'Great' Pinter will never be forgotten

Tributes poured in for English Nobel prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter who died aged 78.

Tributes poured in for English Nobel prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter who died aged 78.

The influential writer, who was suffering from cancer, died on Christmas Eve.

His second wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, told the Guardian newspaper: “He was a great, and it was a privilege to live with him for over 33 years. He will never be forgotten.”

Pinter’s play 'No Man’s Land' will be performed tonight for the first time since his death.

A cast including Michael Gambon, David Walliams and David Bradley will go on stage at the Duke of York’s theatre in London for their latest performance at 7.30pm.

Bradley said: “I’m very honoured to have known him personally and professionally over the last 10 years. It’s a huge loss.

“People from Germany, Israel and China would come backstage saying Harold Pinter was so important to them. He wrote about oppression and people taking terrible advantage and oppressing each other on a personal level.

“Although he did not write the plays in an overtly political way they stood the test of time because they have universal themes. They meant so much to people in different ways.”

The writer was well-known for his left-wing political views and was a critic of US and UK foreign policy, voicing opposition on a number of issues, including the bombing of Afghanistan in 2001.

Veteran politician Tony Benn said: “Harold Pinter was a great playwright and a great figure on the political scene.

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

Pinter was 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 from the event due to illness.

During his lifetime he was widely accepted as one of the world’s greatest playwrights.

Comedian Bill Bailey, who appeared in the collection of sketches 'Pinter’s People', told Sky News; “He really ushered in a whole new era of drama – it didn’t have to have a neat ending or even make sense, it conveyed a sense of feeling, an air of menace, you don’t know why, and that inspired a new generation.

“As a comic I was drawn to the brilliant way he was able to catch the idiosyncrasies of comic speech, and that ability to incorporate that into something that was drama, it was meant to be high art and it was incredibly funny.”

Pinter shot to fame with works including 'The Birthday Party' and 'Betrayal'.

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

Also speaking to the BBC, Sunday Telegraph theatre critic Tim Walker said: “This was a man who had plays with long silences, where characters did not always go anywhere – very much like real life.

“He brought a realism to the business.”

Michael Billington, Pinter’s friend and biographer, said the writer was a great man as well as a great playwright.

He told Sky News: “Harold was a political figure, a polemicist and carried on fierce battles against American foreign policy and often British foreign policy, but in private he was the most incredibly loyal of friends and generous of human beings.”

Pinter was born in Hackney, London, in 1930, the only son of immigrant Jews.

His childhood was interrupted by the outbreak of the war in 1939 when he was evacuated to rural Cornwall.

He was 14 before he returned to the capital, by which point he had developed a love of the works of Franz Kafka and Ernest Hemingway.

As a young man he appeared in several school productions at Hackney Downs Grammar and later accepted a grant to study at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Pinter turned down John Major’s offer of a knighthood and hit out at Tony Blair when Nato bombed Serbia.

He labelled the invasion of Iraq as “a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the conception of international law”.

Pinter began writing for the stage in the mid-1950s and 'The Room' was published in 1957.

A year later his first full length play, 'The Birthday Party', was produced in the West End but closed after just one week to disastrous reviews.

It was his second full-length play, 'The Caretaker' (1960), with which Pinter secured his reputation as one of the country’s foremost dramatists and playwrights.

He won many awards for his plays, the greatest of which was the Nobel Prize for Literature on October 13, 2005.

Along with his wife he leaves a son Daniel with his first wife, actress Vivien Merchant, and six stepchildren.

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