Lord Chamberlain's report and correspondence about Loot

Description

These letters – relating to the 1965 version of Joe Orton’s Loot – were produced by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, which until 1968 examined, censored and licensed every play script or theatrical production in Britain. Correspondence such as this, which contains the opinions and recommendations of the ‘reader’ and other staff, was filed with each submitted play script.

What was the censor’s reaction to Loot?

Orton certainly did not compromise his writing in fear of censorship: Loot is a masterpiece of dark farce where reality and ‘conventional’ morality are ruthlessly upturned. Unsurprisingly, Loot shocked the censor. The Lord Chamberlain’s Office was governed by the morals of English society – at this time largely heterosexual, conservative, Christian and pro-Establishment – all of which, essentially, Orton was challenging in his writing.

As these letters reveal, the reader was alarmed by Orton’s satirical treatment of religion and attitudes towards death, strongly objecting to the fact that ‘the principal character is a corpse’ which is manipulated and moved around the stage. They deemed Loot ‘repellent’ and ‘unpleasant in many of its details’, citing examples of blasphemy, ‘filthy dialogue’ and references to homosexuality.

How did Loot come to be licensed?

The reader concluded, ‘I will, reluctantly, give a licence subject to alterations’ (in some cases, the censor refused to license a play, thereby banning it from the British stage). Orton was asked to rewrite approximately 24 passages, and the new script was authorised in January 1965. Much of the language was toned down and, as the reader notes, ‘the general atmosphere has been lightened’.

Yet in spite of the censor, Orton and Michael Codron (the stage manager) preserved many key elements (such as the movement of the corpse, and the rolling glass eye). Orton also retained subtle allusions to the gay relationship between Hal and Dennis, such as Hal calling Dennis ‘baby’.

Were there complaints against Loot in performance?

Typically, performances were attended by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office to ensure that the approved script was being followed. In March 1965, an official visit to Loot was prompted by two letters of complaint from members of the public, who wrote to the Lord Chamberlain to tell of their shock and disgust. Included here is the memo from the Assistant Comptroller to the Lord Chamberlain, who writes that he perceived a ‘sick humour’ when he attended a performance.

Full title:
Lord Chamberlain's Plays: Correspondence file for Loot by Joe Orton (1964)
Created:
1964–65, Lord Chamberlain's Office, St James's Palace, London
Format:
Manuscript / Typescript / Letter / Report
Creator:
Lord Chamberlain's Office
Usage terms

© Crown Copyright. This material has been published under an Open Government Licence.

Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
LCP Corr 1964 No. 4614

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