Harold Pinter was a Nobel Prize–winning British playwright, director, actor and screenwriter. He is one of the most renowned dramatists of the 20th century, esteemed for his inventiveness, originality, and formal innovation.
Pinter was born in Hackney, London to working-class Eastern European–descended Jewish parents. Pinter's experiences during WWII, such as the blitz and relocation, informed his work. At the Hackney Downs Grammar School, Pinter excelled at sports and took up acting for the first time. After school ended, he avoided enlistment in the military by declaring himself a conscientious objector.
Pinter wrote his first play, The Room, in 1957. It features many elements that would be common in his oeuvre, including a situation that seems quotidian but is charged with ambiguity and menace. It was reviewed favorably and was mounted by the drama department of Bristol University. Pinter then went on to write The Birthday Party, a play of muted anxiety and tension that bordered on the theater of the absurd. The Caretaker (1960) was Pinter's second full-length play and a resounding critical and commercial success. A fusion of the realistic and the symbolic, it led to his third play, The Homecoming, which was full of energy and power. In 1966 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Pinter also wrote plays in the 1970s, including Old Times (1970), No Man's Land (1975), and Betrayal (1978). In the 1980s-2000s, Pinter continued to compose plays but also tried his hand at poetry, screenwriting, and directing. He explained that he wanted to look at politics at the end of his life, and he remarked that his twenty-nine plays were enough. In 2005, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Pinter died in 2008 of liver cancer. The lights of Broadway and of West End were dimmed in tribute to him. In 2011, the Comedy Theatre on Panton Street in the West End was renamed The Harold Pinter Theatre. Pinter's work is so influential that his name has been used to explain certain settings or situations: The "Pinter Pause" concerns relying on unsaid things to convey characters' motivations or personalities, and the "Pinteresque" refers to an inconclusive end to a comedy of subtle menace and absurdity.