Alison is the creator of Joe Orton Online, which she developed in conjuction with the Orton Estate. After a successful freelance career in design and illustration, Alison now combines her role as Practice Manager for a busy Landscape Architects practice with her work on Joe Orton Online.


It 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.
Image © Alison Forsythe   Text © Alison Forsythe  

Copyright Notice: Reproduction of material on Joe Orton Online is not permitted without prior approval from the owner of the
relevant intellectual property rights. For full terms of use click here
Joe Orton Online was created and developed by Alison Forsythe.
Web Design © Alison Forsythe.