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JOE ORTON

Born 1st. January, 1933, Leicester, England
Died 9th. August, 1967, Islington, London. 
His original name was John Kingsley Orton. 

Writer of outrageous black farces including Entertaining Mr. Sloane ,
(1964), and Loot , (1966). These are savage comic expressions of Orton's
contempt for social institutions, as well as vehicles for his delight in
shocking people. 

Joe Orton was 18 when he first met his lover Kenneth Halliwell who was
then 25. They met when Joe Orton joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic
Art (RADA) in London, in May 1951. They were together for sixteen years
until Joe Orton's death when he was aged 34. 

Joe Orton moved in with Kenneth Halliwell in his flat at 161 West End
Lane, London, NW6 in June 1951. 

In 1959 Kenneth Halliwell bought them a new flat at 25 Noel Road,
Islington, London, N1. 

Kenneth Halliwell, remained a struggling, unpublished writer as Joe
Orton's career rocketed. 

On 9th. August 1967 Halliwell bashed in Orton's skull with a hammer in
their flat, and then killed himself with an overdose of twenty-two
Nembutal sleeping pills washed down with the juice from a tin of
grapefruit. Halliwell died first. On the desk near to Joe Orton's diary
the police found the note: 


If you read his diary all will be explained.

K. H.

P. S. Especially the latter part.
The bodies were found by a chauffeur sent to collect Joe Orton for a
meeting to discuss a screenplay that he had written for John Lennon and
Ringo Starr. Orton's favourite song, 'A Day in the Life', by the
Beatles, was played at his funeral. 

A black and white photograph of Joe Orton is reproduced in Elliman and
Roll, (1986), page 147. 

Joe Orton was listed at number 32 in the top 500 lesbian and gay heroes
in The Pink Paper, 26th. September, 1997, issue 500, page 19. 


Orton Society
The Orton Society was formed in August 1994 and was run by Bill Kelly on
the Isle of Man, until it closed down a few years later. Members
included Sue Townsend, writer of The Diary of Adrian Mole, and the
actors Sheila Handcock and Kenneth Cranham. 

Biographical film: Prick Up Your Ears, (1987), written by Alan Bennett
and based on John Lahr's biography, directed by Stephen Frears. 


The title Prick Up Your Ears was originally intended for a film to be
written by Joe Orton for the Beatles but which did not materialise. As
with the titles of other Joe Orton works Kenneth Halliwell took the
credit for it. It is a triple pun since 'ears' is an anagram. 

Cast: 
Joe Orton (Gary Oldman) 
Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina) 
Peggy Ramsey, Joe Orton's literary agent (Vanessa Redgrave) 
John Lahr (Wallace Shawn) 
Orton's mother (Julie Walters) 
Orton's sister (Frances Barber) 
Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles (David Cady) 

Biographical play: Gorilla in the Roses, (1987), written by Jason
Francis, directed by Peter Dayson, and performed at the Grace, London,
SW11, March, 2000. 

The title Gorilla in the Roses was taken from a Daily Mirror headline to
a report of the imprisonment of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell after
they had defaced public library books. One of their deeds was to paste
the face of a chimpanzee onto the front of the Collin's Guide to Roses. 

Cast: 
Joe Orton (Jason Francis) 
Kenneth Halliwell (Matthew Linus Hunt) 

Ordinary Joe by Jeremy Kingston in The Times 2, 23rd. March, 2000, page
26. "The setting is good - although no designer is credited -
reproducing their claustrophobic Islington room where every inch of wall
is pasted with pictures of muscle-men, pietàs and Jacobeans in ruffs.
But as well as flipping along the last months of the two men's lives,
Francis also gives a commentary on what we are seeing, in the style of
ancient radio commentaries. He doesn't ominously announce that storm
clouds are gathering over Islington, but it's a near thing." 


See the Joe Orton message board web site:
http://www.catharton.net/cgi-local/authors/YaBB.cgi?board=joeorton 

A monthly column on Joe Orton, entitled What the Butler Never Saw,
appears on the online magazine 3AM Magazine http://www.3ampublishing.com 



Work
The Boy Hairdresser, with Kenneth Halliwell, 1954, a novel, (not
published in their lifetimes). 

