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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 14:28 GMT
Pinter's dramatic impact
Pinter (left) with friend Henry Woolf, who directed Pinter's first play The Room in 1957
Pinter (L) with Henry Woolf, who directed The Room in 1957
Playwright Harold Pinter, who has been diagnosed with cancer, has had a long and acclaimed career as a dramatist and social commentator.

When a person's name passes into general use as a byword for their style, you can be sure they have had a big impact.

"Pinteresque" is the label often given to many things theatrical and otherwise, summing up something English, tense and ambiguous.

Pinter: Developed strong political opinions early
Pinter: Developed strong political opinions early
That is thanks to Harold Pinter, regarded by many as the greatest living UK dramatist, cultural icon and definer of suburban brooding.

The word Pinteresque was first used in 1960, just three years after the first performance of his first play, showing how quickly the young Pinter had an impact.

The play was The Room and it was directed by Pinter's friend Henry Woolf at Bristol University's Drama Department.


No explanations are offered, no quarter given, and you have the best time in a theatre you've ever had in your life

Henry Woolf on Pinterland
"On the first night the audience woke up from its polite cultural stupor and burst into unexpected life, laughing, listening, taking part in the story unfolding on stage," he recently wrote.

"They had just been introduced to Pinterland, where no explanations are offered, no quarter given, and you have the best time in a theatre you've ever had in your life."

Born in London in 1930, Pinter was the son of an East End tailor of Portuguese-Jewish descent.

He spent an unhappy two terms studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) before leaving to spend a year "roaming around a bit".

His strong political views - which he still makes known - were developed before his writing skills, and he was fined for being a conscientious objector in 1949 after refusing to do National Service.

Radio job

The same year, he was attacked after confronting fascists in the East End in 1949 - an incident revealed in recently declassified Home Office documents.

He began his writing career with poetry, influenced by Beckett and Auden, but his first professional job was on a BBC radio programme, Focus on Football Pools.

He then spent a short time at the Central School of Speech and Drama before touring Ireland with Andrew McMaster's repertory company in 1951-52, acting in Shakespeare.

Pinter was assistant director of the National Theatre
Pinter was assistant director of the National Theatre
But Pinter's writing won him admirers when The Room was put on in Bristol in 1957.

It was praised by the Sunday Times and brought Pinter to the attention of theatre impresario Michael Codron, who took The Birthday Party to London in 1958.

The fact that The Birthday Party got scathing reviews did not stop it bringing him to the attention of Noel Coward and making the play one of Pinter's most performed and most celebrated works.

Others followed - and by the time The Caretaker, The Homecoming and The Betrayal had been performed, the Pinteresque style was widely known.

He was made a CBE in 1966, while other awards to come his way included the Shakespeare Prize, the European Prize for Literature, the Pirandello Prize, the David Cohen British Literature Prize, the Laurence Olivier Award and the Moliere D'Honneur for lifetime achievement.

Pinter has been nominated for two screenplay Oscars
Pinter has been nominated for two screenplay Oscars
He was also an assistant director of the National Theatre between 1973 and 1983.

Some of his plays were adapted for the screen, while he also wrote screenplays specifically for TV and cinema.

In 1981 the film The French Lieutenant's Woman and 1983's Betrayal both earned him Oscar nominations.

Among his hobbies, Pinter is a keen cricket fan - and actor Roger Lloyd Pack once said Pinter's writing could be compared with the sport.

"In both, there is a loving attention to detail and a formality, a passion and correctness - the same concentration," he said.

Many joke about Pinter's heavy use of dramatic pauses - but it is the ability to find meaning between the words that has won him plaudits.

Friends describe him as generous, loyal, charismatic and witty, with a competitive streak and short temper.

Protest

He has aimed his strong political opinions at a number of targets over the years, including the United states and the UK for bombing Afghanistan after 11 September.

"They're just going to f**k up Afghanistan even more, whatever happens," he said in November.

He also protested against Nato bombing of Serbia, and said Slobodan Milosevic's trial for war crimes should not go ahead.

He married his first wife, actress Vivien Merchant, in 1956, but the couple divorced in 1980, two years before her death.

After the divorce, he married the historian and writer, Lady Antonia Fraser.

See also:

20 Sep 01 | Showbiz
British actors call for peace
01 Jun 99 | Entertainment
Harold Pinter takes on Nato
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