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Ortonesque
March 24, 2009 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Orton and Halliwell first came to the public attention not as writers but through an elaborate and extended prank played out at their local library, altering book covers and adding new blurbs to dust jackets. Incensed at the poor choice of books at Essex Road, their local library, they began stealing books. These were smuggled out, dust jackets altered, new blurbs written on inside flaps and then surreptitiously returned.

Islington Library did not share the joke and set about tracking the culprits down. On April 28th 1962 police raided the flat and Orton and Halliwell were arrested. They were charged with stealing 72 books and removal of 1,653 plates from art books, used to decorate the flat. Pleading guilty to 5 charges of malicious damage at Islington Magistrates they were sentenced to 6 months in prison. 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’.

(Joe Orton was the Oscar Wilde of the Welfare State gentility)

Altered books previously, Joe Orton previously.
posted by lucia__is__dada (31 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Way ahead of his time.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:49 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metafilter : READ THIS BEHIND CLOSED DOORS! And have a good shit while you are reading!
posted by mannequito at 8:52 AM on March 24, 2009


This would be a lot funnier if they weren't stealing pictures from the art books. Surreal weirdness inserted in unexpected places? I can support that. Stealing pictures from the library? That's just low, no matter how bad their selection might be.
posted by echo target at 8:54 AM on March 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


So... this guy, he invented Fark Photoshop contests?
posted by caution live frogs at 9:02 AM on March 24, 2009


This seemed a harsh sentence

Not to me it doesn't.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:02 AM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


If I were the librarian in charge of the art collection, I'd be visiting them every day of the six months. And throwing those poor, heavy, mutilated art books at them from a great height.
posted by Alnedra at 9:06 AM on March 24, 2009


So I poked around to find out more about him, and from the Wikipedia article (he was murdered by his lover and partner in artcrime, and they were cremated/mixed together):
"...At the scattering of Joe's and Kenneth's ashes, his sister took a handful from both urns and said 'a little bit of Joe, and a little bit of Kenneth. I think perhaps a little bit more of our Joe, and then some more of Kenneth'. At which Peggy snapped 'Come on, dearie, it's only a gesture, not a recipe.'
That's it, then.

I know what I want people to say when they're scattering our ashes someday!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:10 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I prefer this switcheroo prankery.
posted by exogenous at 9:14 AM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


As a librarian who loves pranks & culture jamming, I feel like Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hitcher.
posted by Rykey at 9:17 AM on March 24, 2009


They object to the poor selection and react by stealing and mutilating the most expensive and best of what is there.

I'm with Horace and presumably Judge Bullingham.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:20 AM on March 24, 2009


Wow, that's a really useful, thorough, simple and dedicated .org site. Seriously. (What's this chair famous for? Oh! Oh, dear.)

Here's a small Flickr pool for Orton, with items from a 2001 Islington Museum exhibition.
posted by steef at 9:31 AM on March 24, 2009


> They object to the poor selection and react by stealing and mutilating the most expensive and best of what is there.

This. The severity of the sentence was because they were queers fucking smartass jerks.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:35 AM on March 24, 2009


I agree in principle with everything you guys are saying, and still I laughed.
posted by Skot at 10:01 AM on March 24, 2009


If you're interested in Joe Orton, take a gander at the excellent drama Prick Up Your Ears.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:07 AM on March 24, 2009


I'm with Horace and presumably Judge Bullingham.

You have forced me to reconsider my position. Indeed, you have set the two halves of my nature at war with each other.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:17 AM on March 24, 2009


on a related note, how's about banksy v. paris hilton or the tate?
posted by barrett caulk at 10:41 AM on March 24, 2009


I was fine with this, until I realized they were defacing books in order to protest the acquisition policies.

Great idea, horrible execution. Which, I suppose rather sums up Halliwell's and Orton's lives.
posted by QIbHom at 10:47 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Joe Orton meets the Beatles.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 10:48 AM on March 24, 2009


I used to do this all the time in grade six. Where's my website?
posted by you just lost the game at 11:19 AM on March 24, 2009


Color me unamused. They could have had a funny and harmless prank that might have helped make a point that needed to be made, but instead they just destroyed things.

Makes me think of well-meaning protests that degenerate into senseless violence and property destruction; once you cross a certain line, it doesn't matter what your intentions were to begin with. You've blown it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:54 AM on March 24, 2009


Color me unamused. They could have had a funny and harmless prank that might have helped make a point that needed to be made, but instead they just destroyed things.

I don't think the volcano is sentient.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:59 AM on March 24, 2009


And by "volcano" I meant the volcano in the dust jacket because this is totally the thread I thought I was reading.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:10 PM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


If they found themselves at dull parties, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley would amuse themselves by going through the host's library and sign books with the names of other authors. (Sure, they'd probably also drink like fish, but that was a given.)

This prank story reminds me a little of their antics, only Dottie and Bob didn't exactly do it wholesale.
posted by Spatch at 12:24 PM on March 24, 2009


I suppose that you could say that Orton and Halliwell increased the value of those particular copies of the books; by the same token, you could say that their murder/suicide was beneficial because it gave Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina their big break in film. (Yes, I did just compare murder and suicide to the defacement of books; and, yes, I am a librarian. Why do you ask?)

The main problem with people writing in library books is that, in my experience, virtually none of them are Joe Orton, or even people who could appreciate Joe Orton, although they tend to think that they're rather special and their glosses worthy of wider distribution. The most egregiously FFS-worthy example of this had to have been the person that criticized Martin Caidin's Cyborg for its purple prose in the margins of the library copy that I read as a teen. Luckily, they gave up after the first few pages. The burden of belaboring the obvious proved too much for them, I guess.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:59 PM on March 24, 2009


Burn them! Burn them at the stake!
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:07 PM on March 24, 2009


Half a century on, and most of the comments in this thread have been written by Mrs Edna Welthorpe...
posted by MinPin at 1:19 PM on March 24, 2009


As I look at the shelves of requested books at my local library I often wish I could connect with those local readers who have good taste in books. I might stick a small slip of paper with my goodreads url into books I found to be particularly awesome.
posted by mecran01 at 1:51 PM on March 24, 2009


When I finish a particularly good book (or books in the case of the Aubrey/Maturin series) checked out of the library, I will often stick a small note in somewhere near the back with an email address. I have met great people that way, but more surprising is when I get a response from someone I already know. I live in a city of over half a million people, and don't know that many residents, and yet this still happens more often than one would think.
posted by nushustu at 2:09 PM on March 24, 2009


A Pedant Writes....that's Edna Welthorpe (Mrs.).
I am afraid on this point I agree with most of the comments. Stealing expensive books from your local library and wallpapering your bedsitting room with the illustrations is as bad an idea now as it was fifty years ago.
posted by Dr.Pill at 2:42 PM on March 24, 2009


on a related note, how's about banksy v. paris hilton or the tate?

There's actually a Banksy painting right across the road from this library in Islington.
posted by Flashman at 4:06 PM on March 24, 2009


Yes, yes, this WRONG and OUTRAGEOUS.

WRONG! OH THE SHAME TO BOOK LOVERS MYSELF INCLUDED!

I'm cool with Joe Orton having done whatever the fuck he liked 'cause he was brilliant and much funnier than the rest of you, 'kay?

Also, it appears that Islington Library has also managed to work past their outrage.

posted by desuetude at 10:32 AM on March 25, 2009


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