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on 14 March 2006
Three things make The Orton Diaries quite simply an outstanding read:
First, it's a superb portrait of a great creative artist: Orton was one of our best modern playwrights who in his all-too-brief life produced some classics. What he might have given the world if he had lived --- today he would be 73 --- is anybody's guess, but the three truly great plays that he left us with are still loved to this day.
Second, it's an equally marvelous sketch of 1960s London at its most swinging --- groovy baby! Orton casually rubs shoulders with The Beatles, Kenneth Williams and countless other famous figures when the Smoke was the international Capital of Cool.
Third, they are uproariously funny. I have (no false modesty here!) a great sense of humour but relatively few things, books included, make me actually laugh out loud. This book does. Better yet, it STILL does so after about fifteen years and so many re-readings I've lost count.
(I thought about adding: Fourthly, he's also a famous son of my home city of Leicester, but thought better of it!).
Orton's diary is a true, proper diary, genuinely written day to day by himself as an exercise in reflection and self-knowledge. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Buy it, read it, re-read it, treasure it. You'll laugh (often, loud and long), think, and in the end be made sad. Sheer brilliance.
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on 12 March 2010
I first read these diaries when I was 15. I got caught reading them at school by my German teacher who thought that they were 'too much', but I loved them then and I love them now. I have read them many times over the last 23 years and they never fail to make me laugh. I always find myself reading them and longing for a different outcome. It almost feels possible that there might be because it's like he is coming alive on the page, one different turn and he might escape the inevitable end.
I live in Singapore at the moment. It's a very weird place full of grim ex-pats with too much money, and I brought the book along with me because I knew that I would want to read it here to remind myself of home and to get inside an English head that is funny and cool and rebellious - it's the perfect tonic to all the tennis playing wives. He writes about times and places so well, it really feels as though you are there with him. The trip he takes to Libya is classic. The way he rages against the middle classes is so refreshing in these days when we all long to be middle class home owners. Life back then seems quite basic - no mobiles, no internet to find out the weather in Libya, the pokey flat in what is now a very desirable area - and yet Joe Orton feels totally modern. I love this book.
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on 28 October 2006
I first encountered Joe Orton in the pages of Kenneth Williams' autobiography, "Just Williams". It was while rummaging around the shelves of a second-hand bookshop recently that I discovered "The Orton Diaries", and, my curiosity about the man rising, I bought it.

I sat and read it from cover to cover in 2 or 3 sittings (university reading, alas, having to take precedence!). Although I knew (courtesy of K.W.) that Orton had written a frank and open diary, I hadn't realised just how frank it would be. His accounts of somewhat sordid searches for sex, coupled with his description of lovers and sexual acts, left me open-mouthed and somewhat repulsed - an effect that I'm sure has Joe grinning, wherever he is today. His views on life and those around him show a wry humour, and also reveal an undercurrent of bitter rage at the world.

The diary is written from after Joe's career as a playwright hit success; it would be interesting to read about life was like for Joe and his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, before Joe hit the big time.

From the diary, it's very easy to see why Halliwell became so angry with Joe and how frustrating life with him must have been. Orton frequently comes across as selfish, arrogant, egotistical and opinionated, and his accounts of his sexual conquests (which, by all accounts, Halliwell was actually able to read, due to Joe's leaving the diary where he could find it) must have saddened and infuriated Halliwell in equal measure. The calm way in which Joe's murder and Halliwell's suicide is recounted at the end really makes you stop and think.

After the tragedy of the ending, there is the brilliant addition of the Edna Welthorpe correspondence - letters that Joe wrote to various people under the guise of various assumed names. They really are brilliantly funny and show the lighter, quirkier side of Joe's character.

All in all, this is a vibrant book, filled with quirks and tragedy throughout, and I thoroughly recommend it to anybody with an interest in people, the world of theatre and playwriting.
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on 1 September 2015
I bought this book a few years ago, but I had so many other books I wanted to read, and am such a slow reader that I neglected to read it until recently. I wish I hadn't.

