19 episodes

A podcast about writers who may or may not have written about crime, but who definitely committed it.

Penknife Todos Contentos y Yo También Productions

    • True Crime
    • 5.0 • 28 Ratings

A podcast about writers who may or may not have written about crime, but who definitely committed it.

    S2Ep1: A Shave and a Shag

    S2Ep1: A Shave and a Shag

    One morning in 1949 Kenneth Halliwell comes downstairs for breakfast and finds his father’s dead body awkwardly protruding from the stove. He turns off the gas, then steps over the body to boil water for tea. When he finishes his tea, he shaves and calls the neighbors to report his father’s suicide. Nearly two decades later, when Joe Orton’s mother dies, his response is to pick up an Irish laborer and screw him in a derelict house. Joe and Kenneth have different ways of coping with their parents' deaths, but as young men growing up in dreary industrial England, they both have the same dream: before either considers writing, they’re both convinced that they belong on the stage. In 1951 they buy one-way tickets to London and begin a journey that will fail to bring them any success as actors but that will lead them to each other. Episode 1 chronicles the bleak childhoods that shape the pair inspiring one of them to become the most iconoclastic English dramatist of the 1960s, and the other to become a murderer…

    • 25 min
    S2Ep2: Golden Syrup

    S2Ep2: Golden Syrup

    By 1953 Orton and Halliwell are both realizing they don’t have what it takes to make it as actors, but no matter, Halliwell is going to be a famous novelist and Joe, the less-educated and cultivated of the two, well, he’s going to be Kenneth’s secretary. In time though, Joe recognizes his own passion and talent for writing and the two men start writing collaboratively, determined to make it big. Shunning society and material comfort they spend the better part of a decade locked in their bedsit writing and living off rice, sardines and golden syrup. By decade’s end they’ve written a handful of novels and plays all of which have been promptly turned down by publishers. The men not only feel rejected, they feel angry.  And they’re going to do something about it…

    • 25 min
    S2Ep3: Malicious Damage

    S2Ep3: Malicious Damage

    At his local library branch Joe Orton is enraged to find out that they don’t have a copy of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  In retaliation for this grave injustice he and Kenneth Halliwell begin a multi-year campaign of stealing books from the library, artfully doctoring them, then smuggling them back to their rightful places on the shelves.  Eventually the police and the local law clerk deploy undercover agents and a sting operation in order to entrap them and Joe and Ken are sentenced to 6-month in jail. Ostensibly, its for their crimes against the library but really, as Joe puts it, “it was because we were queers.”  While inside, Orton is finally separated from Halliwell and from any remaining desire to fit in.  The result is liberating, particularly to his writing... 

    • 34 min
    S2Ep4: A Necessary Amount of Filth

    S2Ep4: A Necessary Amount of Filth

    Beginning in 1964, conservative England is shocked and outraged by Joe Orton’s work.  In his radio play The Ruffian on the Stair and then in his stage plays Entertaining Mr. Sloane and Loot, Orton attacks church, state and family and taunts his enemies by putting sexual ambiguous characters on stage. For some of the first times ever, gays in the theater can’’t be stereotyped as effeminate queens or tragic cases. And while this brings Joe more hatred and censorship from the right, another group of people, namely those who’re putting the swing into swinging London and leading England through a cultural revolution, absolutely adore him. Orton sells the screen rights to Loot for a near record-breaking £100,000 and 1967 begins with Joe Orton on top of the world…

    • 35 min
    S2Ep5: Diary of a Somebody

    S2Ep5: Diary of a Somebody

    In December 1966, Joe Orton begins keeping a diary that he maintains for the final eight months of his life.  Along with plenty of cottaging in public lavatories the diaries chronicle the death of his mother, the success of Loot, and the writing of both a film for the Beatles and his final masterpiece, What the Butler Saw. They also cover his sex tourism trips to North Africa and the breakdown of his relationship with Kenneth Halliwell. At one point in while Tangier, feeling great about his fame, his pocketbook and his sex life, Orton worries that he and Kenneth will soon be struck down by some disaster because they are, perhaps, too happy… 

    • 32 min
    S2Ep6: A Deliberate Form of Frenzy

    S2Ep6: A Deliberate Form of Frenzy

    Kenneth Halliwell’s mental health is deteriorating.  After he and Joe return from Tangier in July of 67, a producer friend of Joe’s calls Kenneth a “middle-aged nonentity” to his face. This stings particularly because after failing as an actor, a writer and finally as a collage artist, Kenneth can’t really deny it.  His value, he believes, is in his contributions to Joe’s career, but he’s felt for some time now that he’s losing Joe. And that’s not something he’ll be able to stand. On August 9th, 1967, in a desperate effort to ensure that Joe never leaves him, Kenneth uses a hammer to bludgeon Joe to death before swallowing a fistful of pills…

    • 32 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
28 Ratings

28 Ratings

CPA 53 ,

Surprised

I was surprised at how engaging this podcast was. Really absorbing and I look forward to season 2.

Momma Bookthug ,

Penknife Season 1

Just finished listening to the last episode of Penknife. An amazing amount of research, writing and performing went into this podcast.
I highly recommend it.
I have listened to many crime podcasts and this one is not one that repeats, repeats, repeats. It constantly moves forward and fleshes out new stories about the writers who behave badly.
Excited for season 2!

Loa@snwmsnsjsbsbsk ,

Highly recommend

Anyone who loves true crime and wants a podcast that absolutely stands out Penknife is it!

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