Kenneth Halliwell

Kenneth Halliwell
Born Kenneth Leith Halliwell
(1926-06-23)23 June 1926
Bebington, Wirral, Cheshire, England
Died 9 August 1967(1967-08-09) (aged 41)
Islington, London, England
Occupation Actor, writer, collagist
Partner(s) Joe Orton (1933–1967)

Kenneth Leith Halliwell (23 June 1926 – 9 August 1967) was a British actor, writer and collagist. He was the mentor, boyfriend and eventual murderer of playwright Joe Orton.


Halliwell was born in Bebington. When he was 11, he witnessed the death of his mother, to whom he was very close, at the family home from a wasp sting.

Halliwell was a classics scholar at Wirral Grammar School, where he gained his Higher School Certificate in 1943.[1] Becoming liable for military service in 1944, he registered as a conscientious objector, and was exempted conditional upon becoming a coal miner.[2] After discharge in 1946, he acted for a time in Scotland and then returned home to act in Birkenhead. His father committed suicide in 1949 by putting his head in a gas oven; Halliwell was the first to find the body the following morning. Afterward, Halliwell moved to London to study drama at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), having inherited the family fortune.[1]

Relationship with Orton

In 1951, he met Joe Orton, a fellow RADA student.[3] Both men were struggling actors who became struggling writers. However, their common interests led to a lengthy romantic relationship. Halliwell, in the early years, seems to have been something of a mentor to Orton, who had had a rather cursory education, and helped to mould the writing style that would later be called "Ortonesque".[4][5] The two men collaborated on several novels, including The Boy Hairdresser, which were not published until after their deaths.[6]

From January 1959, Orton and Halliwell were involved in the theft and defacement of public library books. Halliwell became an illicit collage artist, while Orton wrote the fake blurbs for the flyleaf of the dust jackets.[7] After their trial in 1962 the two men were given custodial sentences, Halliwell was sent to HM Prison Ford in Sussex for six months. (Orton went to Eastchurch in Kent.)

Orton's eventual success as a writer, which began not long after their release from prison, put a distance between the two men that Halliwell found difficult to handle.[8] Towards the end of his life, Halliwell was on regular courses of anti-depressants.[9]


On 9 August 1967 Halliwell killed Orton with nine hammer blows to the head and then overdosed on Nembutal sleeping pills. Halliwell died first.[10] Their bodies were discovered late the following morning, when a chauffeur arrived at the door of their Noel Road flat in Islington to collect Orton for a meeting with The Beatles regarding a screenplay he had written for them.[11]

Halliwell's suicide note referred to the contents of Orton's diary as an explanation for his actions:

"If you read his diary, all will be explained. KH PS: Especially the latter part."[11]

This is presumed to be a reference to Orton's description of his promiscuity; the diary contains numerous incidents of cottaging in public lavatories and other casual sexual encounters.

In popular culture

In Prick Up Your Ears, the 1987 film based on Orton's life, Halliwell was portrayed by Alfred Molina.

In Fantabulosa!, the 2006 biopic about Kenneth Williams, he was portrayed by Ewan Bailey.

British experimental music group Coil recorded three tracks titled "The Halliwell Hammers" for their 1995 album Worship The Glitch. The two primary members of Coil, John Balance and Peter Christopherson, were romantic partners through most of the band's existence, and much of their work was inspired by or dedicated to gay icons and personalities of the past.

The stage version of Prick Up Your Ears, written by Simon Bent, opened on the West End in London at the Royal Theatre on 17 September 2009. Matt Lucas played Halliwell and Chris New played Orton. Con O'Neill took over the role of Halliwell after Lucas pulled out. The play closed early, on 15 November 2009.[12]



  1. 1 2 Orton, Joe; Lahr, John (1996). The Orton Diaries. Da Capo Press. p. 24. ISBN 0-306-80733-5.
  2. Lahr, John (1980). Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton. Penguin. p. 109. ISBN 0-14-010067-9.
  3. Morley, Sheridan (2006). Theatre's Strangest Acts: Extraordinary But True Tales from the History of Theatre. Robson. p. 133. ISBN 1-86105-674-5.
  4. Orton, Joe; Lahr, John (1990). The Complete Plays: The Ruffian on the Stair, Entertaining Mr. Sloan, the Good and Faithful Servant, Loot, the Erpingham Camp, Funeral Games, What the Butler Saw. Grove Press. pp. 13, 14. ISBN 0-8021-3215-4.
  5. Shepard, Simon (1989). Because We're Queers: The Life and Crimes of Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton. GMP. p. 88. ISBN 0-85449-090-6.
  6. Griffin, Gabriele (2002). Who's who in Lesbian and Gay Writing. Routledge. p. 149. ISBN 0-415-15984-9.
  7. Philip Hoare "Kenneth Halliwell: lover, killer… artist?", The Guardian, 30 September 2013; Ilsa Colsell Malicious Damage (Donlon Books), 2013
  8. Gale, Steven H. (1996). Encyclopedia of British Humorists: Geoffrey Chaucer to John Cleese. Taylor & Francis. p. 803. ISBN 0-8240-5990-5.
  9. Lahr, John (2000). Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton. University of California Press. p. 33. ISBN 0-520-22666-6.
  10. Orton, Joe; Lahr, John (1996). The Orton Diaries. Da Capo Press. p. 266. ISBN 0-306-80733-5.
  11. 1 2 Coppa, Francesca (2002). Joe Orton: A Casebook. Routledge. p. 2. ISBN 0-8153-3627-6.
  12. "Kart Factory College". PrickUp Yourears thePlay. Retrieved 2012-03-30.

External links

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