Between Us Girls, a novel written in 1957 and published posthumously by
Hern, 1998, 194 pages, ISBN 1 85459 374 9. See article extracts. 

Quiet at the back by Patrick O'Connor in The Times Literary Supplement,
12th. February, 1999, page 19. "In her introduction to this first
publication, Francesca Coppa identifies references to the 1952 film
Singin' in the Rain, and students of the 1950s pulp fiction will no
doubt be able to find the sources for some of the other characters and
settings. For example, Susan Hope, is an aspiring actress who takes a
job in the 'Rainier Revuebar'." 
"A running joke throughout Between Us Girls concerns Susan's copy of a
novel about Madame Pompadour called The Divine Marquisé, the error of
the acute accent never explained or noted. Nancy Mitford's Madame de
Pompadour had been a bestseller in 1954 and must have come to the
attention of Orton and Halliwell on their frequent visits to the public
library. Some future student might like to take the two books and
analyse Mitford's influence on Orton; it's certainly there, especially
in a dream described by Susan near the end of the story, when she
marries the surly and violent hero. He is Bob Kennedy, and this is the
first appearance in Orton's work of the angry, attractive character who
would become most famous as Mr Sloane." 

Lord Cucumber, with Kenneth Halliwell, 1960, a novel, (not published in
their lifetimes). 

The Boy Hairdresser/Lord Cucumber, (1999), Nick Hern, 279 pages. 

Sniggers with attitude by Adam Mars-Jones in The Observer Review, 6th.
June, 1999, page 11. "These almost eerily untalented short novels are
the first surviving (1954) and the last (1960) fruits of a legendary
literary collaboration." 
"Halliwell's influence seems to be dominant in Lord Cucumber, a romp in
the manner of Ronald Firbank. Unfortunately it is the irritating aspect
of Firbank that is imitated - his suppressed sniggering." 

"With The Boy Hairdresser Orton's name comes first, contradicting
alphabetical order, and it must be assumed that he is now wearing the
literary trousers. There are improvements to be noticed: though the
point of view is undisciplined, so that a simple situation becomes
perversely hard to follow, the impressions of a seedy London are sharp. 

"Elements of The Boy Hairdresser later found their way into the 1963
play The Ruffian on the Stair, but at this stage Orton preferred a pose
of rather pompous despair to the nonchalant aggression we identify as
Ortonesque. No doubt the aggression was also partly a pose - but it was
a liberating one." 


Entertaining Mr Sloane, 1964 

"the dramatic equivalent of what, in painting, is called a primitive.
But his talent is a real one."
Bernard Levin 

"bright and fresh . . . and done in the best contemporary styles"
John Mortimer in the Standard 

"a milk-curdling essay in lower-class nihilism"
Guardian 

"the best first play I have seen in 28 years"
Terence Rattigan 

"not for a long time have I disliked a play so much" 
Telegraph 

A subsequent letter to the editor of the Telegraph from Edna Welthorpe
(Mrs) supported the newspaper's critic: "I hope the ordinary decent
people of this country will strike back." It was Joe Orton who had sent
the letter. 

Russell Taylor, J., Wood, C., Broome Lynne, J., and Orton, J., 1965, New
English Dramatists , Penguin, SBU library Main Bookstock 822.908.
Contains Entertaining Mr Sloane by Joe Orton. 

The Ruffian on the Stair, 1966 radio version; revised 1967 

"Every good play expresses something of the time in which it was written
and at the moment we're in a sick one." Joe Orton in his introduction to
the play in Radio Times . 

Loot, 1967. 

The Erpingham Camp, 1967. 

What the Butler Saw , 1969. 

Farce and furious: A Joe Orton revival shows that his work is ageing
well by Jeremy Kingston in The Times 2, 18th. July, 2001, page 21. A
review of the Bath Theatre Royal's touring production in 2001. 

The Good and Faithful Servant, 1970. 

Funeral Games, 1970. 

Head to toe, a novel published posthumously, originally called The
Vision of Gombold Proval. 

