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13 October 2005

British playwright Harold Pinter wins Nobel Literature Prize

Thursday 13 October 2005

Playwright Harold Pinter
wins Nobel literature prize

By Stephen Brown

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -- Playwright Harold Pinter, a master of sparse dialogue and menacing silences who has been an outspoken critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, was the surprise winner of the Nobel literature prize on Thursday.

The 75-year-old Londoner, son of a Jewish dressmaker, is one of the country's best-known dramatists for plays like "The Birthday Party" and "The Caretaker," whose mundane dialogue with sinister undercurrents gave rise to the adjective "Pinteresque."

An intimidating presence with bushy eyebrows and a rich voice, he was described by Swedish Academy head Horace Engdahl, who announced the prize, as "the towering figure" in English drama in the second half of the 20th century.

Pinter told Reuters Television he was "overwhelmed" by the news: "I haven't had time to think about it but I am very, very moved. It was something I did not expect at all at any time."

Asked why he had won, Pinter mused: "I wonder, I wonder."

Critics called him an unexpected but deserving choice for the 10 million crown prize -- the second Nobel this month with an anti-U.S. flavour, after the Peace Prize for the U.N. nuclear watchdog which is criticised by Washington.

An active human rights campaigner, Pinter has likened U.S. President George W. Bush's administration to the Nazis and called Prime Minister Tony Blair a "mass murderer" for invading Iraq.

The world of theatre hailed the new Nobel laureate.

"It's wholly deserved and I am completely thrilled. As a writer he has been unswerving for 50 years," said Tom Stoppard, another of Britain's greatest post-war dramatists. Playwright Alan Ayckbourn called it "a most fitting award".

"This is a writer of the highest integrity. I think the Nobel committee got it right," Michael Colgan, director of the celebrated Gate Theatre in Dublin which is currently staging a celebration of Pinter plays and readings, told Reuters.

"A NUISANCE" Pinter was not always so popular. "The Birthday Party" played for just six days in its inaugural run in London in 1958 and had an audience of only half a dozen people in one matinee.

But he soon overcame what Stoppard called "the bewilderment and incomprehension of critics and audience."

His second play, "The Caretaker", was acclaimed two years later and went to Broadway. He has gained a reputation as an actor, director and screenwriter, with film credits like "The French Lieutenant's Woman" in 1981, based on John Fowles' novel.

Always outspoken on politics and human rights, Pinter was described by one biographer as "a permanent public nuisance, a questioner of accepted truths, both in life and art."

In 2003 he wrote a poem on the U.S. invasion of Iraq saying:

"Here they go again,

The Yanks in their armoured parade."

"Harold Pinter has positions about the Western world that are extremely pronounced. In 2003 he was very openly opposed to the war in Iraq," French literary critic Raphaelle Rerolle of Le Monde newspaper told Reuters.

"His plays have an indirect political content as well," said Rerolle, who believes the choice of Nobel laureates is becoming "more radical." Last year's winner Elfriede Jelinek of Austria is a hardline leftwinger and feminist.

Pinter's agent Judy Daish told Reuters it was "the most wonderful news. It is a complete surprise and I feel it is richly deserved. I was overjoyed for him".

(Additional reporting by Simon Johnson in Stockholm, Caroline Brothers in Paris, Paul Majendie in London and Jodie Ginsberg in Dublin)

© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.


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