Joe Orton (1st January 1933 – 9th August 1967)
“Basically The Beatles are getting fed up with the Dick Lester type of direction. They want dialogue to speak … Difficult this, as I don’t think any of The Beatles can act in any accepted sense.”
Joe Orton (January 1967)
"The only thing I get from the theatre is a sore arse."
Paul McCartney (January 1967)
The time was the 1960s, a period that even while 50 years have since passed still has the power to enchant, captivate and consume. The strands that ran off of every day of this remarkable period could fill an entire library of books and probably will do by the time we're all dust. For those of my generation who are reminded constantly on how bloody great it all was, it hardly remedies the hurt at missing out on the biggest and most amazing party ever. Punk may have been great; House may have liberated many and Britpop might have reinvented cool but the Sixties still reigns supreme for sheer unadulterated cool.
was where it was all happening during the mid -1960s then London was the epicentre of this artistic
explosion. Leading the way were The Beatles. By 1966, they’d conquered every
tier of society – globally and culturally. Most importantly, they’d torn down
the walls that separated class and division – handing working-class artists the
broadest canvas to run riot over. Regardless if one actually liked the band, it’s
clear that every young artisan who came to prominence during this period owes a
huge debt of gratitude to The Fab Four.
Orton’s cheeky celebrity masked an even more outrageous private life. Enjoying his homosexuality at a time when one could have been jailed for one’s preferences, Orton treated
London as one giant sexual playground,
excitement tucked around every corner, down every nook and cranny. The
permissive 60s were tailor-made for Orton’s insatiable promiscuity – favouring
the public lavatory to schmoozing in West End
clubs. Orton’s interminable dallying at the sharp end of London’s sexual network gave his observational writing a razor’s edge and a rare salacious
While Orton’s contemporaries in rock music were also satisfying their collective libidos at every opportunity, they rarely collided – theatre and pop at that point separated by a thick wall of snobbery that despite Orton’s iconoclasm was still infused by stifling class attitudes and ineffable snobbery.
With the benefit of hindsight, it would appear obvious that Orton would collide with The Beatles at some point during the 1960s. The Fab Four's abandonment of concert work in 1966 had allowed them time to explore
London – at that point the
hub of the creative world. Like other areas of the arts, theatre was starting
to become accessible to the masses.
As songwriters of their generation, Paul McCartney and John Lennon had been approached to write a stage musical, a predictable rite of passage to exploit their enormous talent. Nonetheless, despite considerable riches for the taking, the pair didn’t care too much for theatre. While they’d mingled frequently in drama circles, their short attention spans wouldn’t allow for prolonged spells in auditoriums where the action was often understated and slow. While McCartney (the most artistically adventurous of the group) had famously mentioned that all he got from the theatre was “a sore arse”, Lennon was far less tolerant, reportedly storming out of a performance of the musical "Oh What A Lovely War" after a few minutes.
Cinema was a far more viable (and lucrative) option for the group. As the astronomical success of both A Hard Day's Night and Help! had witnessed - a third movie was a formality and had been pencilled in for 1966. A proposed script with a Western theme entitled A Talent For Loving had been optioned during late 1965 – and reportedly had found favour with the band. Written by "Manchurian Candidate" author Richard Condon, the concept took The Beatles back to the Wild West of the 1870s. Despite public announcements that the film would go into production during 1966, the group would ultimately pass on the movie. Another idea that only reached proposal stage was a reworking of Alexandra Dumas’ "The Three Musketeers". While the boys were reportedly excited at the prospect of having Bridget Bardot playing "Lady De Winter", the project would ultimately be rejected, although it would be successfully revived by Beatles’ director Richard Lester in 1974.
There were other elements that were fast changing The Beatles view of life. The band’s discovery of marijuana and (particularly) LSD had coloured the lads’ vision considerably, reducing their egos to a point where the frippery of predictable plot-lines was of little interest. Nonetheless, the group had an existing three-picture deal with United Artists, who were understandably desperate for the band to realise the contract while their popularity was still at its global peak.
To keep United Artists at bay, Brian Epstein had negotiated a deal for Yellow Submarine, an animated project that he hoped would satisfy their contract while minimising his charges involvement. While Epstein was quick to sign off the deal, he ignored the small print that was implicit on the group’s actual involvement in the film; animated Beatles no substitute for the real thing. Epstein had a poor track record as regards film deals. His tepid deal for A Hard Day’s Night and a disastrous tax haven plot with Help!'s putative profits had drawn derision from the band, and weakened his acumen. Similarly, Lennon and McCartney had mocked him when he suggested that they compose the music for Walt Disney’s animated version of The Jungle Book in 1965
Walter Shenson, producer of A Hard Day’s Night and Help! , had invested a lot of his reputation in The Beatles continuing film career. Nonetheless,his terrier enthusiasm was being sorely tested by the Fabs luke-warm responses to a third movie. The group’s gradual retreat from public appearances during 1966 meant that there was no real interest in turning over 12 weeks of their lives for filming.