First published in Britain in 1971 by Anthony Blond. 
Methuen edition published 1986. 
Methuen edition reprinted 1987. 
Minerva edition published 1990. 
Minerva edition reprinted 1990 by Mandarin Paperbacks, 187 pages, ISBN 0
7493 9029 8. 

Joe Orton: The Complete Plays, 1976, introduced by John Lahr, Methuen,
ISBN 0 413 34610 2, 448 pages. 

Up Against It, a screenplay, published posthumously by Methuen, 1979. 

The Orton Diaries including the correspondence of Edna Welthorpe and
others, 1986, edited by John Lahr, Methuen: London, 304 pages, ISBN
0-413-49660-0. 

The diary starts on 20th. December, 1966 and finishes on 1st. August
1967, eight days before he was murdered by Kenneth Halliwell. It
contains a number of illustrations and photographs. 

Two Plays: Fred and Madge; The Visitors, published by Hern, 1998, 165
pages, ISBN 1 85459 354 4 (hc)/1 85459 359 5 (pb). 

Quiet at the back by Patrick O'Connor in The Times Literary Supplement,
12th. February, 1999, page 19. "In Fred and Madge, he mocks Noël Coward
for being 'an almost perfect example of the unnatural idiot', and he
parodies Private Lives in a chance-meeting scene. The problem with
playing Orton is exactly the same as that of getting Coward right.
People try far too hard to be Ortonesque, whereas what is really needed
is the absolute professionalism and realism which he sets out to
lampoon." 


Bibliography
Alan Bennett, (1987), "Prick Up Your Ears: The Screenplay", adapted from
John Lahr's biography of Joe Orton, Faber and Faber, 75 pages, ISBN
0-571-14752-6. 

Francesca Coppa, (1999), "A Perfectly Developed Playwright: Joe Orton
and Homosexual Reform", in "The Queer Sixties", edited by Patricia
Juliana Smith 

Elliman and Roll, (1986), pages 148-149. 

John Lahr, (1978), "Prick Up Your Ears: the biography of Joe Orton",
Allen Lane, ISBN 0713910445, SBU library Main Bookstock 822.9140294. 

Simon Shepherd, (1989), "Because we're Queers: The Life and Crimes of
Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton", GMP, 167 pages. 

Russell Taylor, J., Wood, C., Broome Lynne, J., and Orton, J., (1965),
"New English Dramatists", Penguin, SBU library Main Bookstock 822.908.
Contains Entertaining Mr Sloane by Joe Orton. 


Press cuttings
Alison Utley, The Times Higher Education Supplement, 21st. February,
1997, No. 1268, page 4. "Dramatic deadline: Leicester University is
pulling out all the stops to raise £80,000 by the end of June in order
to secure a piece of literary history for the nation." "The papers of
playwrite Joe Orton, above, have been offered to the university on
condition that the money is raised by the deadline. If not they will go
on the open market. The collection consists of annotated typescripts,
notes and many unpublished works. Orton was battered to death by his
lover in 1967. But his sister, Leonie Barnett, said the family wished
the papers to remain in Orton's birthplace." 

Chairman of the bawd in The Times Higher Education Supplement, 28th.
February, 1997, No 1269, page 17. A letter from David Powell, Brighton.
"THE PHOTOGRAPH of Joe Orton (THES, February 21) shows clearly that he
held a personal chair. Let us hope that the University of Leicester is
successful in its quest to secure his papers." 

For sale: Orton's eye on Sixties by Richard Brooks in The Observer, 2nd.
March, 1997, page 3. "Eight unpublished plays and novels, spoof letters,
a scrapbook and diaries by the outrageous playwright Joe Orton are to be
put on sale by his two sisters and brother." "There is the 1959 novel
Between Us Girls, which opens with the lines: 'I think I'm going crazy!
At the hairdressers, Miss Fleur gave me the most awful restyle'." "An
unpublished verse play, co-written with Halliwell in 1960, is called The
Boy Hairdresser. Its opening paragraph runs: 'A guardsman in his
underwear in a vision I once saw. Along the mountain tops he came, his
privy member all aflame. Most horrid and unnatural. There is no need to
trace the cause of quarrel between the right and left buttock'." "Other
unpublished works include The Protagonist, with Lord and Lady Cucumber;
The Silver Bucket; and an erotic revue, Until She Screams." 

