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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 October 2005, 12:12 GMT 13:12 UK
Pinter's dramatic impact
Harold Pinter
Pinter battled cancer in 2003
Harold Pinter, who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, is widely regarded as the UK's greatest living playwright.

Pinter, who celebrated his 75th birthday this week, has had a long and acclaimed career as a dramatist.

But he has made his mark too as an outspoken critic of government and the recent war in Iraq.

Theatre critic Michael Billington, in his biography of Pinter, wrote: "Pinter remains to his credit, a permanent public nuisance, a questioner of accepted truths, both in life and art. In fact the two persistently inter-act."

His surname has passed into general use as a byword for his style.

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

It came into usage in 1960, just three years after the first performance of his first play, showing how quickly the young Pinter had had an impact.

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

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

left to right) Michael Colgan, Alan Stanford, Michael Gambon, Jeremy Irons, Penelope Wilton, Derek Jacobi, Donna Dent and Sinead Cusack
Actors including Derek Jacobi and Michael Gambon gather to celebrate Pinter's birthday in Ireland

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

The war with Iraq in 2003 led him to turn to poetry to criticise the leaders of the US and the UK for their decision.

He called Prime Minister Tony Blair q "deluded idiot" and President Bush a "mass murderer".

His collection, War, was awarded the Wilfred Owen award for poetry and earlier this year he announced his decision to retire from playwriting in favour of poetry, declaring on BBC Radio 4: "I think I've stopped writing plays now, but I haven't stopped writing poems. I've written 29 plays. Isn't that enough?"

He actually 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 Shakespearean plays.

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.

"That was a big success," Pinter said of The Caretaker in an interview with the BBC in 2003.

"And in a sense I haven't looked back since - I just kept writing away really."

Harold Pinter
Pinter has written for radio, TV and film as well as poetry and plays
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.

In February 2002, Pinter disclosed that he was undergoing treatment for cancer.

His spokeswoman said it was not known whether he would take on any future projects.

Nonetheless, Pinter went ahead with directing and performing at the National Theatre that month.

Cricket

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.

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.

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
Pinter undergoes cancer treatment
01 Feb 02 |  Entertainment
British actors call for peace
20 Sep 01 |  Entertainment
Harold Pinter takes on Nato
01 Jun 99 |  Entertainment
Pinter premières new sketch
08 Feb 02 |  Entertainment

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