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Tributes paid to Harold Pinter

Published 29 December 2008

Tributes have been paid to Harold Pinter, the Nobel Prize-winning British playwright, actor and director who died on Christmas Eve, aged 78.

Writing in The Guardian, Pinter’s biographer, the theatre critic Michael Billington, described him as “an all-round man of the theatre of a kind we’re unlikely to see again”

One of the world’s most influential playwrights, Pinter’s cannon of work has dominated British theatre in the six decades since he began writing in 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. Numerous plays followed, including Old Times (1971), No Man’s Land (1975), Betrayal (1978), The Hothouse (1980), Ashes To Ashes (1996) and Celebration (2000).

His work has frequently been revived on the London stage. This year saw productions of The Lover and The Collection at the Comedy, The Birthday Party at the Lyric Hammersmith and the current production of No Man’s Land at the Duke of York’s, which plays until 3 January. A production of The Homecoming is due to open at the Almeida theatre on 31 January.   

Pinter also wrote for radio and the screen, including the 1981 screenplay of The French Lieutenant’s Woman and, more recently, 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. Earlier this month 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.  

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.

He is survived by his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, who told the BBC: “He was a great, and it was a privilege to live with him for over 33 years.”

He also leaves a son from his first marriage to Vivien Merchant.

CB

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