In an attempt to elicit some interest, Shenson had commissioned 45-year-old TV screenwriter Owen Holder to put together a script that was in line with the experimental atmosphere that was invading cinema during 1966. With Blow Up forging a new visual sensibility for film, Shenson sensed that the Beatles current experimental phase (as per their “Revolver” album) would be well suited for the cinema. With a brief (of sorts) handed over to Holder, he went away and began constructing a script. From the few parts of the script that have escaped, it certainly was light years away from the silly nonsense plots that had been embedded in their previous films.
Holder’s basic premise was that each of the Beatles would be an aspect of one person. That person would be called “Stanley Grimshaw", reportedly going to be played by John while the rest of the boys would play the other personalities in his mind. While little else has been revealed, the film’s love interest would pursue all four members of the group with a proposal of marriage (which the script coyly fails to reveal which Beatle accepts). A treatment by Holder was clearly prepared by August 1966 – and had found some favour with the group.
“Somebody gave us a good idea,” said George Harrison in answer to a question regarding the film in August 1966. “We told him to go and write it into a script. So we won't really be able to tell if we're gonna make the film until we've read the script. And as he hasn't finished the script, we haven't read the script- so we won't know yet until about Christmas, maybe. But if it is a good one and we like it, we'll probably start it 'round about January, February, or March... or December."
With the working title of “Beatles 3”, Holder’s draft formed the basis of several meetings. With a green light to complete a script, Holder would complete a 109-page document. The signs at that point were promising, with reportedly a budget larger than the group’s previous films and a far greater creative hand afforded to the group. The added carrot for the producers was (of course) the likelihood of a soundtrack album containing half a dozen original songs, with recording slated for the last quarter of 1966.
However, as was becoming a formality for the group during the mid-60s, projects would come and go with frightening rapidity. Nonetheless, in lieu of any group filming commitments, members of the group were involving themselves in projects relating to the movie industry. Paul McCartney had been contracted to write the score for a Boutling Brothers’ production The Family Way. Despite his lackadaisical persona, John Lennon had already agreed to star in Dick Lester’s anti-war film How I Won The War in the autumn of 1966, a subject Lennon was eager to associate himself with. With George in
and Ringo busy playing husband and father, any talk of the group’s new film
project was not considered a high priority.
Owen Holder’s script not maintaining any great continuity, and at the tail end of 1966 – and with the Fab Four locked in the studio – a decision of sorts was made to jettison Holder’s draft. While the idea was still considered worthy of further investigation, with the recording of “Sergeant Pepper” taking far greater precedence (and with drugs and soul searching filling in the rest of their time) none of the Fabs appeared interested in pursuing the film any further at that stage.
The beginning of 1967 saw The Beatles retreat to the studio for a series of intensive recording sessions. Elsewhere, and far more publicly, Joe Orton was the toast of
London’s drama society – lauded by critics,
loved by audiences and at the beck and call of producers. His first two
productions “Loot” and “Entertaining Mr Sloane” had become West
End sell-outs, collecting rave reviews and provoking controversy
in equal measures. With “Loot” destined for Broadway, film rights on the table for both scripts and a
television drama “The Good and the Faithfull Servant” in rehearsal for ITV,
Orton was rightfully chuffed by his endeavours.
The crowning moment of this period was an award from the London Evening Standard for "Loot" becoming “Play Of The Year” for 1966. Orton would be duly crowned at a televised award ceremony at the swanky
West End eatery Quaglino’s on 11th January 1967.
Elsewhere, Orton would find himself eagerly sought after company for both media
events and London's
vibrant dinner party circuit.
Orton’s Beatlesque rise to fame and celebrity would prompt producer Walter Shenson to make a very cogent connection that an amalgam between Joe and the Fabs may well prove fortuitous. Owen Holder’s script dangling in limbo, it was decided to approach Orton to beef up the initial premise that (at least) ideas wise had excited the group. Shenson had evidently mentioned Orton’s name to The Beatles at this period who had evidently approved the approach. As was the way of things, a phone call was made to Orton’s flat in Islington on 12th January 1967.
