Social behavior boils down to the “Morris Theorem”: “Change is caused by lazy, greedy, frightened people looking for easier, more profitable, and safer ways to do things.” These people are much the same everywhere. Their societies develop along similar paths. Geography explains different outcomes. “Maps, not chaps,” as Morris likes to say.

“The agency of individuals actually matters much less than historians tend to assume,” Morris tells me. “It’s hard to find any examples of decisions made by single individuals that ­really changed the big story very much—until you get into the 20th century, when you’ve got nuclear weapons.”

I recently said to a director, ‘Audiences are like furtive strangers standing outside school gates with bags of sweets. You follow them at your peril.’ They lead you down the wrong path, and then they say, 'We don’t believe you’ at the end of it when they’ve laughed and laughed and encouraged you to be funnier and funnier. They drop you, and you’re dumped as a character and as an actor, so always stay true. That’s the point.

Few writers have managed more fully than Stacton to bear out Gore Vidal’s maxim that writers shouldn’t “write what they know” but, rather, what they imagine or suspect. The Stacton oeuvre also flies in the face of Michael Frayn’s droll advice that authors do well to write the same book “over and over again, just very slightly different, so that people get used to it”.

IN THE SUMMER OF 1999, the Holy Spirit directed Rick Karr, a 51-year-old Texan, to answer the calls made to a phone booth located in the middle of the Mojave Desert, 15 miles from a highway. He spent 32 days camping beside the phone booth on the desert playa in scorching heat. During that time he answered over 500 calls, many of which came from someone named Sergeant Zeno, who said he was phoning from the Pentagon.