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Brighton Year-Round 2023

Mark Burgess Talking Orton Lantern Theatre

Lantern Theatre

Genre: Comedy, Dark Comedy, Drama, Film, Historical, LGBT Theatre, LGBTQ, Talk

Venue: Lantern Theatre, Brighton


Low Down

A striking verbatim transcript.

Curated by Mark Burgess with a panel of Tyler Butterworth Ken Cranham, Richard O’Callaghan, Derek Howard.

Technical, Lighting & Sound Operator Daniel Finlay, Erin Burbridge.

Till August 10th




What follows is a verbatim transcript of this singular, historic event made on the spot on a phone email; revised by memory with inherent lapses and flaws repaired as much as possible. But it’s true as far as possible.


Mark Burgess introduced. The panel consisted of actors who’d known and worked with Joe Orton, and in some instances knew Ken Halliwell too. These were Tyler Butterworth Ken Cranham, Richard O’Callaghan, Derek Howard.

Derek Howard’s play Beyond Our Ken, written around 1993, and still awaiting performance, unaccountably if the excerpts reflect the quality of the script.

We start with Howard’s acting Kenneth Halliwell killing Joe Orton. And calling the. Police.



Tyler Butterworth acted in the 1987 Radio 4 What the Butler Saw.

Richard O’Callaghan worked with Orton in the ITV The Good and Faithful Servant 1967 with Donald  Pleasance, Hermione Baddeley, Patricia Routledge, Sheila White (later famous as Messalina in I, Claudius in 1976, but here cast to type as a cockney actor)

Kenneth Cranham knew both Orton and Halliwell extremely well, was indeed Orton’s favourite actor. An extract from his radio performance of The Ruffian in the Stair from 1964 played.

Written whilst in prison, it was Orton’s first solo play. Written that is without Halliwell’s assistance, intervention or otherwise, and actually written 1964.

Avis Bunnage stalwart of Stratford. Dermot O’Kelly. ‘What are you a fuckin tailor?’ to a policeman asking him of a large coat.

Derek fills in on the death of Orton and Halliwell, the murder-suicide where we know that Orton physically survived Halliwell who was dead within 30 seconds of taking these pills, meaning he took them after calling the police and declaring the door would be open.

Burgess introduced us to Orton’s early life. Father was a council gardener. Of his mother Orton commented: “She was something to do with the shrew industry.” She suffered TB and lost a lung. Two brothers, youngest sister is still keeper of the flame. “Everything that happened to her happened because of him.”

Peter Wills who might have murdered his partner and seems to have been a sinister figure altogether, organised the funeral. He loved Orton and Pinter though, got them into TV productions. Pinter liked Wills so much he dedicated plays to him. Wills attacked Halliwell with his masquerading Eton tie and told him to get out of Orton’s life.

There’s a pitiful image of Halliwell sitting by himself saying “I thought of the title Loot.” Orton went back for mother’s funeral. Delighted by her false teeth to sister’s confusion, he memorably pocketed them, as Kenneth Cranham later found out.

Orton’s idea was to open a brothel for Catholics and Protestants etc. The teeth are then flung through the air. Not the stage pink and white ones, as again Kenneth Cranham discovered; but his mother’s real grey and green false teeth, like the 2001 A Space Odyssey spaceship and Mick pompously sang “it’s not thinking properly of the play”.

Orton was charming otherwise. Listening to musical hall and other songs they attended and complimented them. There’s an image of Orton Watching Desert Song and being kind to old ladies

Then to Lyon’s restaurants showing Morocco snaps photo of Joe’s cock. That’s staggering as the developed film went through Boots. This was pre-Polaroid, and thus jaw-dropping a censorship still mildly obtained as to explicit images

They’d entertain in their Islington rooms. Played recording of a harp.

As for the Broadway premiere of Entertaining Mr Sloane Tennessee Williams saw it twice and Judy Garland took the cast to tea – this for a run of just 13 performances.

Burgess related how Orton began at RADA in 1951, met Halliwell.


Beyond Our Ken

Another excerpt from Beyond our Ken focused on scholarship. Halliwell reflects. He was educated at the North West Grammar School: still way ahead of the pack, full Latin even Greek, but not Eton, so neither one thing or the other: like him.


Burgess on Orton’ Development

Burgess Acting not mentioned as writing took over quickly. The Disappearing Gentleman Toilets of London Town.

(Editors insert: my aunt Zita Jenner acted with Kenneth Halliwell (and Kenneth Williams et al) in Farnham rep apparently in the late 1940s before RADA, or it might have been afterwards? “Lovely gentle man with a sweet voice. What a pity about that hammer” was her understated remark.)

The Boy Hairdresser a novel written jointly was quarried, In one sense Halliwell didn’t mind because it was part of him going into The Ruffian on the Stair. But on another he gradually felt left behind. His work as the prosecutor at his trial commented  was unpublished as was Orton’s.

Derek spoke: “Halliwell very much wanted to be the writer. He introduced Joe to Ronald Firbank. Joe wouldn’t have got that from any other source.”

