(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/29.)
Harold Pinter was a born letter writer. In later years his communications, at least to me as his biographer, largely took the form of cryptic postcards. Often they accompanied the text of a new play, or poem, and would simply say, in his boldly assertive hand, “Here it is.” But, in his 20s, Pinter wrote long letters to the close friends of his Hackney youth and a tranche of them has been acquired by the British Library from Henry Woolf and the estate of the late Mick Goldstein. From a brief sampling of them several things emerge: Pinter’s enduring capacity for friendship, his instinctive appreciation of Samuel Beckett and his passionate love of cricket.
None of this may surprise us, but it is fascinating to have it so richly confirmed by the letters; and the mere fact of their existence is testament to Pinter’s life-long devotion to his Hackney pals. In the immediate postwar years, a gang of them – including Pinter, Woolf, Goldstein and Moishe Wernick – would sit in Hackney cafes, endlessly argue and exchange ideas and go on whatever cultural jaunts they could afford. Although it was a democratic group, Pinter instinctively assumed the role of leader of the pack. As Woolf wrote in a moving essay in the memorial volume of the annual Pinter Review: “Without a penny in his pocket, he still lit up the world like a glow torch: when he wasn’t introducing us to Beckett or Henry Miller, he was dragging us off to see avant-garde movies like Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou and we roamed around Hackney spouting Dylan Thomas or John Webster’s The White Devil.”