Harold Pinter’s career in literature spanned more than half a century, producing an enviable body of work that included 29 theatre plays, 26 screenplays, radio and TV plays, dramatic sketches, poetry, one novel, short fiction, essays, speeches and letters. His prolific output effectively made him a star on Britain’s literary firmament.
The war torn, the dispossessed and the persecuted all found a voice in him, who apart from his identity as a brilliant playwright was also a scathing critic of the mightiest powers in the world for their futile wars and the suffering they bought upon entire nations. The fact that he stood up against the prevailing view and spoke up for the voiceless, enhanced his image as a litterateur par excellence.
Harold Pinter, Nobel laureate, poet, author, playwright, dramatist, actor and a passionate political activist, was born on 10th October, 1930 in Hackney, East London to a respectable and comfortably placed Jewish family. He contented childhood was rudely put out of focus by the evacuation and forced separation from his parents when World War broke out. The abiding feeling of loneliness, loss and fear stayed with him and finds expression in all his major works.He returned to London at the age of 14 and began his schooling at the Hackney Downs, the London Grammar school and immersed himself in the school activities, participating in the school drama club, writing for the school magazine, playing cricket and as a member of the Hackney Boy’s club. The friends Pinter formed here led to his near sacred views on platonic male bonding and continued through his life.
After his stint of acting and writing poetry in his teenage years, he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1948. He dropped out after a year, refused to be conscripted and started out as a repertory actor. He stint as a repertory actor continued from 1954-59 under the pseudonym David Baron. He also began writing for theatre and his first play The Room (1957) was commissioned and directed by his best friend Henry Woolf, for the student production of the University of Bristol. He wrote the play in four days. Pinter’s next full length play was The Birthday Party (1957) was initially performed at the drama department of the University of Bristol and in 1958 at the West End. The play garnered disastrous reviews, but set the trend for ‘comedy of menace’ the hallmark of Pinter’s plays. The plays usually begin with a powerful visual image and throughout the play exists an undercurrent of silent foreboding, fear, rage and menace.
In 1959 Harold Pinter’s first radio piece A Slight Ache was broadcast, in1960 Harold Pinter wrote The Dumb Waiter. He recognition as a modern talent came with his second full length play The Caretaker. In quick succession followed The Collection (1962), The Dwarfs (1963), and The Lover (1963). The Homecoming (1965) established his reputation as a modern dramatist and also fetched him the Tony Award, the Whitbread Anglo-American Theatre Award and the New York Drama Critic’s Award. The Homecoming continued his tradition of dark menace with a context of domination of a sexual nature. Similar themes followed in the Landscape and Silence (1969) and the Old Times (1971).
His works also include screenplays. The Servant (63), The Accident (67), The Go-Between (71), The Last Tycoon (79), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (81), Betrayal (82), Turtle Diary (85), Reunion (89), Handmaid’s Tale (90), Comfort of Strangers (90), The Trial by Franz Kafka (90). In the nineties he concentrated on directing plays, his own and others. He directed David Mameti’s Oleanna and the works of Simon Gray. The plays Harold Pinter wrote in the nineties had an increasingly political character; Party Time was one such play, later also adapted as a screenplay. Pinter also penned the poems Death (97) and The Disappeared (98).
July- August 2001, a Harold Pinter Festival was held at the Lincoln Center in New York City in which Harold Pinter graced the festival both as a director ( Celebration and The Room) and as an actor( One for the Road). Later in 2001 Pinter was diagnosed as suffering from esophageal cancer. The treatments and chemotherapy sessions continued through 2002. During this period he directed No Man’s Land, wrote and acted in his new sketch Press Conference and also appeared on American television in a HBO production Wit. In February 2005 he made known that he was quitting as a playwright to concentrate on his political work and his poetry. In October 2005 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
In September of 2006 he began rehearsing for the role of Krapp, a Samuel Beckett one act monologue Krapp’s Last Tape. The production was an instant sell-out.
The list of awards Harold Pinter collected during his lifetime wee numerous and from varied sources.
Harold Pinter was a strident war critic, speaking out against the unjust wars in the Gulf, Kosovo and the more recent war in Iraq. He railed against the policies of America and Britain’s meek acceptance of America’s reign of terror. In his early years he was opposed to the politics of the Cold War, was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and an active supporter of Britain’s Anti-Apartheid movement. Till his last days he vociferously protested the massacre of innocents in pointless confrontations and the abuse of human rights.
Harold Pinter was married to Vivien Merchant from 1956 to 1980. He has a son by this marriage and his wife also acted in several of his plays. After Harold Pinter divorce from Vivien, Harold Pinter married Lady Antonia Fraser. Hedied on December 24th 2008.