PAST LIVES, in Axiom News, 4th. December, 1997, page 7. "Joe Orton was
born in the cold, dark, sooty industrial south side of Leicester in 1933
- a drab working class ghetto he referred to as 'the gutter'. The
boredom and 'ugly banality' of his background, coupled with his inner
sense at anger and isolation at being a homosexual in post-war Britain,
fused in making him the most successful and feted playwright of
international reputation in the 1960's." 

What the butler missed: Orton's comic novel comes out of closet by John
Harlow, The Sunday Times, 7th. June, 1998. "Between Us Girls, the first
work written by Orton without the aid of his early mentor and lover
Kenneth Halliwell, is to be published this autumn followed by his
surreal farces Fred & Madge and The Visitors. Similar in style to
Entertaining Mr Sloane, Loot and What the Butler Saw, the West End hits
that turned Orton into a pop celebrity in the 1960s, Between Us Girls is
a camp comic novel starring a young girl-about-town, Susan Hope." 
"Nick Hern Books, which is publishing the works, said it had only become
possible since the recent death of Orton's formidable agent, Peggy
Ramsey." "The papers were gathered by relatives from under the bed in
the tiny north London flat where on a hot night in the summer of 1967, a
deeply depressed Halliwell had crushed his younger lover's head with a
hammer and killed himself with 22 Nembutal pills. The papers only ended
up with Orton's family because the coroner ruled that the 34-year-old
writer had died in a coma some hours after the attack and so had
technically outlived his assailant: otherwise, by the terms of their
mutual will, they would have gone to the Halliwell family, who declared
at the time they would have destroyed them. For three decades the papers
lay unread in an attic room of Orton's sister, Leonie Barnett, in
Leicester. She had no idea of their value, Ramsey was not interested in
them and even John Lahr, Orton's biographer, regarded the masses of
cheap, badly typed pages as so unimportant that he scribbled his own
notes in their margins. The potential of the papers was only appreciated
last year by Francesca Coppa, assistant professor of English at New York
University, who came to Britain looking for hitherto-unpublished Orton
material and discovered the two cardboard boxes mouldering away. 'The
papers showed how Joe worked - he would write out lists of gags and
comic exchanges and then work them into plots, crossing them off the
lists as he went'." 

"There were also streams of possible future titles, including Until She
Screams, Up Against It, Gwen - Maddened By Lust and, for a farce to be
set among the rumour-mongers at the coronation of Edward VII, Prick Up
Your Ears." 

"Coppa helped sort out the papers, which were then sold by the family to
Leicester University after an £80,000 appeal lead by Sir Peter Hall, the
theatre director. The family, which continues to hold the Orton
copyright, only decided to publish them recently." 

This was no ordinary Joe by Simon Fanshawe in The Sunday Times Culture,
9th. August, 1998, pages 6-7. "Joe Orton is the funniest satirist in the
British theatre. But nobody thinks of him like that. His literary
reputation has been half-drowned by tabloid sensation. Next week, people
will get a chance to think again. Loot - his farce in which frantic
activity reverses all humane logic and grants freedom to the sinful and
imprisonment to the innocent - is finally coming back to the West End
after 15 years, via the Chichester Festival Theatre." 
"But as his sister, Leonie Orton-Barnett, says: 'The most important
thing in his life was writing. If you don't realise that, you don't
grasp the essential man. Kenneth and he used to read Gibbon's Decline
and Fall out loud. He was very academic. I don't mean he was a
professor. I mean that you have to have a literary foundation to write a
line like, 'My uterine contractions have been bogus for some time' [from
What the Butler Saw]. He wasn't just a jack-the-lad type always down the
lavs'." 

"There appeared to be nothing he couldn't make funny, from religion to
sex to death to murder and violence. He savoured the unacceptable as
only an outsider to the middle-class world of straight theatre could.
His deep literary understanding of technique and structure brought about
by years of reading with Halliwell - what Leonie calls 'dedication
rewarded' - gave him a technical confidence that dared him to tackle
anything." 

