British Library acquires Pinter archive for £1.1m

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The Independent Online

Harold Pinter's archive of papers, comprising more than 150 boxes of manuscripts, scrapbooks, letters, photographs, programmes, emails, and a screenplay of King Lear that has yet to be produced, has been acquired by the British Library for £1.1m.

The collection offers an insight into the working methods and friendships of Britain's leading playwright. Highlights include a group of letters from Samuel Beckett, which reveal how the two playwrights shared a love of rugby and cricket. Also, in one letter, the Irish writer advised Pinter to edit out the first speech from the fifth page of his draft play, Silence, albeit saying, "I like it greatly". He called Pinter's writing "precarious".

Among the early parts of the archive is a photograph from 1948, with an 18-year-old Pinter pictured as the lead in a school production of Romeo and Juliet. Also included is a draft of an unpublished autobiographical memoir of his youth, The Queen of all the Fairies, and a collection of poignant letters to his inspiring east London school teacher, Joe Brearley. These cover the breadth of his career from precocious Hackney schoolboy to celebrated post-war writer.

Correspondence is included from the poet, Philip Larkin, who admits that he "really does not like the theatre" as well as Noel Coward. The latter expressed his admiration of Pinter by saying "your writing is absolutely fantastic" in spite of suggesting that Pinter broke every rule of theatre that he had learnt. Among more recent items are a draft version of the poem which Pinter, 77, read out as he collected the Nobel prize for literature in 2005, written on Thistle Hotel stationery from Brighton, as well as initial ideas for his play, Moonlight, which were written on an Air Mauritius menu. Pinter's role in modern theatre is documented through correspondence with figures such as David Hare, David Mamet, Arthur Miller, John Osborne and Tom Stoppard, as well as actors and directors such as John Gielgud and Peter Hall.

Jamie Andrews, head of modern literary manuscripts at the British Library, said the collection shed new light on each stage of Pinter's career over the past 50 years. "It also shows how Pinter has been meticulous in annotating things and keeping everything from photos of old school plays to scrap books of reviews from across the world and the draft poem of his Nobel Prize speech," he said.

The archive will be catalogued by the end of next year. A temporary display, His Own Domain: Harold Pinter, A Life in Theatre, featuring manuscripts, letters and sound recordings, will open on 11 January at the British Library.

The archive was bought with the aid of a grant of £216,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF).

Man of letters

Letters between Philip Larkin and Pinter:

While Larkin admits in one letter that he really does not like the theatre, Pinter tells the poet he is a great fan of his work and both men demonstrate their shared love of cricket, with one letter from Pinter joking about engineering a "wheeze" to get Larkin elected to Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).

Letters between Samuel Beckett and Pinter:

Such was the professional admiration and intimacy between the two writers that they would look over each other's drafts. In other letters, they discuss their love of cricket and rugby, with Beckett hoping his failing eyesight would not deter a visit to Lord's cricket ground. In 1977, Beckett used a cricketing metaphor in one letter to refer to his hope to meet Pinter again before he died, saying "May we meet again before close of play."

Letters between David Mamet and Pinter:

One of the most revelatory letter reveals that Pinter was able to convince Mamet to allow him to stage his play Oleanna, using the "firstending" of the play, that few, if anyone, had ever been allowed to use (as Mamet proceeded to write a second, preferred ending).

Noel Coward's letters to Pinter:

The playwright expresses his admiration for Pinter's work in spite of the radical difference of styles by saying "your writing is absolutely fantastic". In his letters, he also says that Pinter has broken every rule of theatre that he had learnt.

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