After signing up for an Open Day at the University of Leicester, I was intrigued to receive an email regarding the ‘Yours Faithfully, Edna Welthorpe (Mrs)’ creative writing competition, run by Dr Emma Parker and Chris Shepherd. The prompt, ‘If Joe Orton were alive today, who or what would be the object of his satire?’, fascinated me. Although I had never before heard of Orton’s alter-ego Edna Welthorpe and the letters he wrote in her name, I soon discovered her strict morals and old-fashioned ideas after reading a few of these letters. The clever satire used in them was hilarious, and I was determined to at least attempt to write one too, despite the fact I had never before written anything comedic! First task – think of a suitable topic. After doing some research into Orton’s life, I decided to focus on homosexuality (more specifically, how some people still do not understand this, even in 2017!), as I learned his homosexuality had not been understood by many of his contemporaries. Next task – get writing! Writing in an overly old-fashioned and snobbish style proved much fun, and I got so into the character that by the end of it I felt as if I was performing as Edna in a play, not just writing a letter in her name. After finishing the letter I sent it off, expecting never to hear anything more about it.
However, only a few months later I received a reply stating I had won the competition! I was amazed – I had not expected to even place, let alone win! As a prize, my work was to be read out by actress Frances Barber at a tribute to Joe Orton held at The Little Theatre in Leicester, a place Orton himself performed at, and I was given two tickets to this event.
The evening of the tribute arrived and I was so excited – a whole evening surrounded by the comedy greats of today, and my work would be read out on stage in front of all of them! I was certainly not disappointed. The evening was jam-packed with amusement and entertainment – for example, there was an animation inspired by the original Edna Welthorpe letters; new letters written by famous comedy writers, actors and film-makers; a discussion between Graham Fellows, David Quantick and Emma Parker; and Leonie Orton, a sister of Joe, read from her memoir. It was a fantastic evening, one which I will remember forever!
As well as this event, a website was created in tribute to Orton. This website (http://www.ednawelthorpe.co.uk/) contains a selection of his Edna letters, as well the new letters which were written for the event at The Little Theatre and many other Orton-related things. These new letters are all absolutely hilarious and embody Orton’s alter-ego perfectly, though I must admit my favourite is Caroline Moran’s series of letters regarding a neighbour’s ‘teenage son’ and his smoking habits.
Bryony Adshead is a sixth form student at Derby High School.