After applying to two major regional repertory companies, the young Orton was advised to seek training at RADA.

To get rid of his thick, working class Leicester accent, Orton took up elocution lessons with a ‘Madame’ Rothery. At an evening performance by her pupils, a representative from Leicester Education Committee was impressed with Orton, advising Elsie that grants were available to send him to RADA and that he would be ‘absolutely wasted in an office’.

On January 1st 1950, his 17th birthday, Orton took the entrance and scholarship exams for RADA. Performing a piece from Peter Pan, playing both Captain Hook and Smee, he suitably impressed the examiners and was accepted. Madame Rothery however was not pleased:

‘It was just after the war and men were extremely scarce so they would take practically anything that could stand up.’

Just as he was about to leave for London, Orton was struck with a double blow. First, appendicitis and then, while recovering from his operation, he received call up papers for National Service. RADA now looked like a distant dream.

Orton’s creativity came into its own. Sticking scabs from his appendix scar back on with glue, making it appear even more gruesome, he started smoking to bring on an asthma attack. This, combined with an inspired performance at his medical mimicking deafness in one ear, led to his discharge. As Orton told his mother:

‘If they could have seen me racing down the street after the exam he’d have fetched me back and passed me A1.’

He was now off to RADA.

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

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