Harold Pinter was born in Hackney, a working-class suburb of East London, England, on October 10, 1930, the son of Hyman and Frances Pinter. Even though the neighborhood was a rough area of abandoned warehouses, dilapidated tenements, and, at times, roving bands of fascists, his father was able to provide his family with a terraced house in a fairly comfortable middle-class setting. During the air raids on London in World War II, Pinter was evacuated from the city, and the themes of restrained panic and impending violence that recur in his plays suggest how deeply his war experience affected his writing.
Pinter expressed an early interest in acting. While attending Hackney Downs Grammar School, he won acclaim in the school magazine for his performances in several dramatic roles, although he remained ambivalent toward his academic studies. As he recalled in a 1966 interview with The Paris Review: “The only thing that interested me at school was English language and literature. . . . I was mostly in love at the time and tied up with that.” He did, however, develop a keen interest in sports—especially cricket and track—and motifs of sports and games often surface in his plays.
At eighteen, Pinter refused mandatory military duty as a conscientious objector, but not on religious grounds. He faced a possible jail term for his actions, but he was fined only thirty pounds and released. That same year, 1948, Pinter received a grant to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art but dropped out after two terms to travel, recording his experiences in poetry and short prose pieces while working at various odd jobs, such as waiting tables and selling books door-to-door. Meanwhile, he developed a sharp ear for dialogue, especially for the silences that punctuate ordinary conversation, and for the nuances and the anomalies of everyday language.
By 1950, Pinter had published poems in Poetry London and was working as a professional radio and television actor. Soon he was touring with Anew McMaster’s acting company in Ireland; in 1954, under the stage name of David Boren, he worked in various provincial repertory theaters all over England. It was while he was on tour that he met and married actress Vivien Merchant in 1956. Pinter told The Paris Review that his wife was “a very good actress and a very interesting actress to work with,” but he claims that he never wrote a part for her, even though she has appeared in many of his plays. In 1980, he divorced Merchant and married British writer and socialite Lady Antonia Fraser.
It was also on tour in 1957 that a director friend asked Pinter to write a play for the Bristol University theater department. Pinter promised it in six months but delivered it in four days. The play was The Room (pr. 1957, pb. 1960), which received little notice but did impress the London Sunday Times critic Harold Hobson, who championed Pinter’s next play, The Birthday Party (pr. 1958, pb. 1959), which nevertheless closed after its first week. Pinter’s reputation, however, was growing. Hobson dubbed him “the most original, disturbing and arresting talent in theatrical London.”...
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