Vaudeville Theatre, London, WC2. Opening 12th. August, 1998 until 17th.
October, 1998. 
Box Office 0171 836 9987. 

Orton's loo is preserved for the nation with lottery loot by Maurice
Chittenden in The Sunday Times, 3rd. January, 1999, page 3. "The
Victorian public lavatories frequented by Joe Orton, the gay playwright,
are to be renovated with national lottery money. Labour-run Camden
council is expected to receive formal approval for its application to
spend £50,000 of lottery cash on renovating the 102-year-old toilets in
South End Green, Hampstead, north London, within the next few weeks." 
"The underground toilets were built in 1897 by the London and North
Western Railway as part of a tramway terminus. The walls are covered
with green and white tiles and the cubicles have panelled timber doors
and cast iron decorative screens. They featured prominently in Prick Up
Your Ears, the film of Orton's life starring Gary Oldman as the
playwright which BBC2 was criticised for screening on Christmas Day." 

"The prime purpose of the renovation grant is to preserve one of the
last remaining Victorian lavatories left intact and still in service in
London. However, both the council and the lottery fund agree that the
Orton connection is an influential factor in securing the money." 

"The family of the Leicester-born writer have welcomed the restoration
of the conveniences as a fitting, if bizarre, memorial to him. Leoni
Orton-Barnett, his sister, said: 'It is a very odd monument. But if they
can spend millions doing up the Albert Memorial with gold, why not?'.
She added: 'Joe frequented cottages all the time. It is a place where
gays meet and strut their stuff. We know from George Michael's arrest
that it is still common practice. It wasn't just the cheap sex. Joe
liked to be a fly on the wall. You don't get to know what life is really
about by knocking about with BBC directors and Oxford dons. The crudity
and sparseness of life is to be found in public lavatories'." 

"Camden council once tried to close down the South End Green lavatories
because they fell into disrepair. But after protests from local
residents the toilets were given a grade II listing because of their
architecture and history by the then Department of National Heritage in
1993. They are now on an English Heritage 'at risk' register."

©2002 BILLY TWEEDIE




From an interview with Barry Hanson in the programme notes of Peter
Gill's Royal Court production of The Erpingham Camp and The Ruffian on
the Stair (Crimes of Passion) June 1967. 
"I was born in Leicester thirty-three years ago. Father a gardener,
mother a machinist. I had quite an ordinary schooling. I didn't get my
eleven plus. I wanted it at the time. So I left school and did this
supposedly business course for a year, but it didn't do me any good
because I'd no aptitude for keeping accounts and things like that...
Yes, I was sacked from all the jobs I had between sixteen and eighteen
because I was never interested in any of them. I resented having to go
to work in the morning, and very often I didn't bother - I just looked
in shop windows, or if it was a nice sunny morning I'd sit in the Town
Hall square and have an ice-cream.

At night I belonged to an amateur dramatic society, in fact I belonged
to so many it got ridiculous — the rehearsals for the shows clashed. I
wanted to be an actor but didn't know how to go about it so I wrote to
the Information Bureau in Leicester. They said I'd have to go to
R.A.D.A.. or some recognised dramatic academy and they gave me a whole
list of elocution teachers . I went to one called Madame . . . . . , I
don't know why they called her Madame, because there was nothing
Madamish about her at all, she was just an ordinary, pompous
middle-class lady and she didn't think much to me, just a yob, I could
tell that; she offered coffee and I said yes, and she asked me did I
take sugar and I said yes and she went away and came back with the
coffee with sugar, but it wasn't sugar, it was saccharin in the bottom
of the cup and so I thought 'Oh, yes, she's a right bitch' and she had
these biscuits in a biscuit barrel, you know, these awful cheap
biscuits. Oh, she didn't think much to me, she thought much more of a
pompous, middle-class young man who was going to her because she thought
he was going to be God's gift to the English stage and I was very glad
to notice that he turned out to be a disaster. She had no taste.

