Poster for the Royal Court producion of What the Butler Saw directed by Lindsay Anderson in 1975



In December 1966 Orton was hard at work writing what was to be his final and most accomplished play.

‘Hard at work on What the Butler Saw all day. I wrote a scene were Geraldine disguises herself as a an Indian nurse. Cut it though after laughing a lot ... whenever anything makes me roar with laughter it’s a sure sign it must be cut.’ 28th December 1966.

At Ramsey’s suggestion Orton was now keeping a diary with an eye to publishing after his death. Six days after staring his diary Orton received a call from his brother-in-law George telling him his mother had died, an event that only took up four lines in his diary.

Orton came to Leicester for the funeral and on his return to London brought his mother’s false teeth back with him and presented them to the cast of Loot.

‘I said to Kenneth Cranham, ‘Here I thought you’d like the originals.’ He said ‘What?’ ‘Teeth’ I said, ‘It’s obvious that you are not thinking of the events of the play in terms of reality, if a thing affects you like that.’ Simon Ward shook like a jelly when I gave them to him.’ 4th January 1967.

A set of false teeth feature in a prominent scene in Loot when they are removed form the corpse of Hal’s mother and he plays them like a pair of castanets. Orton had just given them their own real life Ortonesque moment.

Orton and Halliwell went on their third and final trip to Tangiers from May to June on their return and Orton continued working on What the Butler Saw. Throughout his career Orton had always emphasised Halliwell's contribution to his work, if not actually acknowledging him in print, and What the Butler Saw was no exception.

‘I’ve finished typing What the Butler Saw. Yesterday Kenneth read the script and was enthusiastic – he made several important suggestions which I’m carrying out’. Orton Diary 11th July 1967.

By the end of July, Orton was in discussion with Oscar Lewenstein about the first production of What the Butler Saw, but Orton was never to see the play performed.

Image: Courtesy The Orton Estate/Royal Court Theatre   Text © Leicester City Council / Orton Diary quotes © The Orton Estate  

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