In 1962, precisely 50 years ago, Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell were imprisoned for six months for damaging books at the Islington Library. In a protest at the quality of books on offer they had, over a lengthy period of time, smuggled novels out, undertook humorous, and often sexually themed, alterations to the dust jackets and then smuggled the books back in.
The time spent inside inspired Orton and he subsequently authored a number of highly acclaimed plays. Tragically, the time spent inside had an extremely debilitating effect on Halliwell who years later bludgeoned Orton to death before committing suicide. The Islington Museum now has a on display a large collection of the surviving altered dust jackets. The display is entitled ‘Malicious Damage’.
After the hearing a packed house participated in lively debate and a poll as to what would be the appropriate sentence today. A real life District Judge then passed the sentence he considered appropriate having heard from the Prosecution and the Defence.
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