But she did tell me how to get a grant from the Education Authorities.
She arranged an evening show of all her pupils to show how talented they
were and I and this girl, her pupil, did the quarrel scene of Oberon and
Titania from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and I had a marvellous idea. I
thought I'd play Oberon green, so I bought a lot of green distemper from
the local shop. I'd no idea about stage make-up, and put on a pair of
bathing trunks and just covered myself from head to foot in green,
including my hair, surprising I didn't get a skin rash; then I got a
green bedspread from my mother's and father's bed and wrapped that round
me and appeared on the stage in this fantastic outfit, the bedspread and
covered in green distemper while the girl wore a conventional muslin
ballet dress as Titania. Anyway, it was very successful because Madame
introduced me afterwards to this man who was in charge of giving away
grants, someone quite important and I had a long; talk with him and he
thought it was all very interesting. Anyway they gave me a very generous
grant .....

"I did actually get into R.A.D.A.. the first time. It was rather
extraordinary. For audition I did a piece from Peter Pan between Captain
Hook and Smee, I think it was, both at the same time, a schizophrenic
act, it was quite alarming, I don't know how I did it. It impressed the
judges and when I took the letter round to Madame she could hardly
conceal her rage that I'd got in, and she continued to be bitchy,
because when I went to R.A.D.A.. I was supposed to have had eight
lessons, actually I'd had seven, and she kept writing and saying I
hadn't paid her for the last lesson. I don't know if I ever did pay her.

I didn't have a very good time at R.A.D.A. really, because I found that
in the very first term I actually expected to be taught something. It
was complete rubbish. I wasn't taught anything and I learned at the end
of the term that I was more enthusiastic and knew more about acting at
the beginning of my first term than I did at the end. And during the
next two terms, I had two years there, I completely lost my confidence
and my virginity.

"Then I went into Rep for four months and I was bored; I did a lot of
moaning; then I left the theatre and got married and that didn't work
out. Well, I had no real feeling about it at all, it just didn't work
out, I mean, I was too young ... .. we just drifted apart, no rows, I
mean, those kind of marriages generally last. However one is liberal
about modern marriage, there is this responsibility . I don't like
possessions and a wife and children are possessions, they have to be
possessed and supported. After a year I came back to London and started
writing. I never wanted to be a writer, I always wanted to be an actor,
but then I did have a talent for writing, but I never got anything
published at all, never. I had to take lots of different kinds of jobs.

"I don't have a chip on my shoulder about having been sent to prison. I
do know, however, that the kind of people who walked out of "Loot" are
the kind of people who are magistrates. Now they can't do anything about
me as the author of "Loot", but when I was in their power, the same
person before I wrote either "Loot" or "Sloane", then they could do
something. No, I realise what I did was unforgivable, I'm just
unrepentant. But I objected to public money going on dull, badly written
books under the heads of successful lady authors on the backs of their
book jackets. I think one was written by Lady Dartmouth. . The libraries
had a tremendous amount of space for rubbish but none for good books. I
also used to write false blurbs on the book flap which the Magistrate
described as mildly obscene. So they made an example of me. My
activities had been going on for a long time.

"No, I liked prison. I mean the only things I had against it were the
small things. When I was in Brixton, the lavatories were disgraceful,
they were always overflowing and were in a filthy state: there weren't
enough of them and that kind of thing. I was on remand, you see, so I
didn't get out to work in the prison. I was locked in my cell for
twenty-three hours a day. This didn't worry me much. I used to read a
lot. Not the Bible, which we were supposed to read, but strange things
like 'Hatter's Castle', the sort of thing I'd never normally dream of
reading, cheap novels and papers. I didn't trust the psychiatrist
because I knew anything I told him would eventually be reported to the
authorities

"Well obviously you've got to have police they're a necessary evil. I
mean I've no objection to them tracking down murderers and bank robbers,
clearly you can't have people behaving in a completely anarchic way. I
believe though, that they interfere far too much with private morals —
whether people are having it off in the backs of cars, or smoking
marihuana, or doing the interesting little things that one does. Oh no,
they don't terrify me because I know how to deal with them. For
instance, you never tell them the truth, you tell the most convenient
lie, but one which they'll believe. And, of course, you're awfully nice.
I mean, whey they got me into the police station the best thing to do, I
found, was to be as nice and utterly vulnerable and open as possible,
because it's no good standing on your rights once they've got you in
their power. It may be cowardly.. Well, I wasn't actually beaten up, but
he hovered around..... whereas if you mess them about they get nasty.