“'I've discussed it with the boys,” said Shenson to Orton. “I mean, I’ve mentioned your name to them. They’ve heard of you. They didn’t react too much, I must say. But I think I can persuade them to have you.”
Orton’s working-class confidence, elevated by his sharp rise to fame - would spare no time in returning Shenson’s somewhat unceremonial approach.
“Well, I’m frightfully up to my eyes at the moment,” replied Orton. “I’m writing my third play.”
Undeterred, Shenson pushed for Joe to show some interest. Rarely, if ever did someone turn down an opportunity to work with The Beatles – and Shenson was aware that an association with Orton would prove exciting. “I’d certainly love to have you take a look at this draft,” urged Shenson.
Acquiescing to the offer, Orton would shelve his temporary nonchalance. “Please send the script over and I’ll read it,” he said in closing.
On that mildly cordial note, the script was couriered over to Orton’s flat the following day. The third stage play that Orton had referenced to Shenson was “What The Butler Saw”, a romp much in the vein of Loot and “Entertaining Mr. Sloane”. With no immediate pressure on the “
Butler” script (as it had reached first draft
status), Orton took two days to read The Beatles idea. While he had never
written a film script as such, he was intrigued by the approach that Holder had
taken, especially the possibilities for sexual adventure within the split
“Like the idea,” wrote Orton on turning the final page. “Basically it is that there aren’t four young men. Just four aspects of one man. Sounds dreary, but as I thought about it I realised what wonderful opportunities it would give.”
Inspired by the inter-gender possibilities, Orton called Walter Shenson and arranged to meet him over lunch to discuss the project – the date of 16th January 1967 pencilled in for a meeting. Before he ventured to the producer’s office, Orton conferred with his agent (Margaret) Peggy Ramsey. Beatle money commanding premium rates, Ramsey informed Joe that she’d ask for an advance of £10,000 on the first draft (around 100k in today’s money).
The meeting with Shenson over lunch proving cordial, Shenson would leave with a magical possibility. “Don’t be surprised if a Beatle rings you up,” said Shenson as they bade their farewells. Fired on all cylinders, Orton immediately began working on the script straight after the lunch with Shenson. With no exact brief, Joe decided to go far out - thoroughly revising Owen Holder’s effort to a mere shadow of what was created the previous year. By the end of the first day, he’d typed two pages and had already dreamed up a ribald title, Up Against It attached to it. Ever the magpie even when it came to his own work, Orton began to incorporate elements of “The Silver Bucket”, his first novel, (co-written in 1953 with his partner Kenneth Halliwell) and parts of The Vision Of Gombold Proval”, Orton’s first true solo novel from 1961.
“The boys, in my script,” wrote Orton as he neared completion of the first draft, “have been caught in-flagrante, become involved in dubious political activity, dressed as women, committed murder, been put in prison and committed adultery.”
Sensing the enormous potential, Orton pushed his agent to up the fee for the script to £15,000. Furthermore, a contract would be prepared with a clause that would allow the rights to revert to Orton if The Beatles did not go through with their intention to film his work.
While words and promises were typically inconsequential in the 1960s, a call from The Beatles office made its way to Orton on 23rd January 1967, requesting a meeting with the playwright. Excited by conferring with the group, Orton duly travelled up to The Beatles’ office in
in London’s West End
the following afternoon. While Orton had become largely inured by the contrary
attitudes of the show-business world, he’d be seriously irked by what he
encountered that day. “All the boys' appointments have been put back an hour
and a half,” reported Peter Brown -Epstein’s assistant. - to Orton as he sat waiting
in their office. “I was a bit chilly in my manner after that,” wrote Orton in
his diary later. Brown then attempted to defer Orton with the promise of a date
in the future. “What guarantee is there that you won’t break that?” said Orton,
now aware that there were no Fabs in the building. “I think you better find
yourself another writer,” snapped Joe as he prepared to leave.
Brown, used to the world and his wife grovelling at The Beatles’ alter, quickly moved to stymie Orton’s threatened exit. Excusing himself to an office, he swiftly returned with Brian Epstein – not a Fab, but the closest one could get to their gilded inner circle. On first impressions, Orton wasn’t that impressed with the aura of world’s most famous impresario. “I’d imagined Epstein to be florid, Jewish, dark-haired and overwhelming. Inside, I was face to face with a mousey-haired, slight young man.” Epstein quickly ushered Orton into his office and attempted to placate him. “Could you meet Paul and me for dinner tonight?” said Epstein. “We do want to have the pleasure of talking with you.” While Orton had a theatre engagement that night, he made vaguely positive noises that he would be over that night.
