1944, Orton took the 11+ exam to qualify for grammar school.
He had missed much school due to asthma and ill health
and to his mother’s shock and surprise failed his
Unable to accept that he should go to a secondary modern,
Elsie pawned her wedding ring so he could attend Clarks
College. However this was a commercial not an academic
college, training the young Orton for a life of clerical
work. One of Orton’s tutors recalls
‘John was semi-literate, he couldn’t
spell, he couldn’t string a sentence together, he
used to start a sentence and then get all het up, he had
The only useful lessons Orton learnt were typing and how
to write shorthand, a skill he used to hide more private
aspects of his life from his mother in his first diary.
On leaving college there followed a series of dull and
menial clerical jobs. Orton hated the mundanity and repetitiveness
of working life, reflected in a series of entries in his
‘Went to bed feeling ill at the thought
of work tomorrow.’
January 9th, 1949.
Orton’s favourite books were Peter Pan, Alice in
Wonderland and Bullfinches Greek Myths and he yearned
for the extraordinary and to escape the humdrum reality
of his life. He had expressed an interest in the theatre
while at Clarks College but this had been ignored and
it was through amateur dramatics that he found his escape.