Extract from The Last Days of Sodom



Orton and Halliwell returned to London seized with the ambition to become writers. Halliwell took the lead, dictating while Orton typed. Later Orton began contributing ideas.

In order to save money they lived frugally on £5 a week. Rising early in the morning, they would write all morning, read in the afternoon and go to bed at dusk to save on electricity.

Their first manuscript, a science fiction spoof entitled The Mechanical Womb, was rejected as being ‘Rather good, really … but not good enough’, as was their next effort The Last Days of Sodom. In 1957 The Boy Hairdresser, a satire in blank verse, was also rejected as ‘entertaining ... but unpublishable’. The works were of sufficient merit for publishers Charles Monteith and Richard Brain to arrange a meeting. Monteith thought Halliwell ‘was the one that did the writing’ and Orton as ‘the young, pretty boyfriend.’

On visiting the writers Monteith and Brain experienced the writers’ austere circumstances first hand. The flat was dilapidated and they were served ‘a spartan, ghastly meal’ of sardines and rice followed by rice and golden syrup. After this meeting however both publishers came away realising that it was Orton, rather than Halliwell, who provided the comic spark in their writing.

The publishers threw a party to introduce Halliwell and Orton to leading London literary figures, which turned out to be a disaster. The pair sat on a settee all night and didn’t speak to anyone, Halliwell later explaining in a letter to Monteith that ‘we are no good at parties’. Enclosed was a revised version of The Last Days of Sodom, this time rejected for not being as good as the first.

Image: Courtesy The Orton Estate/Joe Orton Collection at the Library of the University of Leicester   Text © Leicester City Councill  

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