Nonetheless, Joe wouldn’t allow any stardust to blur his vision. As was his style, he’d approach the convergence with McCartney (and possibly other Fabs) with typically cheeky aplomb. Not the chauffeured limo that Brian Epstein had offered, or a black cab; no, for Joe it meant a
London bus – a number 38.
Belgravia off the London
underground network, a bus ride was the quickest route to Epstein’s house from
the bus dropped Joe off at Hyde Park Corner. He then walked down the busy
corridor of Grosvenor Place
towards Victoria before turning right into
affluent Chapel Street,
on the fringes of Belgravia and within spitting distance of . Buckingham Palace
Epstein’s house was very much in keeping with what The Beatles’ manager had long aspired to. He’d bought the
Chapel Street property in January 1965 –
his previous London
bases either hotels or flats. Situated towards the far end of the street,
Epstein enjoyed its affluent presence. Replete with butler and servants
quarters, Brian was now assuming the vision he’d carved out during his
shop-keeping days back in Liverpool.
Regardless of the swanky address, number 24 maintained its uniformity with the
other houses on the street. Even with a pub and mews residences to its rear,
the thick walls behind the stuccoed façade of number 24 ensured a relative peace
While it was clear that Epstein was nesting in
Belgravia, his presence in Chapel Street during early 1967 was
sporadic. Lost in a whirl of drugs, alcohol and desperation over The Beatles
uncertain plans, Brian had taken to frequenting London’s gambling clubs after-dark, often frittering
away thousands of pounds in a single evening. His other, more nefarious,
encounters found him in the shadowy avenues of the capital's uncertain and
dangerous homosexual underground – a landscape that had already seen him
injured; blackmailed and narrowly avoiding prosecution. Not that either
personality knew it at the time, but Epstein was treading the same path as
Orton on London’s
gay network. While Brian had been effusive in inviting Orton to his house, the
playwright’s otherwise detailed diary notes would make no reference to The
Beatles’ manager being present that night.
Street, Orton would have difficulty distinguishing
Epstein’s house from the other affluent symbols of Belgravia
wealth. An ornate lamp hovering over the entrance gave little away as to its
interior. After climbing up the four stone steps, Orton’s slender gait would
have been illuminated by a light illuminating from a glass half-crescent
situated above the entrance. While a large brass knocker was attached to the
door, Orton chose a different route to announce his presence.
“I range the bell and an old man opened the door,” recalled Orton in his diaries. “He seemed surprised to see me. ‘Is this Brian Epstein’s house?’ I said. ‘Yes, sir,’ he said, and led the way into the hall. I suddenly realised that the man was the butler. I’ve never seen one before. He took my coat and I went to the lavatory. When I came out he’d gone. There was nobody about. I wandered around a large dining-room which was laid for dinner. And then I got to feel strange. The house appeared to be empty. So I went upstairs to the first floor. I heard music only I couldn’t decide where it came from. So I went further upstairs and found myself in a bedroom. I came down again and found the butler. He took me into a room and said in a loud voice, ‘Mr Orton.’”
The gaggle of personalities in the house looked around and rose to their feet. Most of those present were clearly familiar with the name “Orton”, and appeared primed for his appearance. Despite the conviviality on display, Epstein was hugely conspicuous by his absence, presumably playing elsewhere. Nonetheless, he’d left his personal assistant Peter Brown (who’d Orton had met previously) to tend to business.
Orton’s presence was duly absorbed into the gathering. However, as was always the case when a Beatle was in the room, the other-worldly ambience of Paul McCartney trumped all other energies. Accordingly, Orton recognised the cute one before introductions took hold.
“He was just as the photographs,” recalled Orton on viewing Beatle Paul. “Only he’d grown a moustache. His hair was shorter too.”
As was McCartney’s indulgence when a new Beatles record was due for release, he’d share the recording with all and sundry to gauge opinion. While still at mixing stage, McCartney was excited about the group’s new single release and had brought along an acetate disc to play. “He was playing the latest Beatles recording, ‘
Lane’ recalled Orton. “I liked it very much. Then
he played the other side – ‘Strawberry…’ something. I didn’t like this as
Once the single preview had concluded, McCartney and Orton broached the subject of Up Against It.. With some hubbub as dinner was announced, the conversation was fragmentary and inconclusive. Transferring to the dining room on the ground floor, a butler attended to the place settings as the incoming diners sat down. With Orton sat next to McCartney, the pair began a more continuous dialogue – a lot of it centring on their respective professions.
