Richard Ingrams's Week: Not everyone was taken in by the master of the pause

Saturday 03 January 2009 01:00

Three famous people to my knowledge had a deep and lasting hatred of Private Eye, the magazine I edited for more than 20 years. They were Kenneth Tynan, Jonathan Miller and Harold Pinter.

In his diaries, Tynan records that when in 1974 Sir James Goldsmith issued 63 libel writs in an attempt to destroy the magazine, Pinter rang him up to say that he and his wife Antonia had cracked open a bottle of champagne to celebrate the good news.

The solemn tributes paid to Pinter in recent days remind me a little of those paid to Francis Bacon, with many of the same words being used – bleak, enigmatic, disturbing, menacing, etc. In neither case, however, did their admirers seem to understand what it was all about. What was Pinter trying to say? Did he even know himself?

That last possibility made me think of him, at least in his early days, as a kind of artistic medium recording the meaningless and often cruel remarks that are made by voices "on the other side".

Outside the theatre, Pinter more often seemed like a comic figure, especially when coupled with his devoted wife, Lady Antonia. He was always pictured scowling, while she had an angelic smile as if she were a member of the Royal Family.

There are many Pinter stories which I hope will not be overlooked by his biographers. One of my favourites – passed on to me by my friend Maureen Lipman – tells how a recent dinner party was silenced by the news that Harold had just written a new poem. There was great excitement as all those present urged the great man to honour them with a reading of his latest work.

After a show of reluctance Pinter agreed, and recited as follows: "So. On it goes. On it goes. And on. It goes. And on. And on. It goes."

Israel has become its own Goliath

For some time now I have been convinced that the state of Israel is doomed. How or when its downfall will come about I have no idea. It may not be in my lifetime, but come about it will.

It may seem stupid or even perverse to predict that a country with massive military power and the uncritical support of America could be destroyed. Still, Israelis will be familiar with the story of the Philistine Goliath who was brought down by a single pebble.

Israel is nowadays like a stumbling Goliath. There are no longer any politicians of stature and foresight. Though there is widespread corruption and, as can be seen from the correspondence column in this paper, the country's critics no longer feel constrained by possible charges of anti-Semitism. In the current crisis it is significant that journalists are barred from Gaza, the reason being perfectly obvious, namely that the Israeli government is trying to prevent the outside world from knowing what is happening there.

That is not just a sign of guilt, but desperation. It is also futile. Unfailingly, when Israel launches one of its bombardments, the front pages of our newspapers carry pictures of wounded children, their eyes wide with fear, their faces smeared with tears and blood. As soon as that happens, the propaganda war is lost by Israel. But their politicians don't seem to have learnt that lesson, thereby only hardening the impression that everything they do is wrong, and my own conviction that their country is doomed to extinction.

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