The Orton Diaries by Joe Orton ed. J. Lahr

TODSo that’s what happens when you fail the 11+ (Orton) and your father commits suicide (Halliwell).

Orton’s mother: was always in search of some indication of status: Players not Woodbines, ham not Spam, opera not Gilbert and Sullivan. She wanted the best; but she had been short-changed in life. Her family had no money, no education, no prospects.

I’d forgotten how much prudery there was back in 1967.

Orton was very well-read – Henry Fielding, for example. He may have been a self-made man or a Halliwell-made man but he was erudite.

Halliwell’s suicide note was placed directly on top of the diaries, directing police to them as an explanation for the bludgeoning and his own suicide. Prophetically: Long, neurotic argument. Kenneth said, ‘You’re turning into a real bully, do you know that? You’d better be careful. You’ll get your deserts!’

Some of our group found it slow to get going.

They wondered whether it was written with posterity in mind.

Orton seems cold to people;’ a sopcioath who observed detachment in order to observe people and write about them.

I didn’t like the section on Tangiers – too much sex, much of it underage. Also, one time he says that sex for 45 minutes is too athletic, the next he says he enjoyed it. Later, he manages a whole hour.

I had to look up ‘tuft-hunter’ = one that seeks association with persons of title or high social status,  snob

Also kif = A loose or powdered form of cannabis resin used especially for smoking; The euphoria caused by smoking kif. [Colloquial Arabic kēf, from Arabic kayf, kef, condition, pleasure, opiate.]


Orton had rejected the world of conventional work, conventional sex, and conventional wisdom. He was an iconoclast who believed there was no sense being a rebel without applause.

To Orton, indiscretion as the better part of valour. ‘

Orton despised the bogus propriety — the ‘verbal asterisks’ ­with which public figures doctored the picture of their life. ‘It’s extraordinary,’ he complained to Peggy Ramsay, ‘how, as people grow older and they have less to lose by telling the truth, they grow more discreet, not less.”

Orton’s plays caught the era’s psychopathic mood, that restless, ruthless pursuit of sensation whose manic frivolity announced a refusal to suffer.

In farce, Orton found a way of turning his aggression into glory. ‘To be destructive,’ he wrote, ‘words have to be irrefutable.’ And Orton’s hard-won epigrammatic style achieved just that: ‘With madness as with vomit, it is the passer-by who receives the inconvenience.’

The landscape of Orton’s London is bleak: a soiled world of loss, isolation, ignorance, and bright decline. ‘I’m a believer in Original Sin,’ Orton said. ‘I find people profoundly bad and irresistibly funny.’ Public lavatories were often the setting where his point was proved most outrageously. ‘No more than two feet away,’ Orton writes in the diaries, as seven men grope each other, including him, in a loo, ‘the citizens of Holloway moved about their ordinary business.’

Usual messages from the heads of the establishment. The Queen from Windsor. the Pope from Rome: Pilate and Caiaphas celebrating the birth of Christ.

He had a very tight arse. A Catholic upbringing, I expect.

Kenneth Williams (1926— ). Popular comedian and actor. Played Truscott in the original production of Loot. A good friend of Orton’s and Halliwell’s. ‘What is heart? If we’re talking about compassion and sympathy, I’d say Joe had it. He showed tremendous loyalty to Halliwell. He showed it to me. I went to Joe Orton when I was suicidally depressed about my unshared life, my living alone. When I got to the flat, Halliwell answered the door. He hadn’t got his toupe on and this great boiled egg answered the door. “Yes,” he said, in a prissy voice. And I said “Hello.” “Joe isn’t here,” he said. And I said “Well, I’ll come and see you.” “But he’s not here. You don’t want to see me,” Halliwell said. His terrible inferiority always came to the surface. He always believed he was only wanted because Joe was wanted. “Nonsense,” I said. “I’d love to see you. And I can smell something cooking.” “Oh, it’s a bit of haddock I’m doing for him.” “I love haddock,” I said and walked into the kitchen. He said, “There’s only enough for two.” “Rubbish,” I said, “Split the two bits and put an egg on top. We’ll have it!” I sat down in the kitchen. There were only two stools — everything was arranged for two in that flat. Two easy-chairs and two stools. Then Joe came in. He said, “What made you come up here?” I said I was at a loose end. Then I dropped my facade. Up to that point I’d been brittle and arch with Halliwell because I sensed his inwardness and his desire not to talk. Joe said, “Anytime you feel like this always come here …” He made me talk. He was the most marvellous counsellor. He actually got the adrenalin going, forced the pendulum, which had almost stopped, to swing again. He was a great activator . . .”

