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Harold Pinter (Photo: Martin Rosenbaum)

Harold Pinter (Photo: Martin Rosenbaum)

Who was Harold Pinter?

Carly-Ann Clements

By Carly-Ann Clements First Published 6 September 2018, Last Updated 7 September 2018

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death, the Jamie Lloyd Company will be putting on Pinter At The Pinter: a season that showcases Harold Pinter’s one-act plays. This celebration of the Noble Prize-winner and, arguably, the most influential playwright of his time will take place at the theatre that’s been dedicated to him, the Harold Pinter Theatre, and kicks off tonight (6 September).

In remembrance of the extraordinary writer, actor, and director, we’re looking back over his life and exceptional career.

Who was Harold Pinter?

Often cited as one of the most influential modern British dramatists, Harold Pinter was a prolific playwright, screenwriter, actor and director whose career spanned 50 years.

Inspired by Samuel Beckett, he created his own distinct style of writing which consisted of terse dialogue and marked pauses. These pauses were coined as Pinter Pauses – a moment of silence where words are not spoken but the meaning is abundant.

In 2005, he won the Nobel Prize for literature just three years prior to his tragic death. Along with this prestigious award, he also received over 50 other awards and accolades including the Laurence Olivier Special Award in 1996.

1930 – Harold Pinter was born in Hackney, East London. Growing up, he believed his family was actually Spanish – an erroneous belief held by his aunt. This is why he used the pseudonyms Pinta and de Pinto on some of his earlier work.

1940-1941 – After witnessing some of the Blitz bombings, he and his family were evacuated to Cornwall and Reading during World War II. This experience fuelled his work leading him to themes of loneliness, bewilderment, separation and loss.

1942 – He began writing poetry. His work was first published in his school paper in 1947. In 1950, it was published in Poetry London.

1944-1948 – Harold Pinter’s time at the Hackney Downs School grammar school taught him the importance of male friendship. He also found a mentor in his teacher Joseph Brearley, who directed him in school plays and would take long walks with him to talk about literature.

1948 – After refusing to enlist in the military at age 18, he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. After discovering that he hated the school, he feigned a nervous breakdown and left after just two terms.

1949-1954 – After appearing in the pantomime Dick Whittington And His Cat at the Chesterfield Hippodrome, he attended the Central School Of Speech And Drama. He then went on tour in Ireland with the Anew McMaster repertory company where he appeared on stage before joining the Donald Wolfit Company, at the King’s Theatre, Hammersmith, as an actor.

1954-1959 – Harold Pinter took the stage name David Baron and supplemented his acting career by being a waiter, postman and a bouncer.

1956 – He married his first wife, actress Vivien Merchant. They had a son named Daniel in 1958.

1957-1968 – In 1957, he wrote a short play, The Room, and wrote his first full-length drama, The Birthday Party. In 1958, it was staged in London where it received negative reviews and closed within a week. In the same year, he also wrote The Hothouse which he abandoned for 20 years. During this time, he also wrote some of his most notable works including The Caretaker, as well as starting his career as a screenwriter.

1968-1982 – During the next decade, he focused on writing about the complexity and ambiguity of memory. The collection of work was coined as the “memory plays”. During this time, he started to direct more and more, as well as continuing his acting career.

1980 – He and Vivian parted ways and Harold married his second wife, Antonia Fraser.

1983-2000 – Following a three-year break, he started writing shorter and more politically-charged pieces. He also rediscovered his manuscript for The Hothouse which he revised and produced at the Hampstead Theatre. He was awarded the Society’s Award Special at the 1996 Olivier Awards. He continued to be a prolific writing, actor and director. His last stage play, Celebration, was written in 2000.

2001-2002 – In 2001, he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment in 2002. Despite going through treatment, he directed a production of his play No Man’s Land. He also became increasingly active in political causes, writing and presenting politically charged poetry, essays, and speeches. He also worked on his final screenplays – adaptations of The Tragedy Of King Lear and Sleuth.

2005 – As his health declined, he completed his work on Sleuth and his last dramatic work for radio, Voices, was aired. Just three days after his 75th birthday, it was announced that he had won the Nobel Prize In Literature.

2006 – Harold Pinter confirmed that he’ll no longer write plays but will continue with poetry. He appeared in a production of Samuel Beckett’s one-act monologue Krapp’s Last Tape. The sold-out production lasted just nine performances and saw him perform in a motorised wheelchair.

2008 – In late 2008, he was admitted to hospital and on Christmas Eve, he passed away from cancer.

The Pinter At The Pinter – celebrating the exceptional life and work of Harold Pinter – will start later this week. The season will have an all-star cast including Keith Allen, Ron Cook, Phil Davis, Danny Dyer, Paapa Essiedu, Lee Evans, Martin Freeman, Rupert Graves, Tamsin Greig, Jane Horrocks, Celia Imrie, Gary Kemp, John Macmillan, Emma Naomi, Tracy Ann Oberman, Kate O’Flynn, Jonjo O’Neill, Abraham Popoola, Antony Sher, John Simm, Hayley Squires, Maggie Steed, David Suchet, Meera Syal, Luke Thallon, Russell Tovey, Penelope Wilton and Nicholas Woodeson.

The season opens with One For The Road/The New World Order/Mountain Language/Ashes To Ashes, followed by The Lover/The CollectionLandscape/A Kind of Alaska/Monologue, Moonlight/Night School, The Room/Victoria Station/Family VoicesParty Time/Celebration, and finally A Slight Ache/The Dumb Waiter.

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