The Library Pranksters Who Paid a Heavy Fine

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Legal Issues, Literary Hoaxes, Political Challenges, Pranksters, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks, The History of Pranks

These men pranked their local library. Homophobic outrage ensued. A bitter look back at a time of high stakes for creative pranksters.


“The Strange, Sad Story of Joe Orton, His Lover, and 72 Stolen Library Books”
by Natasha Frost
Atlas Obscura
August 9, 2017

A search warrant might seem excessive for library book hoarding—but Halliwell and Orton were no ordinary library pilferers. For over two years, Orton and Halliwell had been smuggling books out of their local libraries, the magnificent Art Nouveau Islington Central Library on London’s Holloway Road and nearby red-brick Essex Road Library—and then returning them.

Orton hid books in a satchel; Halliwell, six-and-a-half years older, used a gas mask case. They would take them home, redo their covers and dust-jackets, and then slip them back onto the shelves.

Sometimes, these alterations were obscene: a reader scanning a relatively tame Dorothy Sayers whodunit would find themselves confronted with a mystery even before they opened the book. The blurb now described some missing knickers and a seven-inch phallus, and concluded: “READ THIS BEHIND CLOSED DOORS! And have a good s*** while you are reading!” Meanwhile, the collected plays of Emlyn Williams, a Welsh dramatist, suddenly included “Knickers Must Fall,” “Olivia Prude,” “Up The Front,” and “Up The Back.” Read more.