Pinter, Harold: Playwright, actor, director. Born 1930, Died 2008

Published January 2, 2009

One of the world’s most influential playwrights, Harold Pinter’s cannon of work has dominated British theatre since the 1950s. Darkly comic, menacing and laden with significant pauses, his plays were unmistakeably his. Such was the impact of his work that the term Pinteresque entered the English language.

Pinter began his playwriting career with The Room in 1957, followed by The Birthday Party, which was largely dismissed by critics. But with his 1960 play The Caretaker – in which Pinter himself appeared, replacing Alan Bates in the role of Mick during its successful premiere run – he received critical acclaim and went on to produce further hits that decade, including The Lover, The Collection and The Homecoming. Pinter’s numerous later plays included Old Times (1971), No Man’s Land (1975), Betrayal (1978), The Hothouse (1980), Ashes To Ashes (1996) and Celebration (2000).

His work is frequently revived on the London stage. Recent productions include The Lover and The Collection at the Comedy, The Birthday Party at the Lyric Hammersmith, The Hothouse at the National Theatre and No Man’s Land at the Duke of York’s.   

Pinter also wrote for radio and the screen, including the 1981 screenplay of The French Lieutenant’s Woman and, in 2007, the remake of Sleuth. He was also a director, of his own plays and those of his friend, the late playwright Simon Gray, including Butley in 1971.

He became increasingly political throughout his career, as reflected in his later plays, and was a vocal critic of the British and US government’s actions in Iraq.  

Among many accolades, Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2005. The Hackney-born playwright was recognised in the UK with a Knighthood, which he declined, though in 2002 he accepted the Queen’s highest honour, the Companion of Honour.  

The playwright was diagnosed with cancer in 2002. His last appearance as an actor was at the Royal Court in 2006, playing the title role in Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. In December 2008 he was due to pick up an honorary degree from the Central School of Speech and Drama, of which he was President, but his illness prevented him from attending.