used to be the case that when people asked me what I did
at the weekend, I had the usual answers: walking the dog,
catching up with friends and so on. These days, they know
better than to ask. It’s always, ‘Working on
the Orton site’. Here’s how it all started.
My interest in Joe Orton began in the early 1980’s
when I first met my husband Ben. He grew up in the 1960’s
in Leicester on a council estate next to the Saffron Lane
where Joe was born and lived throughout his childhood. Ben
studied LOOT while doing drama at college. We met at art
school and he introduced me to John Lahr’s biography
of Joe, ‘Prick Up Your Ears’.
After reading ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ and the diaries
I became hooked! I loved Joe’s wit and refreshingly
rude honesty. He was, to borrow a phrase, ‘the Oscar
Wilde of the welfare state’. A funny, intelligent
and very sexy gay man making shocking plays which were ahead
of their time and whose dark humour still resonates in comedy
today. Both Kenneth Halliwell and Joe make fascinating subjects
as artists, both struggling to succeed in the cool, trendy,
London of the 1960’s. Joe had his dreams spectacularly
fulfilled, whilst Kenneth, tragically, is forever cast in
his lover’s shadow.
Fast forward to Spring 2007, when I travelled to Leicester
to see the retrospective exhibition ‘Ortonesque’
at Leicester’s New Walk museum. This was a truly unique
show celebrating Joe’s life and work in the 40th year
after his death. It included family photos, personal memorabilia,
scripts and scrapbooks and the infamous Islington Library
collages. These items were brought together for the first
time and I found it completely inspiring seeing this snapshot
of someone’s life and work:- Joe’s handwritten
manuscript notes, diary, and items such as his coat and
typewriter. For me, it all suddenly became very personal
and I thought what a shame it was that all this would again
disappear from public view.
I had the great pleasure of meeting Joe’s sister,
Leonie Orton Barnett, at the exhibition and I suggested
that I could build a website dedicated to Joe, as there
seemed to be nothing online. Leonie was really excited about
the project and over the following months in my spare time
I worked on the site. It’s been a real labour of love
and I had no idea how demanding it would be, but it’s
been a fascinating journey and I’ve met some fantastic
people along the way. I’m quickly finding out that
my fellow Orton enthusiasts are a funny, eclectic and great
set of people!
I hope visitors to this website will enjoy it as much as
I have enjoyed building it. The site will be developing
all the time and I hope it will continue to fly the Orton
flag and encourage new Orton scholars and enthusiasts.
I’m sure all those years ago, my husband had no idea
what he was doing when he handed me his copy of ‘Prick
Up Your Ears’ in that grotty bedsit in Leeds, but
I’m very glad he did.