Lady Dartmouth
I think Ulysses was the most horrible book I have read in my life, it is
absolutely revolting. How they could even have tried to make a film of
it at all amazes me. Filth disguised as art should be banned completely
and I speak not just as a councillor but as a mother of boys aged 16 and
17. (Picture: Syndication International)  
"I hope that the violence in my plays is not of an inconsequential
nature, I mean, not violence for its own sake. I'm always horrified by
violence in some things, especially American films and novels. I watched
an American series on T.V. called "The Invaders" and the violence in
that seems to me purely gratuitous. I mean, it was necessary for the old
man in 'Sloane' to be beaten up on the purely pragmatic grounds of the
plot and I couldn't have had the play working otherwise, in the same way
to go back to the old cliche about Shakespeare; you can't have certain
scenes in 'King Lear' without having Gloucester's eyes put out. No,
violence for its own sake I'm very much against.

"The style isn't super-imposed. It's me. You can't write stylised comedy
in inverted commas, because the style must ring of the man, and if you
think in a certain way and you write true to yourself, which I rope I
am, then you will get a style, a style will come out. You've only got to
be sitting on a bus and you'll hear the most stylised lines. People
think I write fantasy, but I don't; some things may be exaggerated or
distorted in the way some painters distort and alter things, but they're
realistic figures. They're perfectly recognisable. I don't like the
discrimination against style that some people have, every serious writer
has a style. I mean, Arnold Wesker has a style, but people don't
normally think of him as a stylist, in the same way they think of Wilde,
Firbank or Sheridan. Style isn't camp or chi-chi. I write in a certain
way because I can express in naturalistic terms. In the whole
naturalistic movement of the 20's and 30's you can't ultimately have
anything except discussions of Mavis's new hat; you can't have people. 
With the naturalistic style I couldn't make any comment on the kind of
policeman that Truscott is, or on the laws of the Establishment. Oscar
Wilde's style is much more earthy and colloquial than most people
notice. When we look at Lady Bracknell, she's the most ordinary, common
direct woman, she's not an affected woman at all. People are taken in by
"the glittering style". It's not glitter. Congreve is the same. It's
real — a slice of life. It's just very brilliantly written, perfectly
believable. Nothing at all incredible.

"In spite of all one hears to the contrary, critics are human beings,
and human beings make snap judgments. People always like to put you in
compartments and I didn't like this. I think compartments of any kind
are bad. They do it in sex 'he's a leather fetishist ' or 'he likes
little girls in pink knickers'. Well, I think one should like
everything, or try everything in all spheres of life. I don't think one
should reject any experience — although I don't really fancy being
beaten or anything like that.

"Yes, I was approached to do a film script for the Beatles. I said it
would have to be an absolutely original script. Paul McCartney said do
whatever you like. I said that means you'll never be able to do it. He
said as long as it's good, that's all right. So I did the script and I
was very pleased with it and my agent was very pleased with it and she's
not an easy woman to please. Well, we sent it away and didn't hear
anything for over a month, then we finally get this little note from
Brian Epstein, that it wasn't suitable for the Beatles. Well, what did
they want? They got a brilliant script. There were, of course, certain
things. Because all teenagers were supposed to imitate the Beatles I
mustn't have the Beatles doing certain things. I wrote a story, but
actually as it turned out, by page 25 they had committed adultery ,
murder, dressed in drag, been in prison, seduced the daughter of a
Priest, I mean the niece of a Priest, blown up a war memorial and all
sorts of things like that. I can't really blame them but it would have
been marvellous. I only wrote it because I wanted to, I don't have to be
careful about what I write. The fact that Brian Epstein says it isn't
suitable doesn't worry me, I'll do it an sell it to someone who will. I
mean, I hadn't used any foul language. I hadn't gone as far as I can go
if I really wanted to. I was very good on that. Oscar Lewenstein thought
it was the best thing I'd written and he has every intention of doing
it.

