Joe Orton’s defaced books on display



Felix Clay/Guardian | 14441

Islington Council is putting on display 40 of the 72 dustjackets that Joe Orton and his partner Kenneth Halliwell defaced in protest against the poor selection of books at Islington’s Essex Road Library, a heinous crime which they pleaded guilty to in 1960, and were both given six month prison sentences. They were the principal suspects for the crimes and were prosecuted after being sent a letter about illegal parking at the library – they did not own a car, but Halliwell used the same typewriter they had used for defacing the books to reply to the letter, incriminating them.

Islington’s local history manager, Mark Aston, said it was the first time the jackets – “they’re of international interest I’d say” – had gone on show in this number in the same place, and they shined a light on two fascinating lives and characters.

The pair ran a guerrilla protest by systematically stealing books and doctoring the book cover. A biography of John Betjeman sported a picture of an elderly tattooed man in trunks; Collins Guide to Roses, a baboon; and Corbett H Thigpen and Hervey M Cleckley’s The Three Faces of Eve, an adorable kitten.

They also doctored the wording of the blurbs, and even sometimes book chapter names.



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