The Tragic Story Of Joe Orton, His Boyfriend And A Stack Of Stolen Library Books

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Image: Harry Thompson/Evening Standard/Getty Images

It is an April morning in early 1960s London, England, and the police are hammering on Joe Orton’s door. His relationship with his partner, Kenneth Halliwell, is still illegal, but the authorities aren’t interested in that particular crime. Instead, the cops were there to make arrests for another of the pair’s collaborations. The wanted men are accused of stealing and vandalizing council property – library books, to be exact. This was to be an early chapter in an unlikely saga that would ultimately spell the end for one of the country’s most promising and infamous playwrights.

Image: via Facebook/Memories of Leicester

John Kingsley Orton – known as Joe – was born in Leicester, central England, on January 1, 1933, into a modest household. The eldest of four siblings, the young Orton struggled with asthma, with his condition leading him to fail the entrance exams for a local selective school. This effectively barred the bright boy from academic success. Consequently, when he left school, rather than go on to university, Orton signed up for a secretarial course instead. Soon after, he began working as a lowly paid junior office clerk.

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Image: Chemical Engineer

However, at the same time, the late 1940s, Orton was developing a keen interest in the theater. While performing with amateur companies, such as the Leicester Dramatic Society, he sought to improve himself both physically and mentally. Then, in a bid to become more cultured, he put himself forward for a scholarship at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, or RADA.

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