"I've always wanted to do a film called 'Carry on, Jesus' which would be
a send-up of one of the Hollywood movies, and one could cast Kenneth
Williams as Simon Peter. The trouble with the 'Carry on' films is that
they should be, even in their own terms of reference, better. There are
lots of terribly funny jokes we could make about tools and things like
that, you know, all the postcard humour, but I never think it's good
enough at present.

"I always rewrite plays. I get an idea and I do several drafts of it.
What I usually do is to put it away for a while and then do a final
rewrite. In fact 'The Ruffian on the Stair' was written in 1964 and the
B.B.C. did it. But the version we're doing in 'Crimes of Passion' is
only very vaguely like it, because since then I've had a whole new idea,
although the skeleton is the same, a lot of it is totally different and
totally new and I'm now satisfied that that is as far as I can go in
this particular play and I don't want to do anything on it ever again so
that I've got that out of my system.  It's the same with Erpingham Camp,
because I did a version of it for television. It all began when Lindsay
Anderson gave me this idea . He said he was doing a film which he'd got
from the Bacchae. He asked if I could do anything with it. 1 said I'd
like to and went away and wrote 17 pages. Lindsay read it, but it wasn't
his idea any longer, so I was left with the 17 pages, but what I'd done
had really interested me so I turned it into a play for television, and
when television had finished with it , there was another gap of a year,
by which time I'd thought about it a lot more in stage terms, and I
completely rewrote the characters. Now I've got that out of my system.

"I like pop music. I collect old records and new ones on the basis that
they may become part of pop history. That's all I'm interested in
because I don't like classical music. There was a time when I tried to
educate myself to liking it, but I just think it' s a noise — a terrible
racket, probably because I'm tone deaf. I love all those stupid songs
like 'Marta, rambling rose of the wildwood'. I've just bought a record
of Carl Brisson where he does a scene from "The Merry Widow"., it's
utterly ludicrous but he does it in style and it's true to itself. It's
very moving. I have an old record of Cavan O'Connor singing 'Kathleen
Mavourneen' and it's really rather sad as well as being ridiculous.

People have said I'm anti-Catholic: I'm not really, I just think they're
very funny. I've never really come into contact with any dangerous
Catholics. Those I've known have usually been Irish and I like the
Irish, I don't know why. I mean, they're the most infuriating people on
earth. I've never been to Ireland. I lust have a sort of irrational
feeling about them.

"There have always been reactionaries, I think it's a mistake to call
them Fascists because that really only applies to a certain period in
history. Where people go wrong when they talk about fascism is that they
always think of the Nuremberg Rally and there is really nothing wrong
with the Nuremberg Rallies, the emotion, the bands and marching and all
that, I mean they're marvellous, I get really involved and very
emotional, but it's the purposes to which these things are put that's
always evil. And the jackboot; it's a symptom of that particular
country. I mean if you really wanted to spot the nasty equivalent of
fascism in England you have to read the letters to the Radio Times and
the T.V. Times. The B.B.C. is, for instance a monstrous propaganda
organisation, the worst since Dr. Goebbels. It did give me my first
encouragement in that it accepted 'The Ruffian on the Stair'. In a small
enclave of the B.B.C there are people who are fine, the Third Programme.
They are genuinely liberal. I don't like the sort of liberal that is the
reactionary underneath, you know the kind of Pamela Handsford Johnson
liberalism. There's a lot more wrong with the world than teenage sex and
drug taking.

"England, I don't know what will happen to it. I think there's a certain
section of England that's marvellous. You can call it swinging London,
but it just sort of expresses something that is there, a splendid
liberalism, but only in a certain little bit of London. I mean, in New
York, when Dudley Sutton was in 'Sloane' and had to have his hair dyed,
it was very embarrassing. People actually passed remarks in the street,
whereas they wouldn't here. You can do all sorts of things in London,
and long may it remain so. "
joe orton
  
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Joe Orton
British wit at it's best!


Joe Orton!