In 1944, Orton took the 11+ exam to qualify for grammar school. He had missed much school due to asthma and ill health and to his mother’s shock and surprise failed his exams.

Unable to accept that he should go to a secondary modern, Elsie pawned her wedding ring so he could attend Clarks College. However this was a commercial not an academic college, training the young Orton for a life of clerical work. One of Orton’s tutors recalls

‘John was semi-literate, he couldn’t spell, he couldn’t string a sentence together, he used to start a sentence and then get all het up, he had no vocabulary.’

The only useful lessons Orton learnt were typing and how to write shorthand, a skill he used to hide more private aspects of his life from his mother in his first diary.

On leaving college there followed a series of dull and menial clerical jobs. Orton hated the mundanity and repetitiveness of working life, reflected in a series of entries in his first diary.

‘Went to bed feeling ill at the thought of work tomorrow.’
January 9th, 1949.

Orton’s favourite books were Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and Bullfinches Greek Myths and he yearned for the extraordinary and to escape the humdrum reality of his life. He had expressed an interest in the theatre while at Clarks College but this had been ignored and it was through amateur dramatics that he found his escape.

Orton Diary Quotes: © The Orton Estate   Text © Leicester City Council / Orton Diary quotes © The Orton Estate  

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