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Library books defaced by Joe Orton go on display

12th October 2011

A number of library books defaced by the playwright Joe Orton – which resulted in him serving a six-month jail term – have gone on public display.

The books were taken out from Essex Road library in Islington by Orton and his then-boyfriend Kenneth Halliwell in the early 1960s, before being defaced and returned.

The crimes were an act of protest over the poor quality of the titles on offer at the library, but their actions – which included the defacement of over 70 books – led to an investigation that resulted in them being charged with criminal damage and sent to prison.

Now, some of the titles are due to go on display at the Islington Local History Museum, including a biography of John Betjeman with a picture of an elderly, tattooed man on the cover and an Agatha Christie novel adorned with giant cats.

Islington's local history manager Mark Aston said the books are of 'international interest' and highlight how disappointed Orton and Halliwell were with the selection at the time.

'They were appalled by what they found. It was endless shelves of rubbish, as they saw it,' he added.

However, Mr Aston said that much has changed since then and noted that the library is still open to the public.

He added: 'Come and borrow them, but please return them in the same condition you found them!'

The exhibition is set to run until January, though may be extended if demand is great enough.

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