applying to two major regional repertory companies, the
young Orton was advised to seek training at RADA.
To get rid of his thick, working class Leicester accent,
Orton took up elocution lessons with a ‘Madame’
Rothery. At an evening performance by her pupils, a representative
from Leicester Education Committee was impressed with
Orton, advising Elsie that grants were available to send
him to RADA and that he would be ‘absolutely wasted
in an office’.
On January 1st 1950, his 17th birthday, Orton took the
entrance and scholarship exams for RADA. Performing a
piece from Peter Pan, playing both Captain Hook and Smee,
he suitably impressed the examiners and was accepted.
Madame Rothery however was not pleased:
‘It was just after the war and men were
extremely scarce so they would take practically anything
that could stand up.’
Just as he was about to leave for London, Orton was struck
with a double blow. First, appendicitis and then, while
recovering from his operation, he received call up papers
for National Service. RADA now looked like a distant dream.
Orton’s creativity came into its own. Sticking scabs
from his appendix scar back on with glue, making it appear
even more gruesome, he started smoking to bring on an
asthma attack. This, combined with an inspired performance
at his medical mimicking deafness in one ear, led to his
discharge. As Orton told his mother:
‘If they could have seen me racing down
the street after the exam he’d have fetched me back
and passed me A1.’
He was now off to RADA.