioningly.

Ken Campbell's `Pidgin Macbeth' is at the Piccadilly Theatre, London (0171-369 1734), to 30 October

Interview by

Jennifer Rodger

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