In 1962, Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell were both sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for ‘malicious damage’ to numerous Islington Public Library book dust jackets.
Even by today’s standards this seemed a harsh sentence and later Orton commented that the court had realised they were gay and that the severity of the sentence was ‘because we were queers’.
The staff at the Library had suspected the duo and they were eventually caught by Sydney Porrett, a Senior Clerk at Islington Council. Sydney sent a letter to Halliwell asking him to remove an illegally parked car and when their typed reply matched the typeface irregularities in the defaced library books, they were caught red handed.
Prison proved to be a turning point for Orton as he began to find his voice, whereas prison had the opposite effect for Halliwell and he began to slide into depression.
In an interview with the Leicester Mercury in 1964, Orton explained: ‘I tried writing before I went into the nick … but it was no good. Being in the nick brought detachment to my writing. I wasn’t involved anymore. And suddenly it worked.’
The infamous book covers survived and are held at Islington Museum and Local History Centre.
By donating £200 to our campaign you will receive a framed print featuring one of the library book covers altered by Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. Your support will help to make this exhibition a reality as well as celebrate the extraordinary life of Joe Orton on the 50th anniversary of his death.
A huge thank you to our supporters who have donated to the campaign so far!