The Ruffian in the Bed

The Orton Diaries

Joe Orton blazed a trail across the skies of the London thespian scene in the 1960s. His plays, specifically Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Loot, The Ruffian on the Stair and What the Butler Saw, were blistering, amoral commentaries on contemporary society, yet still have a vicious, gleeful sting to them. He was as overtly homosexual as one could be at the time, indulging in cottaging and trips abroad for sex. Margaret Ramsay, his agent, persuaded him to begin writing a memoir for posterity's sake; eight months later his long-suffering partner Kenneth Halliwell, having been prescribed drugs for depression, bludgeoned Joe to death and then committed suicide. The diaries, Halliwell wrote in his suicide note, would explain all.

What we learn primarily from these diaries is that Joe Orton had more than his fair share of bumsex, and a lot of it in Tangier. There's more bumsex than you can shake a stick at, and Orton shakes his a great deal. Bumsex bumsex bumsex... you hopefully get the idea, but it's a shame that Orton's cock and arse eclipse such witty observational comedy. Every bus or train journey, Orton overhears and dutifully reports some ridiculous conversation snippet. He can be vicious about the middle class, and the lack of respect for literary peers and ancestors shown by both Orton and Halliwell landed them in jail for defacing library books.

To be fair, along with his tempestuous relationship with Halliwell (both emotional and professional, as Halliwell suggests changes and new ideas) the diaries reveal almost in passing so much about Orton. Reading between the lines of dirty talk, it's clear that he was so angry that he had passed through inarticulation. He had honed a sharp, Swiftian knifeblade of comment that he then used to hack away at modern morality. He wrote quickly and keenly, revised just as quickly, and in the absence of the awful violence which did for him he'd probably still be writing now. I wonder what about. Bumsex, probably.