Ruffian was written without Halliwell influence. Play: Nelson was a Nance. Rather proleptic of Churchill’s stone penis in What the Butler Saw.


Orton’s Techniques

“Orton loved overhearing conversation on a bus. Both Pinter and Orton fed off the street. Ancestors of musical hall and variety.”

Burgess reflects on rehearsing Funeral Games with a language perceived as between Wilde and Pinter wit and a unique darkness.

Orton and Halliwell living in illegal times for being gay, of course, and  the Lord Chamberlain was still rampant till 1968, just a year too late. There were many excisions from Orton plays.

Orton lived so close to that going in 1968. Rattigan was a great writer of repression and the well-made play. Whilst Orton was able to flourish as outré. But strikingly Rattigan and Pinter were huge fans of Orton. Rattigan supported Orton enormously, and personally, and put in £3,000 to his show, a huge supporter.

Kenneth Cranham noted. “Rattigan took them both to the Ivy and Brighton. Ken Halliwell behaved so badly. Rattigan lived near Olivier and they had an arrangement to help out if either got a difficult guest so the other would arrive and pile in with charm and outnumbering their misbehaving party guest. But – they arrived and it got worse! Olivier invited Orton to Hong Kong but he’d not go without Halliwell.



Loot excerpt. Butterworth in it was nearly naked with Tessa Peake Jones. Incredible speed these actors had, he recalled: critical farce speed. Recorded in huge chunks by director Barry Davies with many cameras.

Near naked Butterworth was shot through a fish tank refracted. Through it. Dinsdale Landon, Jane and Prunella Scales phenomenal the former Tim trying to corpse Butterworth. Naked in Dundee.

His mother was Janet Brown who impersonated Margaret Thatcher.


Beyond Our Ken

Excerpt of Beyond Our Ken. Butterworth O’Callaghan and Howard play the trial where Halliwell shines and wins the sympathy of the judge, who nevertheless makes an example of them both sentencing them to separate prisons.

Orton enjoyed his creative defacements of others’ plays and novels: Nickers Must Fall of Emlyn Williams’ Night Must Fall and of a harmless Dorothy L Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey whodunnit, “A crude tale of transvestism and debauchery” now adorned the blurb flap.


Real Reviews and Fake Reviewers

Rattigan famously created Aunt Edna. Orton did his version in Edna Wellthorpe, a writer of letters to the Times ‘disgusted’ by his own play. Parody of the kind kept up the outrage.

Orton kept all his nasty reviews.



Richard O’Callaghan recalls: “ATV Wembley studio I was excited by Pinter and Orton by Charles Gerald 1967 when I was 27. Muriel Cole casting defended Richard O’Callaghan: “he can look very young you know”.  I met Pleasance Baddeley Routledge and White plus the sinister Wills in silver and very dapper with a ladies’ lighter. (can there really still be gender-dedicated lighters writer and reviewer Andrew Kay quietly asked?) Orton would turn up to rehearsals so friendly and warm. With White cheating ‘ On Thursday am going to see the Beatles. That was huge.”

“Give my love to Paul” said an excited Sheila White. Of the possible commission Joe said “I’m not going to do it.” And “Not going to do it” he repeated. “I’m going to ask £15,000.” He repeated this when the Beatles rep offered his agent Peggy Ramsay, and refused too. “He won’t take £800” she said, or the sightly upgrade to £1200. Offered finally £10,000 – he took that.

Kenneth Cranham  added that Orton sent something in a bottom drawer, with a topspin added. So it started OK with 4 Beatles in bed, but the rest was just an old piece.

Loot cast was Orton’s boy’s club, and Kenneth Cranham reminisced how Orton was hearing ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘Penny Lane’ played to him by Pul McCartney, when they’d been played to no one else.

The time was amazing, everything was inter-connected with fashionable clothes the Kinks etc.

Burgess asked why Orton is not known in, or rather identified with  this crowd. Richard O’Callaghan/Kenneth Cranham: “Jane Asher got her then boyfriend Paul McCarthy to see Loot – who loved it and the words, you saw an arse.”

As the second Beatles film’s script wasn’t so good they wanted Orton to write another that was far better and sharpened their own wit.

In 1967 was their murder/suicide front page? Kenneth Cranham noted ruefully: “Yes boffo box office in the last week (due to come off after that), it was packed. Sheila White was in a bad way after Orton’s death, and might not have been able to carry on. Lines took on a new meaning, took on a terrible edge to them.”

Burgess asks Kenneth Cranham what Joe was like.

“He twinkled with charm”

“Completely delightful to young actors” Richard O’Callaghan added “especially Sheila White, loved to chat.”

Kenneth Cranham was still living with his family and suddenly had a friend murdered. “You could have all the things all you couldn’t have at home, Joe was very keen reading them in his rooms.”

Joe loved 2nd hand everything.

Derek commented on Wills with cane and confronting Ken Halliwell and  Eton tie. “He had a lady’s cigarette holder…” repeated as it was so striking.