‘How your moustache has grown in the past few days. It must be the excitement’),

the general public are, where plays are concerned, ignorant shits.

Peggy Ramsay to John Lahr, 29 May 197o: `Joe’s extraordinary charm captured everyone, whereas Kenneth’s rather brittle, sharp manner didn’t. Certainly Kenneth improved when he began wearing a wig. He was quite bald, and was very ashamed of his baldness, and kept his hat on ev erywhere including the theatre. The first money Joe earned was spent on a couple of wigs for Kenneth, and he chose a style with a rather endearing forelock. I think that by looking at himself in a mirror and seeing someone rather charming and sincere, it actually altered his person, and he became rather charming and sincere, so that indeed I quite forgot my first alarmed reaction to his personality.’

Dreary day. Watched The Outlato, a boring film, on TV. Made in the h Hollywood. Pornography with the pornography left out. And pretentious Went for a long walk — about three miles — and came back to watch rubbishy film on TV, this time Hollywood in decline. Made, I’d guess, mid-fifties. 23 Paces to Baker Street. Van Johnson as a blind playwright pretention. This was soap opera with the soap left out.

Outside main building was a group of stuffy, tight-arsed English and American  men. ‘I’ve never been here before,’ I said to one of them. ‘Can you give name of a good hotel?’ He looked at me in a pondering sort of way. I expected. him to turn on his heel and walk away. At last he said, ‘Haven’t you reservation?’ No,’ I said. ‘Well, you may find it rather difficult to get into a hotel. This brought me up sharp. I caught a glimpse of Kenneth’s face 1 though he’d been pole-axed. ‘It is difficult then?’ I said. ‘Yes,’ the man said the Libya Palace. And if you can’t get in there I’d go to the Delm shuffled away, uneasy; as though not wishing to be associated with such people.

The shower was in the lavatory and so, as I later discover wasn’t possible to use the lavatory after a shower because the shower saturated the lavatory pan and reduced the toilet paper to a pulp.

A few depressed and aged Libyans were seen at intervals under trees. It was altogether like a balmy night in Hull or Birkenhead.

I took the Piccadilly line to Holloway Road and popped into a little pissoir – just four pissers. It was dark because somone had taken the bulb away. There were three figures pissing. I had a piss and, as my eyes became used to the gloom, I saw that only one of the figures was worth having – a labouring type with cropped hair and, with cropped hair, wearing jeans and a dark short coat. Another man entered and the man next to the labourer moved away, not out of the place altogether, but back against the wall. The new man had a pee and left the place and, before the man against the wall could return to his place, I nipped in sharpish and stood next to the labourer. I put my hand down and felt his cock, he immediatley started to play with mine. The youngish man with fair hair, standing back against the wall, went into the vacant place. I unbuttoned the top of my jeans and unloosened my belt in order to allow the labourer free rein with my balls. The man next to me began to feel my bum. At this point a fifth man entered. Nobody moved. It was dark. Just a little light spilled into the place from the street, not enough to see immediately. The man next to me moved back to allow the fifth man to piss. But the fifth man very quickly flashed his cock and the man next to me returned to my side, lifting up my coat and shoving his hand down the back of my trousers. The fifth man kept puffing on a cigarette and, by the glowing end, watching. A sixth man came into the pissoir. As it was so dark nobody bothered to move. After an interval (during which the fifth man watched me feel the labourer, the labourer stroked my cock, and the man beside me pulled my jeans down even further) I noticed that the sixth man was kneeling down beside the youngish man with fair hair and sucking his cock. A seventh man came in, but by now nobody cared. The number of people in the place was so large that detection was quite impossible. And anyway, as soon became apparent when the seventh man stuck his head down on a level with my fly, he wanted a cock in his mouth too. For some moments nothing happened. Then an eighth man, bearded and stocky, came in. He pushed the sixth man roughly away from the fair-haired man and quickly sucked the fair-headed man off. The man beside me had pulled my jeans down over my buttocks and was trying to push his prick between my legs. The fair-haired man, having been sucked off, hastily left the place. The bearded man came over and nudged away the seventh man from me and, opening my fly, began sucking me like a maniac. The labourer, getting very excited by my feeling his cock with both hands, suddenly glued his mouth to mine. The little pissoir under the bridge had become the scene of a frenzied homosexual saturnalia. No more than two feet away the citizens of Holloway moved about their ordinary business. I came, squirting into the bearded man’s mouth, and quickly pulled up my jeans. As I was about to leave, I heard the bearded man hissing quietly, ‘I suck people off! Who wants his cock sucked?’ When I left, the labourer was just shoving his cock into the man’s mouth to keep him quiet. I caught the bus home.
I told Kenneth who said, ‘It sounds as though eightpence and a bus down the Holloway Road was more interesting than £200 and a plane to Tripoli.’

