Harold Pinter Biography

At a Glance

Harold Pinter began his career as an actor, but he quickly turned his attention to writing and became one of the twentieth century’s most prolific and important playwrights. Pinter loves to play with words, and many of his works feature witty banter between characters interspersed with long pauses. Pinter did not originally want to be categorized as a political writer, but in the 1980s, his work took on a decidedly leftist tone. Pinter’s personal life has been as stormy as that of many of his characters. He was married to actress Vivien Merchant for several years, and they had one son. He then embarked on several long affairs, which cost him his marriage and the love and respect of his son.

Facts and Trivia

  • Harold Pinter’s stage name as an actor was David Baron.
  • Pinter won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005 and the Legion d’honneur in 2007.
  • Pinter is a huge cricket fan. He has said, “One of my main obsessions in life is the game of cricket—I play and watch and read about it all the time.”
  • Pinter has been vocal about his politics and was once thrown out of the U.S. embassy in Turkey.
  • Pinter publicly announced in 2005 that he was retiring from playwriting. Since then, he has written a screenplay, short dramatic sketches, and a great deal of poetry.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Harold Pinter was born October 10, 1930, in England, the son of a hardworking Jewish tailor whose business eventually failed. Pinter grew up in a rundown working-class area, full of railroad yards and bad-smelling factories. When World War II broke out in 1939, Pinter, like most London children, was evacuated to the countryside to be safe from the German bombing. Living in the countryside or by the sea was not, for Pinter, as idyllic as it might have been: “I was quite a morose little boy.” He returned to London before the end of the war and remembers seeing V-2 rockets flying overhead and his backyard in flames. After the war ended, the violence did not cease; anti-Semitism was strong in his neighborhood, and Jews were frequently threatened. Perhaps these early brushes with war and violence decided him; when he was eighteen and eligible for National Service, he declared himself a conscientious objector. He was afraid he would be jailed, but in fact, he was merely fined. In grammar school, he was a sprinter and set a record for the hundred-yard dash. He was also an actor in school plays, playing Macbeth and Romeo, and he received a grant in 1948 to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He did not stay long, however, and spent the next year tramping the streets. He published a few poems in literary magazines (he was only nineteen when the first were published) and got an acting job with a Shakespearean company touring Ireland; other acting jobs followed. He met the actress Vivien Merchant and married her in 1956; she was to perform in a number of his plays. They were divorced in 1980, and in November of that year Pinter married Lady Antonia Fraser, a highly regarded writer of...

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(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Harold Pinter was born to a Jewish family in London’s East End. The son of a tailor, Pinter was an only child, morose, morbid, and lonely, with few friends. As a young boy, he was aware of the anti-Jewish fascist marches on the predominately Jewish East End, which were met with strong resistance. He grew up in a working-class area, surrounded by fascist threats and economic insecurity. Near his house was the Lee River, which Pinter fantasized as idyllic. Indeed, Pinter’s output is permeated with the juxtaposition of beauty and squalor, security and insecurity.

Following the declaration of war in 1939, he was evacuated to a castle in Cornwall. He returned home during the Blitz and in September, 1942, gained a scholarship to the selective Grocer’s Company High School, Hackney, where he stayed until July, 1948. Pinter associated his childhood with a lack of money and walking. Many years later, he recalled walking a long way to the home of his school and lifelong friend, Henry Woolf, to find only Woolf’s parents at home. While waiting for his friend, he began to write a poem. Almost reverentially, Woolf’s parents watched the young Pinter write his poem. Pinter first began to write at the age of thirteen because he was obsessed with a girl who tormented him.

Pinter formed lifelong friendships at school. They provided continuity and stability in an ever-changing world. He acted, wrote poetry, and read. He was greatly influenced by his...

(The entire section is 537 words.)