Beyond Our Ken

Dramatized between Derek as Halliwell and Burgess as Peter Wills who’s offended and thinks Halliwell’s sad and pathetic on a middle aged man.

Halliwell says he wants to make them angry. There’s a  soliloquy.

“If they talked all the cards must come tumbling down.” The play’s 30 years old now.


This Is Your Life

Mark Burgess shows clip of This Is Your Life with Za Gabor and sister Eva. Bernard Braden writer and Barbara Kelly and opinion former. Praised it.

Orton dismisses his own play as “unnecessarily filthy “as if there was a “necessary filthy”, and Kenneth Cranham added that dialogue couldn’t be heard for slamming of a seat. Discussion of chamberlain. You can’t have that the sacred heart but can have the boy Samuel. They recall sex scene.

There was a discussion on marriage including Orton’s marriage at 20. Clearly made up. And what made a successful marriage! Orton talked of creative differences and the need for solitude.

Discussion of accent. Ken Cranham said Orton had more of  a zip up accent and was lying surely about marriage


Royal Court and After

At Court there were all sorts of rumours. Yet Richard Warwick his friend was gay and he never knew.

Burgess said he as moved by Pinter bring such a support and red eulogy saying such a bloody marvellous writer.

Kenneth Cranham said the psychedelic part of Day in the Life was faded outa the funeral.

{4′ Astons in revival. Colin Firth. Will need explaining} Someone offended by Ken Cranham being part of a tight group.

Burgess sees Sheila Delaney threads but where does Orton ones from?

He thanked the panel.


Q& A

Discussion of Halliwell childhood. Mother died of a wasp bite on tennis court. Father in a gas oven. Halliwell stepped over him and made a sandwich.

Richard O’Callaghan suggests role reversal flipped o much that he couldn’t cope. Jealousy.

Tyler Butterworth asking of Orton slowly leaving Halliwell buying flat in Brighton.

Richard O’Callaghan thinks Wills was an evil man who pushed his lover out of a port hole. And snooty. Saw through Halliwell’s sad pretensions.

Kenneth Cranham said “Wills produced a very good TV version of Sloane but auditioned me. He gave me a drink and luckily this helped. But he gave the part to Clive Francis….”

Another audience: Joe was the only one looking after Halliwell who took many pills, didn’t always take them. The psychiatrist was due August 10th.

Another audience member was amazed at the violence.

Another “in Prick Up Your Ears Joe was  playing with Halliwell’s mind.”

Andrew Kay saying “though they were promiscuous in such times it was a bit like the French Resistance but the diaries are joyfully explicit.”

Kenneth Cranham said at the Court a man had an affair with a dresser, there was an ease about the sexuality, Joe Orton was a pioneer, Court registered the time’s confusion about ‘heretics’. Some still are confused added Andrew Kay.

Kenneth Cranham said “Morocco full of Americans making religious series. Sexuality in Morocco is not like anything we understand. So long tradition of young men selling themselves for sex.”

He added: “Statue of Joe Orton in Leicester was stopped as he’s condemned for being a sex tourist! Money sent back to me!!!”

Morocco a different place to other Muslim countries.

Tyler Butterworth said Orton would cottage during his own runs but no one minded. Kenneth buying lingerie for his mystery woman – press.

Kenneth Cranham “I was filming in Brighton with Liam Neilson who’s much taller. Gents on beach but full of men in the dark. What these men used to do, but now some still were then. I was confused.”

Burgess added it’s very different now down here now!

Faynia Williams: “A boring question but what about very different young students today, what attracts?”

Kenneth Cranham said “Very much the wit like Restoration but those you don’t understand and with Orton you do.”

Tyler Butterworth said “mastery of style Orton dexterity in language in e.g. Butler not a word wasted. timeless.”

Richard O’Callaghan: “the plot twists and they’re so unexpected. For instance. In the play the protagonist “I recognised that woman’s arse – I know you 50 years on. Oh we had twins, never knew, or about our son’s etc. Oh both sons died in the war, poisoned, but they had a son with a barmaid but she’s not sure who was the father.” I mean what a plot.”

Mark Burgess added he was amazed at the loss, and what Orton might have done.

Richard Crane Question: I had Peggy Ramsay as my agent. She never mentioned him to me all others – what part did she play?

Kenneth Cranham: “Peggy Ramsay went to funeral of Halliwell and bought a collage of his. Recently at an exhibition at the Tate they had a corner to themselves. If Halliwell had known his work was on TV he’d not have murdered Orton.”

Question:  did you know the work would have a lasting effect?

Kenneth Cranham reprised his comments about the extraordinary moment of 1967, all these people – Kinks, Pinter Orton – have certain elements in music hall the British regarded as their own..

Question: Did reviews change when Orton die?

Kenneth Cranham said not. Sensational. Simon Ward and I living in his basement stove in that day after the murder. As we drove to the funeral in the car, a large car in front of us crushed a dog’s head.