might as well not exist; they’ve got endless shelves
for rubbish and hardly any space for good books.’
Orton and Halliwell first came to the public attention
not as writers but through an elaborate and extended prank
played out at their local library, altering book covers
and adding new blurbs to dust jackets. Incensed at the
poor choice of books at Essex Road, their local library,
they began stealing books. These were smuggled out, dust
jackets altered, new blurbs written on inside flaps and
then surreptitiously returned.
They had been suspected for some time and extra staff
had been drafted to catch the culprits, but with no success.
They were eventually caught by the careful detective work
of Sydney Porrett, a senior clerk with Islington Council.
A letter was sent to Halliwell asking him to remove an
illegally parked car. Their typed reply matched typeface
irregularities in the defaced books and the men were caught.
While never openly admitting the reasons for the prank,
these acts of guerrilla artwork were an early indication
of Orton’s desire to shock and provoke. His targets
were the genteel middle classes, authority and defenders
of ‘morality’, against whom much of Orton’s
later written work would rail against.
Orton’s family were not told he had been arrested
and found out from a story in the Daily Mirror. Titled
The Gorilla in the Roses, it was illustrated with the
altered Collins Guide to Roses. William Orton had stayed
up to read the paper and on reading the story ran upstairs
to his wife with the exclamation ‘Our
John’s been nicked!’.