Rose Collis is an author and journalist whose critically-acclaimed biographies include 'A Trouser-Wearing Character: The Life and Times of Nancy Spain' (Cassell, 1997) and 'Colonel Barker’s Monstrous Regiment' (Virago 2001) Her latest book is Coral Browne: ‘This Effing Lady’ (Oberon Books, 2007)

See Rose's web page here



Theatre and film impresario Oscar Lewenstein ran London’s pioneering Royal Court Theatre from 1952 to 1975. He produced the successful 1966 revival of Loot; the 1968 New York production of Loot; and What The Butler Saw in 1969. He lived in in Hove Seaside Villas, 11 Western Esplanade — the same street whose famous residents, past and present, has included Norman Cook and Zoe Ball, Susan Stranks, Lew Norris, who designed Donald Campbell’s speedboat Bluebird and, until recently the McCartneys. The terrace was built by Michael Paget Baxter in 1908. He was lord of the manor of Aldrington Basin. Paget Baxter owned the whole of Shoreham harbour, as well as 5,000 acres on the South Downs. The houses in the terrace are unique in southern Britain in that they own their beach down to the low-water mark. One of them was sold for £3.25million in 2007.

Lewenstein died at his home on February 23 1997. His 1994 memoirs bore the somewhat Ortonesque title, Kicking Against The Pricks. But, as Lewenstein explained, ‘My title is taken from the Bible, Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 9, Verse 5’.

For a number of years, the distinguished dramatist spent his weekends at his home, at 79 Marine Parade, Kemp Town. His plays included The Browning Version, The Winslow Boy and Separate Tables, and his film credits included co-writing the screenplay for Brighton Rock. He was a great admirer of Orton and his work; he saw Entertaining Mr Sloane at the tiny Arts Theatre in London in 1964 and thought it was ‘the most exciting and stimulating first play that he had ever seen’. He invested £3,000 in the show, which secured it a West End run. Rattigan wanted to take his relationship with Orton a step further —in 1965, he invited Orton to go with him on a trip to Hong Kong but, when Rattigan made it clear he didn’t want Halliwell with them, Orton turned down the offer. Rattigan, however, continued to invest in Orton’s plays and encouraged others, including his friend Vivien Leigh, to do the same.

They remained close in other ways: in 1998, the Royal National Theatre published the results of a survey of more than 800 theatre practitioners to find the best plays and playwrights of the 20th century. The poll was topped by Arthur Miller. At number 15, was Terence Rattigan; at number 16, Joe Orton;

16 March, 1967: Orton and Halliwell visited Brighton and viewed several properties close to the station, as they were considering buying a home in the town. The properties they viewed were numbers 6, 29 and 42 Guildford St; a property in Ditchling Road and several others in Queen’s Gardens, Frederick Gardens and Kemp Street in the North Laine area.

At that time, a centrally-located terraced house in Brighton cost around £3,350 — nowadays, you couldn’t buy a shed in central Brighton for that.


In 1967, there was no ‘official’ gay scene in Brighton but bars, such as Pigott’s, had been catering to ‘queer’ customers since the 1930s. For gay men, as Orton discovered when he visited the town, ‘cottaging’ in public toilets was one way of meeting sexual partners. But most gay men lived in fear of being prosecuted and/or blackmailed if their sexuality was known. In Brighton, as elsewhere, the atmosphere changed somewhat after July 1967, when the Sexual Offences Act came into law, making sex legal between male ‘consenting adults in private’ over the age of 21. However, in December 1968, following the suicide of showbiz lawyer David Jacobs — whose clients included Brian Epstein and The Beatles — at his in Princes Avenue (where Ringo Starr had spent his honeymoon), it emerged that police had been interviewing gay men in Brighton (including Jacobs) regarding a homosexual blackmailing racket.

By the time he came to Brighton on the evening of Thursday 27 July, 1967, Joe Orton’s life had turned around in a way even he couldn’t have imagined. From his bleak childhood in Leicester, impoverished from a lack of money and love, to eking out an existence on National Assistance, he had riches galore. Loot had won the Evening Standard award for Best Play, and he’d been commissioned, for £15,000, to write a film script for The Beatles — which was the equivalent of all a writer’s Christmases coming at once. Everyone wanted a piece of Joe Orton, personally and professionally. At the same time, virtually no-one, save Orton, wanted any part of Halliwell.

Orton and Halliwell had come to Brighton to stay with producer Oscar Lewenstein, ostensibly to discuss plans for What The Butler Saw. Also in the house that weekend were the Lewenstein’s two sons, Mark and Peter, and Mrs Lewenstein’s mother. According to Orton’s diary, he spent most of the weekend bored and frustrated.

On the Friday morning, Orton and Halliwell went for a walk along the beach, towards Shoreham. Orton said: ‘It was a thoroughly unpleasant walk. We had to clamber over innumerable breakwaters which were thick with slime and grime…”This is a terrible way to spend our leisure”, Kenneth said. “We’d do ourselves more good walking through Piccadilly Circus.”

Image Courtesy Rose Collis   Text © Rose Collis Orton Quotes: © The Orton Estate  

Copyright Notice: Reproduction of material on Joe Orton Online is not permitted without prior approval from the owner of the
relevant intellectual property rights. For full terms of use click here
Joe Orton Online was created and developed by Alison Forsythe.
Web Design © Alison Forsythe.