Review: Leonie Orton: “I Had It In Me – A Memoir”

“Angry young men” were in abundance during the swinging sixties, but none more so than playwright Joe Orton.

best-profile-ortonBold and brash, cheeky and irreverent, Orton’s iconoclastic plays were only upstaged by his dalliances into London’s post-war cruising scene. Preserved in his scandalous and utterly compelling diaries, Orton’s status as the Boswell of London’s sexual underground has never been in question. While the playwright’s sensational death at the hands of his twisted lover in August 1967 denied the world of its most promiscuous writer, his work continues to entertain and enchant.

For Joe’s sister Leonie, living in the shadow of Britain’s most outrageous playwright has been no obstacle to the love she holds for her brother. While eleven years younger than her famous sibling, her pride at his ascendancy from Leicester nobody to literary lion is abundantly clear from her memoir, “I Had It In Me”.

While the title would’ve had her brother roaring into his typewriter, the book offers a softer, warmer profile to the irascible writer than previously witnessed. Given the landscape that spawned Joe Orton is fairly atypical for working-class heroes of the period, it’s the deep, affectionate love of brother that is both revealing and touching.

Proving that blood runs in tandem with ambition, the book details Leonie Orton’s own educational transformation following her brother’s untimely death and her role as curator of his enduring celebrity. With the warm spectre of Joe hovering over each page, there’s a palpable sense that his presence is still in the ether.

Overall, the book reveals Joe Orton as a genial and overly sentimental character and yet fiercely aware of the humble environs he once occupied. “I’m from the gutter,” he’d inform an impresario at the peak of his success, “and don’t you ever forget it because I won’t.”

Leonie Orton: “I Had It In Me – A Memoir” is available from Quirky Press for £12.99, from November 2016

Words Simon Wells

Illustration Dan Evans

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