Tuesday 16 October 2018

Joe, Kenneth and Mrs Edna Welthorpe

This Friday I am attending a very special event at London's Postal Museum. As part of the Bloomsbury Festival, I managed to grab a couple of tickets for Yours Faithfully Edna Welthorpe (Mrs) - Joe Orton's Prank Letters

I've been a fan of the late playwright Joe Orton since I first discovered him through Kenneth Williams' diaries. Kenneth and Joe were friends in the mid 1960s and although they shared some common attributes they were in many ways complete opposites. Both gay and from working class backgrounds, while Kenneth's private life was monk-like and the modern swinging sixties world around him both excited and repulsed him, Joe went for it and enjoyed being the glamorous toast of London. Joe became hugely famous thanks to two notorious plays - Loot and Entertaining Mr Sloane. Both plays shocked and intrigued contemporary audiences and have endured, becoming classics of their kind still often performed today.

Kenneth and Joe first met when Williams was cast in the first version of Joe's play Loot. Although the production was a disaster, the friendship endured and the pair even enjoyed trips abroad to more liberal environments. Having read both diaries and taken in these two famous, iconic men and their opinions of each other, we really can view them from a unique perspective. Kenneth was deeply shocked and affected by Joe's untimely death at the hands of Kenneth Halliwell in August 1967. It's worth reading his diary from around this time although it's pretty sober stuff. 

Joe was well known for producing deliciously camp, funny prank letters under the name of Mrs Edna Welthorpe and Kenneth was a regular receiver of these missives. The event on Friday will celebrate this aspect of Joe's creative outpouring in the company of several experts and Joe's sister, Leonie Orton. There will also be some new Edna letters, written by some well known comedy writers of today and a screening of a brand new animation on Edna, voiced by Alison Steadman. I'm particularly keen to hear what Leonie has to say as I've recently read her deeply touching, affecting and sometimes (darkly) hilarious memoir, I Had it in Me. I believe Joe would have loved the double meaning of this title. The memoir is as much about Leonie's own journey through life as it is about Joe and her thoughts about his life, his career and his untimely passing. 

I thoroughly recommend it to you and you can find it here

And you can read more about Kenneth and Joe in my blog from last year here 

And if you want more, here's a video of Kenneth Williams discussing Joe from the BBC Arena documentary A Genius Like Us: A Portrait of Joe Orton from 1982:

And finally, here's Leonie talking about her brother back in 2012:

I can't wait for Friday night to hear more about the brilliant Joe Orton, his life and work.

More on the Bloomsbury Festival can be found here: bloomsburyfestival.org.uk

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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