Students of the University of Leicester may have noticed bright yellow banners and posters hanging around various parts of the campus. This is promoting the Joe Orton Statue Appeal, an initiative to erect a statue of Joe Orton, one of Leicester’s most famous writers. Orton was influential mostly due to his scandalous plays, which were extremely controversial for their time. His work was characterised by his unique dark humour, the storylines of which would gradually become farce, often based around the absurd amoralism of his unique characters, found in works such as Entertaining Mr Sloane and Loot. It could be argued that his death came as he was hitting his stride, as he was murdered by his partner Kenneth Halliwell in 1967. Nevertheless, his influence has remained, leading to the coining of the term ‘Ortonesque’, often used to describe work with similar style to his work. Orton is also known for his extremely explicit diaries, which give us a look into the life of a gay person in Britain in the 1960s.

The appeal, which has been raising money and receiving funds for several months, has received contributions from both the University of Leicester and De Montfort University, as well as endorsement from famous public figures such as Sir Ian McKellen, who said: “And the idea that in Orton Square, there should be a statue, a memorial to him, is terrific.” The project is also backed by Stephen Fry, who stated: “Joe Orton has always been a hero to me, both in his work and in the authenticity, wit and wonder of his life. A statue is a wonderful idea.”

However, the appeal has lost its some of it funding that was being banked on, and is apparently working on new fundraising initiatives. Because of this, public funding for the project (through the spacehive website) has been extended to 30th November. At the time of writing, over £54,000 of its £119,267 goal has been reached.

A statue of Orton does seem appropriate for Leicester, considering Orton is one of the most influential figures to come out of the city in the twentieth century. It is also worth noting that other statues include one of Thomas Cook, who founded the recently-collapsed travel company in the 1800s, and one of ‘The Seamstress’ who does not represent anyone in particular, but rather commemorates Leicester’s hosiery industry. Because of this, having a statue of one of the most important British LGBTQ+ figures of the twentieth century could help in terms of accurate representation of Leicester, which in itself is an extremely diverse place. Appropriately the statue will be place outside the Curve Theatre in Orton Square, and will reflect Orton’s ‘cheeky iconoclasm’.

Donations to the appeal can be made here.

David Guthrie

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