Harold Pinter is almost certainly best known for his plays, but his literary influence on us does not stop there. His interest in both theatre and poetry stemmed from his days as a schoolboy in Hackney. Here he went to Hackney Downs Grammar School where his teacher Joe Brearley fired his literary imagination. By 1949 he had written his earliest surviving prose poem Kallus, which leads into his later work. Much of this and his later work is also influenced by the post war threat of fascist thugs (Michael Billington poses alternative explanations).
Pinter’s first published work was in August 1950 when two poems appeared in ‘Poetry London’. He never gave up writing poetry and with Geoffrey Godbert set up the Grenville Press. He gave much time and money to this project including editing two volumes of poetry and paying for the production of others.
He was an actor. He appeared in his own plays as well as those of others. School was a launch pad for this and to cut a long story short from 1949 to 1951 he was acting with the Anew McMaster’s touring company in Ireland. This was followed by periods in rep where he started writing plays. He never stopped acting, also appearing in films.
He wrote some 23 filmscripts, 17 of which were produced. A few of these were adaptations of his own plays. All the others were adaptations of novels and plays including The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Accident and King Lear. Some appeared on television while others were screened in cinemas.
Pinter’s great passion was cricket. He formed his own team, played as long as he was able and after that could be seen walking round the pitch shouting instructions. Antonia Fraser said that the only rules he never challenged were the rules of cricket.
After marrying Antonia Fraser he became more overtly political, not only in his plays, but also in public life. He attended anti war demonstrations and meetings where he spoke openly, often against American interventions in other countries affairs. His speech on receiving the Nobel Prize reflects this. (Due to ill health his doctors forbid him to collect this in person but he recorded the speech which is now available on DVD.)