David Campton (2nd May 1924 – 9 September 2006) was a prolific British dramatist who wrote plays for the stage, radio, and cinema for thirty-five years. “He was one of the first British dramatists to write in the style of the Theatre of the Absurd”.
In performance reviews of productions of Campton's play The Lunatic View: A Comedy of Menace and The Birthday Party, by Harold Pinter, published in the short-lived British drama magazine Encore, drama critic Irving Wardle borrowed the term “comedy of menace” from the subtitle of Campton's play, popularizing the term “comedies of menace”.
Campton addressed the matter of critics' “pigeonholing” his work:
“I dislike pigeonholes and object to being popped into one. However, one label that might fit is the title of an anthology of my plays: Laughter and Fear. This is not quite the same as comedy of menace, which has acquired a connotation of theatre of the absurd. It is in fact present in my lightest domestic comedy. It seems to me that the chaos affecting everyone today––political, technical, sociological, religious, etc., etc.,––is so all-pervading that it cannot be ignored, yet so shattering that it can only be approached through comedy. Tragedy demands firm foundations; today we are dancing among the ruins.” (Qtd. in “David Campton, Playwright”)
Campton was born in Leicester, in 1924. He was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys. From 1942 to 1945, he served in the RAF, and then, for another year, in the Fleet Air Arm. He worked as a clerk in the City of Leicester Department of Education until 1949 and then moved to the East Midlands Gas Board, where he worked until 1956. Campton worked with Stephen Joseph in developing theatre in the round in Britain and played a major role in establishing theatre-in-the-rounds in both Scarborough, North Yorkshire (now in the well-known Stephen Joseph Theatre, a converted 1930's Odeon cinema) and Staffordshire in the English West Midlands. He worked as writer, actor and also regularly ran the box-office and front-of-house.
Campton always credited himself with giving a young Alan Ayckbourn one of his first jobs at Scarborough with the immortal words, 'watch me my boy and one day you might become a playwright like me!' Ayckbourn later became Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre and an internationally renowned playwright. Campton was always keen to encourage those interested in drama, even amateurs. At age seventy-six, Campton directed and appeared in one of the plays he had previously written for Stephen Joseph at Scarborough, Passport to Florence, with a group of amateurs, ACTWS, in Leicester. This may have been his final performance on stage.