Joe Orton’s Malicious Damage

As big fans of libraries, collage and Joe Orton, Design Week was very excited to hear about the exhibition opening today at London’s Islington Museum, Malicious Damage: The life and crimes of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell.

In 1962, Orton and his mentor, partner and tragically, murderer, Halliwell were each sentenced to six months imprisonment for malicious damage to Islington Public Library books.

Orton in Islington 1964
Orton in Islington 1964

‘I have no regrets at all – I had a marvellous time in prison’, said Orton in a 1967 interview with Eamon Andrews.

‘It meant that instead of annoying a few old ladies who opened the books it now means I annoy hundred of old ladies by writing plays.’


Joe Orton being interviewed in April 1967 by Eamon Andrews

In the same interview, Orton describes how he used to take books from the library, carrying his hoard out in a satchel, before setting upon the task of pasting pictures over the covers.

When asked why he did it, he replied, ‘Oh it’s just a joke. Also I didn’t like libraries anyway – I thought they spent far too much public money on rubbish.’

Indeed, the results are very funny – Collins Guide to Rises sporting the face of a baboon being a particular favourite –  though not in the eyes of the authorities.

Collins Guide to Roses

Source: Islington Local History Centre

Collins Guide to Roses

Orton and Halliwell were found guilty of stealing and ‘doctoring’ library book covers with images from other sources or by adding new text and narrative, and also removing illustrations from library art books to ‘wallpaper’ their bed-sit at 25 Noel Road.

Library wallpaper 1962

Source: Islington Local History Centre

Library wallpaper 1962

However, prison proved something of a fruitful time for Orton, kick-starting his writing career, which was tragically cut short at the hands of his partner Halliwell, who bludgeoned him to death in August 1967.

Islington Council will be displaying 40 of the 72 dustjackets defaced by Orton and Halliwell in the local history museum, with a book, also entitled Malicious Damage released in December produced by Islington Library and Heritage Services and Donlon Books.

Malicious Damage runs until 21 January 2012 at Islington Local History Centre, Finsbury Library, 245 St John Street, London, EC1V

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  • Steve Cox November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    What a fabulous genius.

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