Student competition brings Leicester playwright’s alter ego to life

A popular creative writing competition launched by the University of Leicester is once again open for entries – this year supported by the fashion-legend Dame Vivienne Westwood.

Mrs Edna Welthorpe was the pseudonym used by the Leicester-born playwright Joe Orton to write spoof 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.

Students aged 16 to 18 from across the UK are encouraged to channel the spirit of Orton, and write their own humorous letters of complaint. 

The winning letter will receive a prize of £200, kindly donated by Dame Westwood, and be 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.

Dr Emma Parker, Associate Professor of Post-War and Contemporary Literature at the University of Leicester said: “This creative writing competition is a great way to introduce young people to one of the greatest playwrights of the twentieth century, to teach them about satire and the power of literature, to inspire creativity, and to ensure that Joe Orton's subversive spirit lives on. 

“It's been very exciting to have support for this project from high profile public figures, especially Vivienne Westwood, who has drawn inspiration from Orton in her work.”

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 will be judged anonymously by English and Creative Writing tutors at the University of Leicester, and should be submitted by 30 June 2021.

For further information, please visit the competition homepage.