As was his style, McCartney broke the ice - flattering Joe by saying that his play “Loot” was the only production he hadn’t wanted to leave before the end, expressing a thought that he wished the play had been longer. It was quite a complement given McCartney’s rude noises concerning theatre. Nonetheless, Orton was in sync with a lot of McCartney's views. “I said that compared to the pop scene the theatre was square. ‘The theatre started going downhill when Queen
knighted Henry Irving,’ I said. ‘Too fucking respectable.’”
Like numerous avenues of popular culture, January 1967 witnessed a watershed in attitudes to drug use. While narcotic use within the theatrical and entertainment fraternity was rampant, to the world outside, no one had any inkling that their favourite stars were gobbling drugs left, right and centre. While it would be a further five months before McCartney outed the band on their drug use, during 1967, the Beatles “boy next door” image was still forefront in the public consciousness - any notion of adventures with powder and puff a scandalous notion.
“We talked of drugs,” recalled Orton as he chatted with the newly psychedelicised McCartney, “of mushrooms which give hallucinations – like LSD, ‘The drug, not the money,’ I said. We talked of tattoos. And, after one or two veiled references, marijuana. I said I’d smoked it in
The nods and winks confirming that Orton and McCartney were in simpatico with their preferences, the atmosphere relaxed considerably. Dinner finishing late - around 11pm –everyone moved upstairs to watch television. Looking at the TV schedule for the day, it’s evident that they were off to watch “Late Night Line Up” – a popular review show that traditionally closed BBC 2 transmissions for the evening. Given the dearth of culture shows on TV in early 1967, the show was essential viewing for anyone connected to the arts. This night’s show had phrases like “the in-crowd” and “Swinging London”, something that amused those present.
“Late Night Line Up” finished at nearly midnight – but more entertainment was on its way, but not via the cathode ray. This further distraction came in the shape of Australian band The Easybeats. The five members who were on a major high with their current hit song “Friday On My Mind” and were in London riding the entertainment rotunda. With Epstein’s NEMS organisation courting interest in Australian acts courtesy of his fraternisation with Robert Stigwood, the band was royally welcomed in at
Street. With their Beatlesque looks and suggestive
presence, Orton was duly smitten.
“I’d seen them on TV,” recalled Orton of The Easybeats. “I liked them very much then. In a way they were better (or prettier) offstage than on.”
The television room becoming congested, McCartney pulled Orton and assistant Peter Brown to the third floor of Epstein’s house - the idea to focus on the important business of The Beatles film script. However, they were not alone for long as French photographer Jean-Marie Perier arrived with three young friends to touch base with McCartney. Perier, already renowned for his work with The Rolling Stones, had just taken a host of promotional photographs of The Beatles that (somewhat historically) first displayed their psychedelic incarnation. Decked out in Edwardian coats, billowing shirts and drooping moustaches, it was evident that the group were tuning into new frequencies above and beyond their monochromatic image. Within the imagery was a clutch of iconic shots that would later adorn the sleeve of “
Penny Lane” and
“Strawberry Fields Forever” single release. Handed around those present, Joe
too had a chance to view them.
“Excellent photograph,” recalled Orton on what Perier had captured “The four Beatles look different with their moustaches. Like anarchists in the early years of the century.”
The small chat over, and still no firm dialogue concerning the script, Orton and McCartney retired downstairs. With The Easybeats still dominating interest with the house guests, any talk of picking up the conversation was abandoned. Distracted, Joe honed in on the Easybeat’s lead singer Stevie Wright. “Feeling slightly like an Edwardian masher with a Gaiety Girl,” wrote Orton.
The clock ticking well past midnight, Orton came over tired. Nonetheless, he felt compelled to collar McCartney regarding the film– not least payment of his fee that was still outstanding. “I’d like to do the film,” said Orton to Paul. “There’s only one thing we’ve got to fix up.” ‘You mean the bread,’ replied McCartney. “Yes,” said Orton.
From there, any detail of the conversation remained unreported. With just a smile and a nod as a parting salutation, Orton left
Chapel Street and
walked out into the rainy January night. Post midnight, and beyond the bus
timetable to Islington, Joe wandered down to the end of Chapel Street and hailed a cab to take
him back to north London.
