Janie Dee: Pinter, a man of passion, peace... and pauses

Sunday 28 December 2008 01:00

Today I'm thinking of Harold Pinter with sadness, but mostly with gratitude. Wanting to remember everything. Such as the first run through of his play Betrayal, in which I played Emma, in 2003. He turned up in his dark glasses. At the end he took them off and announced to Peter Hall that he thought it could be "the best" and that he was taking us all out to lunch. Peter later reassured us that the invitation was a sure sign of his approval.

I nervously asked him over for lunch with his wife, Antonia Fraser, (well, we did live round the corner). I made Irish stew as a nod to the play. They were easy, charming and fascinating together. We talked about how our five-year-old daughter Matilda had said "fuck off" in the bath the night before, then the conversation moved on to politics. I confided that I'd felt confused about Tony Blair recently, that he seemed to be making sense on the telly. Harold looked me straight in the eye. "Janie," he said, "let me make one thing absolutely clear. Tony Blair is a CUNT." After a slight pause, Antonia said: "Well I'm glad Matilda wasn't around to hear that."

A couple of years later in Dublin I was playing Kate in Old Times, as part of a Pinter Festival. We knew that, despite his illness, he was "here". In a hushed VIP room, the door slightly opened. In I went in my curlers. "Hello," I whispered. "Janie!" replied his deep, no nonsense, unmistakable voice. That look: completely direct, warm, twinkling – though it could be challenging when someone asked him a silly question and he would ask, "What do you mean?"

On the last day of the Pinter Festival in Dublin's gorgeous Gate Theatre, Derek Jacobi, Penelope Wilton, Michael Gambon, Sinead Cusack and Jeremy Irons turned out in tribute to him. Derek feigned inability. Penny swore a lot. Michael giggled. We read Celebration, which brought the house down. Harold came to the foot of the stage and shook our hands. Later, I sat next to him at dinner. I mentioned that American audiences were good and he erupted.

We first met when the Iraq war was a potential threat. "Excuse me," I said. "My name is Janie Dee and I am producing the London Concert for Peace, please could I ask you for some words?" The words were delivered to my address that afternoon in the shape of two poems: "God bless America" and "The Bombs". I decided that "God bless America" was too accusatory. He called to say: "Either you use both my poems or none at all." I was shocked, scared, irritated... then moved that he should care and bother. I would later find out that he would always care and always bother. Of course, both poems were done, and "God bless America" brought the house down.

The last time I saw Harold was in Windsor. He came to Peter Hall's production of Old Times and took us to dinner in a restaurant that I had only dreamed of going to as a child. He looked so handsome. He was charming, enthusiastic and clear about everything. He turned to me at one point and said directly: "I love it when you really go for it at the end there."

It had as much significance as when he had once turned to me and said slowly and precisely: "I've written another poem. It goes like this: 'And so it goes on... and on... and on.... And so it goes on... and on... and on.... And so it goes on, And so it goes on, And so it goes on... and on... and on...'" He paused. I waited. "Don't feel that you need make any comment," he said. And grinned.

Janie Dee appears in 'Woman in Mind' at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, from February

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