Page last updated at 22:11 GMT, Thursday, 25 December 2008

UK playwright Harold Pinter dies

Harold Pinter speaking in 2005 about winning the Nobel prize

Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter, who had cancer, died on Christmas Eve aged 78.

He wrote more than 30 plays including The Caretaker and The Birthday Party. His film scripts include The French Lieutenant's Woman.

His style was so distinctive, "Pinteresque" entered the Oxford English Dictionary.

His wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, said: "He was a great, and it was a privilege to live with him for over 33 years."

He had been due to pick up an honorary degree earlier this month from the Central School of Speech and Drama in London but was forced to withdraw due to illness.

His death will leave a huge gap that will be felt by the whole political spectrum

Tony Benn, former politician

BBC Creative Director Alan Yentob told the BBC: "He was a unique figure in British theatre. He has dominated the theatre scene since the 1950s."

Michael Billington, Pinter's friend and biographer, said he was "devastated and saddened" by the news.

He told the BBC: "Harold had been ill for a very long time, but he had a titanic will and one imagined he would go on fighting.

"He was a fighter in the field of politics, he fought strenuously against American and British foreign policy, but also in his work you see this, there is a combative spirit in his work.

"He was a generous and loyal man and very attached to the people whom he sincerely liked."

Also an actor, poet, screenwriter and director, Pinter was known for his left-wing political views and was an outspoken critic of US and UK foreign policy.

Veteran politician Tony Benn said Pinter was a great figure on the political scene.

"His death will leave a huge gap that will be felt by the whole political spectrum," he said.

Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005 and the citation said "in his plays he uncovers the precipice in everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms".

He was awarded a CBE in 1966, later turned down a knighthood and became a Companion of Honour, an exclusive award in the gift of the Sovereign, in 2002.

So sad. The last of the 20th century's great Brits has left us. Will anybody ever pierce our hearts and minds with the vigour of Pinter's ever again? I doubt it.
Michael, Earlston, UK

Pinter was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus in 2002 and following treatment, announced that he was on the road to recovery.

Three years later, he announced that he had given up writing for the theatre in order to concentrate on political work.

A production of No Man's Land starring Michael Gambon and David Walliams is due to open at the Duke of York's theatre in London on Friday.

A new version of Mark Lawson's extended 2005 interview with Harold Pinter will be broadcast on Radio 4 on Friday at 1915 GMT.

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