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)

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In the afternoon, they tried going for a walk in the other direction, towards Brighton, for over an hour, which gave Orton plenty of chance to admire the young men trying to catch some sun in their bathing shorts. This just had the effect of making him want to get back to Tangier as soon as possible.On the Saturday morning, Orton went for a wet and windy walk by himself to the West Pier. That evening, Peggy Ramsay arrived and took Orton and Halliwell to Kensington Place. From there, they went for a meal in a Chinese restaurant (the ‘second-best in Brighton’, according to Orton) — this seems to have been either Choy’s, in Little East St, which advertised itself as having the ‘Finest Chinese Cooking in Town’; or Nanking, 21/22 Market St.

On the Sunday evening, Orton, Halliwell and the Lewensteins decided to go to the cinema. Their first choice was You Only Live Twice, which was on at the Academy, 59 West St, but it was full. So they went to see In Like Flint, starring James Coburn and Lee J Cobb, showing at the Odeon, West St/Little Russell St. The cinema closed in 1973 and was demolished in 1990.

Orton opted out of the film, and instead went for a walk around town and ended up in a men’s public toilet ‘on a patch of grass near a church’ — identified by local historian Andy Flohic as those near St Peter’s Church — where he had an infamous sexual encounter, in his own words:

‘I went in, I was v. dark. There was a man in there. Tall, grand and smiling. In the gloom he looked aristocratic. When the lights were turned on I could see that he was stupid, smiling and bank-clerkish. He showed his cock. I let him feel mine. Ooh, he gasped, not noticing the sinister sore that had developed on the end over the last week or so. I asked if he had anywhere to go back to. No, he said…He nodded to a dwarf skulking in the corner of the lavatory. ‘He’ll suck you off, though. I’ve seen him do it.’ He made a motion to the dwarfish creature, rather as someone would call a taxi. The dwarf sucked me off while the other man smiled benevolently and then, I suppose, went back to his neighbours refreshed.’

The public toilet where Joe had this sexual encounter now houses the offices of a property management company — not an entirely incongruous conversion for what was a cottage.

Orton and Halliwell returned to London on the morning of Monday 31 July; they were, of course, never to visit Brighton again.

In a spookily apt Ortonesque twist, that same summer, a slot machine on the Palace Pier was prised open and its reel of saucy stills was stolen. The machine was called… What The Butler Saw.

The late Rev Dr Gordon Hunt (d.1997), a longtime resident of Brighton, knew Orton before he became famous and, later, joined the now-defunct Orton Society. Hunt worked for Unilever in West Africa and Singapore, before moving to Brighton in the mid-70s, where he worked for Customs and Excise as a VAT inspector. He was ordained as a pagan minister in the US.

According to one friend, Hunt was no stranger to public conveniences himself and claimed to have actually met Orton’s diminutive friend from the cottaging incident of 1967.

Hunt also copied Orton’s habit of writing amusing and/or outraged letters to homophobic papers and politicians. His pseudonyms included Edna Welthorpe and Sebastian Melmoth — the name adopted by Oscar Wilde after his release from prison. In true Edna spirit, Hunt irritated one of the biggest homophobes, Baroness Young, by writing to her and criticising her dress sense. In one letter, he condemned her for wearing what he called ‘a wine-stained abomination’ and asked ‘when will we see your other polyester one again?’

At Gordon Hunt’s funeral in 1997, a friend read out an epitaph taken from Joe’s Evening Standard award acceptance speech 30 years earlier, as featured in the film Prick Up Your Ears:
‘I’ve got away with it so far — and I’m going to go on.’
Image Courtesy Rose Collis   Text © Rose Collis Orton Quotes: © The Orton Estate  

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