JOE ORTON, English writer died (b. 1933) a satirical modern playwright. In a short but prolific career from 1964 until his death, Orton shocked, outraged and amused audiences with his scandalous black comedies. “Ortonesque” became a recognized term for “outrageously macabre”. Orton met Kenneth Halliwell at RADA in 1951, moving into a flat with him and two other students in June of that year. Halliwell was seven years older than Orton and of independent means, having a substantial inheritance. They quickly formed a strong relationship and became lovers, despite Orton’s claims of sexual incompatibility. His plays include: Entertaining Mr. Sloane (first performance 1964) Loot (first performance 1965) The Erpinham Camp (first performance 1966) The Good and Faithful Servant (first performance 1967) Funeral Games (first performance 1968) What The Butler Saw (first performance 1969) Up Against It.
Pranksters, Orton and Halliwell would amuse themselves with pranks and hoaxes. Orton created “Edna Welthorpe,” an elderly ‘outraged of’ whom he would later revive to stir controversy over his plays. Orton coined the term as an allusion to Terence Rattigan’s “Aunt Edna”, Rattigan’s archetypal playgoer.
In another brilliant episode, Orton and Halliwell stole books from the local library, and would subtly modify the cover art or the blurbs before returning them to the library. A volume of poems by John Betjeman, for example, was returned to the library with a new dust jacket featuring a photograph of a nearly naked, heavily tattooed middle-aged man. The couple took many of the prints to decorate their flat. They were eventually discovered and prosecuted for this in May, 1962.
The incident was reported in the national newspaper the Daily Mirror as “Gorilla in the Roses”. They were charged with five counts of theft and malicious damage, admitted damaging more than seventy books, and were jailed for six months and fined about $500/ £262. The books that Orton and Halliwell vandalized have since become the most valued of the Islington Library service collection.
Halliwell was suicidal, popping “purple hearts,” a combined amphetamine-barbiturate marketed as an antidepressant to tired housewives. He complained to Orton of tightness in his chest, likely caused by anxiety, and lashed out at him in front of other people. Friends of Orton’s later said he wanted to leave Halliwell and had met someone else.
On the morning of August 9, 1967, a chauffeur coming to collect Orton and bring him out for lunch with a film producer found the two men’s bodies locked in their flat.
In a frenzy, Halliwell had plowed a hammer repeatedly into Orton’s head, until blood splattered onto his chest. A later inquest found that Halliwell had taken 22 barbiturates, washed down with grapefruit juice from a tin. Halliwell was completely nude, Orton wearing just a pajama top. He did not appear to have fought off the attacks.