Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Desperately Seeking Joe

A friend of ours attended a performance of Joe Orton's "Entertaining Mr. Sloane," which is playing in the West End. When we saw her the next day, she came over to us all excited, and had brought the programme with her. She whipped it out of her handbag, and quickly started flipping through the pages. She stopped when she came upon an article about Joe Orton, and stabbed her finger at the accompanying picture, saying, "Look!"

There on the page was a picture of Joe Orton taken in 1964, with the caption saying he was photographed outside his flat on our road. There was no house number visible in the picture, so we weren't sure where on our road he lived. But that sent us off on a quest to find out. As the author of the article noted,
As a young girl growing up in Islington his death at the hands of his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, was the stuff of legend. The infamous flat on XXXX Street was a five-minute walk from my primary school and I would often make a detour on the way home in the hope I might catch a glimpse of the 'ghosts of the queer fellas looking through the window'!

Anne and I hadn't noticed any heritage plaques anywhere on the street, so we asked around a little, and sure enough we found out where he had lived.

We had just spent the weekend in Stratford-Upon-Avon, home of one of England's other famous playwrights. So we thought it fitting that after seeing that 16th/17th century house, we ought to look for the home of one of the country's most famous 20th century playwrights.

As we got closer, we could see a very small plaque under the bell. We were pleased to see his presence there had been noted, and stepped up to read the plaque. Much to our disappointment, all it said was "Managed by XXXX Realty Associates." We found it hard to believe that Joe Orton had lived there yet nobody had bothered to memorialize his presence.

Disappointed, we trudged on to Upper Street to do our errands (shopping at Sainsbury's for Anne, a badly-overdue haircut for me). On my way back home, I was walking across the street, and as I passed Joe's house, I looked over at it again. And that's when I noticed it -- there, high up on the outside wall of the top floor, was a round plaque. I was too far away to read it, so I crossed the street and looked up, craning my neck. Sure enough, it memorialized Joe Orton's presence there from 1960 to 1967, when he died "at the hands of his lover."

(You can click the picture to see a larger image and read the plaque)

I'm off to see "Entertaining Mr. Sloane" on Thursday, feeling much better knowing that Joe's life - and death - was properly memorialized on our street. It's also prompted me to rent "Prick up your Ears," the film biography of his life, which was released over 20 years ago.


  1. Hey Don, that's cool! Arthur and I went to see a previous production of Entertaining Mr. Sloane in the West End a number of years ago--it was great. Hopefully, this new production is as good. A funny memory from that play was the house manager announcing before the play started "In honor of Mr. Orton, please switch your mobile to vibrate and put it in your pocket." :-D

  2. I'll have to see if they have similar instructions in this production :)