No immediate resolution to hand, in reality, Orton had just experienced the indeterminate world of The Beatles. While the group were fiercely democratic in their business dealings, pinning down all four entities – especially during their psychedelic period – was a nigh on impossible task. While the group still had an existing picture requirement with United Artists, they felt little impetus to complete a third movie. Recording, soul searching and other adventures outweighing all other commitments during the indeterminate landscape of 1967, The Beatles were unlikely to devote 12 weeks to an intensive filming schedule. While A Hard Day's Night and Help! had proved immensely enjoyable to the general public, the group made no secret of their hatred of rigid and demanding filming schedules.
Undeterred or unawares of the Fabs’ flakiness, Orton would deliver a copy of his first draft script to his agent Peggy Ramsey on 24th February 1967. The meeting with both McCartney and Brian Epstein a month earlier proving inconclusive to the direction of the script, Orton was uncertain of what sort of feedback he’d receive.
As the days and weeks past, frustration turning to muted anger. After a period of months, the script would be returned from The Beatles with no communication attached to it. While never articulated at the time, there was a prevailing feeling that the group had shied away from the controversial elements in the script, although with zero explanation Orton was nonplussed to know the reasoning behind their silence. In characteristically smug fashion, Joe bullishly shook off his disappointment on hearing that the script had been returned sans any feedback. “No explanation why,” wrote Orton on news that Up Against It had been coldly rejected. “No criticism of the script," wrote Orton. "And apparently, Brian Epstein had no comment to make either. Fuck them”.
Beatles or no Beatles, communications with director Richard Lester would endure through the first half of 1967. Lester, his ear far more attuned to the eager buzz surrounding Orton, would sense that the script could be easily tailored to suit Mick Jagger – at that point without any cinematic credentials, and scandalously hot following his contretemps with officialdom over the
Redlands drugs’ bust.
With Ian McKellen mooted as a possible co-star –the project was revived again
at the beginning of August 1967 by long time Orton admirer - director and
impresario Oscar Lewenstein. Orton was delighted on numerous fronts – not least
that the script was optioned for a second time, sending a large fee tumbling
into his already bulging band account. With a lunchtime meeting with Lewenstein
and director Richard Lester planned for 9th August at Twickenham Studios, the
signs were excellent for the project’s revival. Chuffed at securing rights to
the script, Oscar Lewenstein ordered a chauffeur driven Rolls to pick up Orton
at his Islington flat on the morning of August 9th, 1967.
However, what Oscar Lewenstein’s chauffeur discovered that morning was a sight that would upstage anything that Orton had conceived in any of his plays. On receiving no reply from Orton’s modest Islington flat, the driver peaked through the letter box – discovering Joe’s partner Kenneth Halliwell lying prostate on the floor, dead from an overdose of barbiturates. The door broken down by the police, Joe’s bludgeoned body would be found on his bed soaked in blood. However grievous the picture, Orton’s fragile partner had succeeded in levelling his own failure by terminating his lover’s startling career.
Orton’s death closed numerous doors – not least the fortunes of Up Against It which was shelved followingg the controversy of Joe’s passing. Considered an inconclusive curio in The Beatles’ overwhelming diary of the 1960s, cinema kept a distance from Orton’s script, its overt Beatles' connection clearly proving too overwhelming for any serious reappraisal by others.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that the script was looked at again. Without any cinematic interest, several attempts were made to bring a scaled down version to the stage. Pop artist and musician Ed Ball revived the project for an imaginative album and concert during 1986 – a concept that was similarly replicated by Todd Rundgren in 1989 in
New York. The BBC imaginatively transferred
Orton’s script as a radio play on the thirtieth anniversary of the playwright’s
death in 1997. Starring Leo McKern, Sylvia
Syms and cameos from Sir John Gielgud and Blur’s Damon Alban, the project
remains the most cogent adaption of Orton’s script to date.
Just why The Beatles chose to reject Up Against It only adds to the gulf of mysteries within Joe Orton’s short yet eventful life. With no word surfacing from
on its fate, it
took Paul McCartney three decades to finally explain why the dream alliance of
The Beatles and Joe Orton failed to materialise. Given that their Magical
Mystery Tour made for TV effort at the tail end of 1967 mined considerable
weirdness, it clearly wasn’t the surrealistic approach Orton took that
alienated The Beatles senses. camp
"The reason why we didn't do Up Against It,” said McCartney in 1997, “wasn't because it was too far out or anything. We didn't do it because it was gay. We weren't gay and really that was all there was to it. It was quite simple, really. Brian was gay...and so he and the gay crowd could appreciate it. Now, it wasn't that we were anti-gay -- just that we, The Beatles, weren't gay."