Saturday, 15 October 2011

A cottage made for two

Joe Orton is very much in mind at the moment, and to that end let us concentrate on one of the great man's favourite obsessions...

"It is perhaps inevitable that within the vagaries of English slang a word so redolent of the English village, Miss Marple and vicars cycling to give evening sermons, should come to be associated with acts so unspeakable and perverted that they are morally repugnant to your average citizen. Yet on the fiftieth year since Lord Wolfenden, a man so repulsed by the deviancy of the homosexual act that his report found it necessary to recommended its legalisation, the fortieth since the death at his lover’s hands of the eminence grise of the cottage, Joe Kingsley Orton, it is perhaps appropriate to consider what has happened to this most Anglo-Saxon of leisure pursuits.

"It is an activity once favoured by playwrights, pop stars, politicians and Republican Senators from Idaho, allegedly with codes of its very own. Yet it is also in sad decline... cottaging has through its long and honourable history (since 1729) remained a purely gay pursuit; partly because of the puritanical attitude towards sex than has always existed in the English social body, but mainly because the idea of unisex public lavatories never caught on."
The Strange Decline of the English Cottage is the title of a blog, a research project, and (hopefully) a forthcoming coumentary that will be shown on BBC4.

I can't wait - it sounds fascinating, and Joe would be proud...

The Joe Orton exhibition Malicious Damage runs until 21 January 2012 at Islington Museum, Finsbury Library, 245 St John Street, London, EC1V


  1. Joe Orton's work & life are thought provoking, for sure.

    John Gielgud nearly ended his career because of cottaging.

    It was never my cup of tearoom. Not even once... which is saying something!

  2. "Cup of tearoom" - love it!

    Following his conviction, instead of being rejected by the public, John Gielgud received a standing ovation at his new play's initial opening in Liverpool, in part because of his co-star Sybil Thorndike; Thorndike seized him as he stood in the wings unable to bring himself to make his first entrance and brought him onstage, whispering "Come on, John darling, they won't boo me."



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