WHAT THE BUTLER NEVER SAW
TALES OF THE LEOPARD-SPOTTED COUCH
WHAT THE BUTLER NEVER SAW
“Kenneth’s last testament that the final pages of the diary would explain why he killed Joe did not add up -- unless the final pages are missing which I believe they are. Joe wrote almost every day. He was rumoured to be involved with a celebrity who has never been identified. I believe the police removed the last pages to protect this person.”
Andrew Gallix interviews Bill Kelly
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3AM: Could you give us some information about yourself?
BK: I became interested in Joe Orton as a 13-year-old in 1966 which was of course the height of his fame. I remember being in London on holiday in 1967 and seeing Loot advertised outside of the Criterion [Loot transferred to the Criterion Theatre, London, on 1 November 1966].
3AM: When and why did you create the Orton Society?
BK: The society was formed in August 1994 after a discussion between me and writer Sue Townsend (The Diary of Adrian Mole etc). Sue comes from Joe's birthplace Leicester and was disappointed that there was no society to remember him by.
3AM: Who were some of the other members of the Orton Society?
BK: Actors Sheila Hancock and Kenneth Cranham joined us early on. They both worked with Joe in productions and were his friends also. [Sheila Hancock played Kath in the first Broadway production of Entertaining Mr Sloane in 1965. Kenneth Cranham played Hal in the first production of Loot in 1965-66].
3AM: What were the activities of the Joe Orton Society?
BK: We visited the flat in Noel Road [Islington, London], where Joe and Ken died, in May 1994. It had changed a great deal but you could still picture everything.
I also visited the last flat they had in Tangier (the one mentioned in the Diaries) in 1993. At that time the landlord Baron Charles Fabvier (wrongly called 'Favier' in the Diaries) was still living below. [In The Orton Diaries, the playwright is told that Charles Fabvier “likes to dress young men up in military uniform,” page 161]. He has most of the furniture that used to be upstairs including the leopard-spotted couch [see Diaries pages 186-187]. His servant Fatima is the same one who knew Joe and Ken and (allegedly) stole their money! [The theft is first mentioned on page 207].
The flat upstairs has little left from those days except the chandeliers and bathroom and telephone all from 1967. I was photographed on the balcony which still has the garden table and chairs used by Joe and Ken.
I visted the Windmill [“After changing we went down to The Windmill, a beach place run by an Englishman (Bill Dent) and an Irishman (Mike). The Windmill is right along the beach and so it is very quiet,” The Orton Diaries page 158] and Pergola [which Orton describes as another “beach café” on page 217], two of their favourite bars, which have changed little. I also met quite a few people who knew them.
3AM: Between Us Girls, Fred and Madge, The Visitors, The Boy Hairdresser and Lord Cucumber were only published in 1998-99. Do you know why Peggy Ramsay (Orton’s agent) was opposed to the publication of Orton and Halliwell's early works?
BK: I think Peggy Ramsay did not want the early works published because she thought they were rubbish. I have read some of them and I am inclined to agree.
3AM: Did Leonie Orton-Barnett (Orton’s sister) really suddenly discover the manuscripts (of the early works) in the late 90s, and do you think the early works that still remain unpublished actually disappeared in a fire?
BK: Joe’s sister Leonie still has his fur coat and typewriter. So far as I know, Leonie has had the early works since 1967. I don’t know of anything destroyed in a fire. I do believe the diary lost some pages. As you know, it finished a few days before they died and in mid-sentence. Kenneth’s last testament that the final pages of the diary would explain why he killed Joe did not add up -- unless the final pages are missing which I believe they are. Joe wrote almost every day. He was rumoured to be involved with a celebrity who has never been identified. I believe the police removed the last pages to protect this person. [On 9 August 1967, Kenneth Halliwell murdered Joe Orton before committing suicide].
3AM: Did the Joe Orton Society have contacts with Peggy Ramsay, John Lahr (author of Orton’s biography), Leonie Orton-Barnett or with other people who had known the playwright when he was alive?
BK: I never met Peggy as she had died just before the society formed [she died in 1991]. I only had contact with Leonie after we disbanded. We did contact Lahr who did not reply. He is a commercial writer who has no real feeling for the subjects he tries to write about whether it is Joe or a cabbage! One of our former members the writer Gordon Hunt had met Joe in the days before fame. He lived in Brighton and took me on their walk along the promenade when they stayed with Oscar Lewenstein. Sadly Gordon died in 1997.
ORTONESQUE: ORTON TRIVIA
A shop selling mod/60s clothes called What the Butler Wore, an obvious reference to Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw, is @: 132 Lower Marsh Terrace, London (Waterloo Tube station).
In 1998, the Royal National Theatre published the results of a survey of more than 800 playwrights, actors, directors and art critics to find the best plays and playwrights of the 20th century. Joe Orton came at number 16 in the top 20 20th century playwrights which was topped by Arthur Miller. Ironically enough, Terence Rattigan stood at number 15!
Every month, we will add a few more titles to what, we hope, will eventually become the definitive Joe Orton bibliography:
WORKS BY JOE ORTON
Orton, Joe. The Complete Plays. London: Methuen, 1976.
Orton, Joe. Fred and Madge, The Visitors: Two Plays. London: Nick Hern Books, 1998.
Orton, Joe. The Orton Diaries, Including the Correspondence of Edna Welthorpe and Others. London: Methuen, 1986.
Chambers, Colin. Peggy: The Life and Times of Margaret Ramsay, Play Agent. London: Nick Hern Books, 1997.
Gallix, Andrew. “Pour une littérature irréfutable: Joe Orton et De la tête aux pieds. Théâtre / Public May-June 1995: 65-70.
Every month, we will add another Orton-related link. We start off with the Joe Orton Community, a message board and chat forum moderated by 3AM Magazine‘s Andrew Gallix:
Click Here - Joe Orton Community