Ok I must be missing something here, because I have read all the reviews on here and nobody has made a direct reference to some of the repugnant, filthy, disgusting and perverse views and proclivities of the author, Joe Orton, detailed in this book. I assume by their silence on the matter, that all the reviewers are giving tacit approval of his activities. This book should be banned and I wish I hadn't bought it - I wouldn't have, had some of the reviewers actually said what was in here. I thought it would be like any other diary by a literary figure, and maybe an interesting look at 60s Britain. How wrong I was - and I'm not some puritan by the way, it takes quite a lot to shock me, but this book succeeded in doing so. This book truly is the Mein Kampf of diaries, it's evil.

Basically, in case you are wondering, some of the disgusting material contained within the pages include Orton's sexual interest in young boys, and his fantasies of raping them - I'm talking about a toddler and a 9 year old here. He details his sex tourism in North Africa, and his sexual exploitation of boys who are under the age of 16.
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on 29 September 2009
'Scandalously entertaining' seems to be the standard comment on these diaries, and I certainly wouldn't disagree. Orton is one of a select band of literary diarists whose works will be of enduring interest - that's because he gives us a complete picture of his life as he's living it, the trivia (making pots of tea, refusing derelicts in railway stations) gets equal space with the major events (receiving awards, appearing on television and ever-so-nearly becoming the Beatles' screenwriter). Bubbling along underneath all this is his fractious relationship with Kenneth Halliwell, whose gradual mental disintegration Orton seems aware of, without taking it as seriously as (we know know) he should have done. Taken all in all, this is as full a picture of London in the sixties as we're ever likely to get....and it's hard not to feel nostalgia for a world that has so totally vanished (Lyons Corner Houses, Late Night Line-Up, Olivier's National Theatre), even - or especially - if you're too young to remember that world at first hand.

Sadly, though, Orton's name once again has to be linked wtih that of his 'official biographer', that clueless fryer of cheeseburgers, John Lahr. If you've read Lahr's biography of Orton, you'll not need to trouble yourself with the thirty or so pages of hokum that precede the main meal here. You'd also do well to ignore Lahr's sappy footnotes, which will helpfully tell you who people like Samuel Johnson and Paul McCartney were/are.

This apart, this is essential reading for anyone interested in theatre in the sixties, the arts in the sixties, or life in the sixties, generally.
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on 28 January 2014
What a naughty fellow was Joe Orton...and how brave.Such a capacity for enjoyment of life is rare here. What fun it would have been to meet him, and how unfortunate that his sad, narcissistic friend prevented this eternally, terminating Joe's brief but flourishing career with rude and shocking violence.
The diaries are a most refreshing read, written with posteriority in mind. Pity about the last missing week.
Highly recommended, as is a visit to the death house in Islington.
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on 26 June 2014
Joe Orton tells all about what he did every day of his short life, up to the day he was murdered by his jealous friend. He tells about writing his plays, about the success they had and about his sexual encounters.
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on 9 November 2003
This is easily the best book i have read in a long long while.John Lahr is a superb writer and uses his skills superbly.
He brought Joe Ortons diaries to life and showed us just how Joe thought and acted.
I have to say its a very funny read aswell,Joe had such a impish sense of humour and that shone through in the diary extracts.
I would be willing to read more of Mr Lahrs work
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on 11 August 2001
Fantastic day to day account of one of Britain's finest writers of the 60's. It's honest and straight. As straight as Joe can be. His high's and low's are felt as you follow him for the last 6 months of his life. Did Ken read Joe's Diary, if he did he would definately have known how Joe was feeling about him at that time. A must read.
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on 10 August 2015
I give this a five-star review as it is so well-written and gives a clear picture of the arts scene in London in the 1960's. However, some of the sordid descriptions of his seeking sex, particularly in Tangier, are repulsive reading. I did have to wonder if he wrote them as 'truth' or 'shock factor', as he obviously loved the shock factor in his play-writing and discourse with actors etc. If Kenneth was reading the diary (as clearly he was from the note he left the Police), you get a glimpse of how distressing it must have been. I enjoyed the honest descriptions of Joe Orton's neighbours in the flats where he and Kenneth lived which reminded me of the writing style of Barbara Pym! Then, on counter-balance, you have the shocking written illustrations of his frequent 'pick-ups', in toilets etc. There is never a dull moment in the reading of these diaries.
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