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Potatoes and Peppa Pig: Young writers channel Leicester playwright

A spoof letter of complaint written by a London school pupil has won a competition inspired by Leicester-born playwright Joe Orton.

Penelope Ogieriakhi from James Allen’s Girls’ School in Dulwich picked up the top prize in the creative writing competition, held by the University of Leicester and supported by the fashion-legend Dame Vivienne Westwood, for her Edna Welthorpe-esque reaction to a ‘twenty-pounds-and-one-pence home delivery holusculi [vegetable] package’.

Her letter goes on to describe ‘psychedelic carrots, suggestively shaped fungi and quite frankly random roots’ before suggesting the author had ‘disposed of the oddities to the acute appeasement of the household’.

Mrs Edna Welthorpe was the pseudonym used by 1960s author Orton to parody letters of complaint, mocking snobbery and homophobia in society, and satirising social and sexual conservatism. Orton sent letters to a variety of institutions including Smedley’s Jam, the Littlewoods catalogue and the Ritz Hotel, using Welthorpe’s name.

Runner-up Bella Breen, from Colyton Grammar School in Devon, was commended for her letter demanding cancellation of children’s TV programme Peppa Pig, for the ‘brutish behaviour’ of Phillipa the pig and her ‘vulgar’ use of the word ‘yuck’.

Dr Emma Parker, Associate Professor of Post-War and Contemporary Literature at the University of Leicester, said: “It’s wonderful to see Joe Orton’s legacy being kept alive by a new generation. This competition shows that Orton’s use of satire to poke fun at the Establishment still strikes a chord and continues to inspire new writers.”

Students aged 16 to 18 from across the UK were encouraged to channel the spirit of Orton with their own humorous letters of complaint, published online alongside other new letters composed by leading writers, actors and artists who are Orton enthusiasts, such as the Emmy Award winner Alec Baldwin.

Baldwin’s letter – poking fun at the same conservatism which Orton satirised in much of his work – seeks a response from Her Majesty the Queen on the subject of gratuities, in which Welthorpe suggests tip jars are ‘nothing more than a furtherance of the socialist conditionings of the Labour Party’.

Born in Leicester, Joe Orton grew up in poverty but went on to achieve success and celebrity, writing some of the most famous plays of the 1960s, such as Entertaining Mr Sloane (1964), Loot (1965) and What the Butler Saw (1969).

As a working class gay man who lived before the decriminalisation of homosexuality, Orton’s anarchic black comedies satirised social and sexual inequality and his plays were part of the new counterculture that shaped the swinging Sixties.

Dame Vivienne Westwood is a long-time admirer of Orton’s work. She celebrated Orton’s spirit of anarchism through her punk t-shirts in the 1970s.

Entries to the competition were judged anonymously by English and Creative Writing tutors at the University of Leicester, and the 2022 competition is now open.

Both Penelope and Bella’s letters are available to read in full at ednawelthorpe.le.ac.uk/annual-competition. Further new letters from authors and other artists are available at ednawelthorpe.le.ac.uk/new-letters.

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