Harold Pinter


Actor, playwright, and political activist

Pinter was born into a Jewish family in the London borough of Hackney, and became the most famous playwright of his generation, bequeathing to the world the adjective “Pinteresque” to describe the language of his plays: mundane but menacing, full of meaningful pauses. Horace Engdahl, Chairman of the Swedish Academy, described Pinter as an artist “who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms”.

His political activism was evident from an early age when, as an 18-year old conscientious objector, he refused to do National Service. He was described by his biographer Michael Billington as “a permanent public nuisance, a questioner of accepted truths, both in life and art”. French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to Pinter on his death as “a great dramatist and perceptive humanist who was uncompromising and intransigent.” In his final years, he was almost as well known as a political activist as a writer. He was a vocal critic of the Iraq war, and when in 2005 he was awarded the Nobel literature prize, his acceptance speech included a forceful attack on US foreign policy.

Pinter was among more than 100 public figures who protested to the BBC in 2002 over a ban on atheist contributors to BBC Radio 4’s Thought For The Day slot, a ban and campaign which continues to this day. A description of his “deeply moving, faintly Shakespearean and entirely secular” funeral by his friend and biographer Michael Billington can be read here.