there was a bunch of poor queens at the bar. The air was hot with sibilants

Sexually he really horrible mess. He mentions “guilt” a lot in conversation. ‘Well, of course, always a certain amount of guilt attached to homosexuality.’ For him, pc too much. ‘I never feel guilty whatever I do,’ I said. ‘Why should you?’ 1 no answer to this and it would be futile to attempt to find one. Kenneth W. able to have sex properly with man or woman. His only outlet is exhibiting extremely funny personality in front of an audience and when he isn’t he’s a very sad man indeed…..He talks a lot about a friend of his who committed suicide. ‘ ‘They gave her the choice of gaol or a mental home. She chose the mental home. “Well,” she said, “there’s all the lovely mental cock. I’ll be sucking all the nurses off. I’m sure it’ll be very gay.”‘ Kenneth said this man went into the mental home and was given some kind of treatment ‘to stop her thinking like a queen.’ The man apparently was very depressed after this and committed suicide. Kenneth then spoke of all the people he’d known killed themselves. Someone threw himself from a high window and died ambulance in agony. His father, I believe, swallowed disinfectant. He told stories in a way which made them funny, but it was clear that he thinks death constantly. He is afraid also of being alone. When I mentioned that mind being on my own, in fact I liked wandering about by myself, he she and said, ‘Can’t stand it. Can’t abide being alone.’

The trouble with at these middle- and upper-class idiots,’ Kenneth H. said, ‘is that all their paltry lives they’ve been insulated against the opinions of other people by the thick wads of money surrounding them. Nobody ever says to them “You’re a fool.” Boring, nutty, fatuous ex-public school layabouts.’ They also imagine that anyone the working classes is automatically going to accept their old buck on any subject. I hope they’re sadly disillusioned in my case.

scratch a liberal and you’ll always find a fascist bleeding

Tom told a joke which I thought was funny. A little boy arrived at school a new watch. His friend said, ‘Where did you get that?’ It was a present,’ boy said. ‘Is it your birthday?’ his friend said. ‘No,’ the boy said. ‘Well, why mere you given it then?’ the friend said. Eventually the friend persuaded the boy te tell him. ‘I woke up the other night and wanted a drink of water,’ the boy said,

I went into Mummy’s room. When I got there I saw Dad on top of Mum wing up and down. They told me to go back to bed. And in a bit Dad came ageD my room and said I mustn’t tell anybody what I’d seen. He said if I promised not to say anything he’d buy me a wristwatch.’ The other boy thought about this Mai he decided that he wanted a present as well. So the next night he waited “rail his Mum and Dad had gone to bed and after a bit he went into their room. His Dad was on top of his Mum and jigging up and down. When she saw the boy its Dad said, ‘What do you want?’ I want a watch!’ the boy said. ‘Well, close the fucking door then and sit down,’ the boy’s Dad said.

A large bank balance in a gathering of queers is as popular as a large prick.

Nigel came round and borrowed A Case of Human Bondage. I haven’t finished reading it yet. I find it a book, although difficult to put down, easy not to pick up.

Nobody around to pick up. Only a lot of disgusting old men. I shall be a disgusting old man myself one day, I thought, mournfully. Only I have high hopes of dying in my prime.

‘Joe sneered at the horus. It was a genuine wood-carved Egyptian bird placed on graves and intended to take souls to heaven. It’s a form of Egyptian god. One is either superstitious or one isn’t. I didn’t think he should have laughed at it. Joe died within two weeks of that.’

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