Harold Pinter’s dead.
And so is Eartha Kitt. Two heroes in one day.
This is a shout out to my home boy, Harold Pinter, playwright, screenwriter, actor and political activist, who died on Christmas Eve aged 78.
We were very proud of Harold Pinter in Hackney. Everyone knew that Harold and an actor, once called Maurice Micklewhite but now renamed Michael Caine, had gone to Grocers School at Hackney Downs, the “Eton & Harrow for clever working-class boys” in east and north London. From my bedroom I could see it nestled in the cleavage of the Liverpool Street line where it splits to go to Chingford or Enfield. Before it was "failed" by the Tories and then turned over to some millionaire entrepreneur friend of Labour for his plaything, that school was once a hotbed of cultural talent, with another smart Jewish lad, Steven Berkoff, also going on to great things in theatre (although never an “A” lister like Harold and Michael).
The 1950s and 60s being the era when a bright working-class male could soar up the society food-chain on his own wits with none of the old-school-tie networks sitting heavy around your throat like a hangman’s knot because privilege was a right turn-off, a time when every Baronet’s daughter wanted to sleep with the barrow boy, Harold made good.
His most famous breakthrough plays were The Caretaker, The Dumb Waiter and The Birthday Party, all guaranteed to épater le bourgeoisie. But my current favourite which cracks me up is No Man’s Land. (I yam Spooner.)
While tailors and hairdressers were determining the look of the 1960s, Harold shaped the very language, adding “Pinteresque” to the dictionary. He changed our perceptions and preoccupations, writing about power balances and the hypocrisy wielded by those in power. He wrote about the microcosmic power abuses at the personal level between individuals, which helped us understand what we were looking at when they were writ large in the world by our warmongering leaders. (The same lefties who squawk about bourgeois individualism, comically unaware of their own contraditions, also like Pinter.)
He never abdicated his responsibility as a member of the human race. Never a mere observer, he was brilliant on the war and never lost his sense of outrage and horror, unlike the cool and the hip and the plain bloody callous who mocked him for having a conscience. And using it.
Fucking Pinter’s fucking dead. Now for a fucking long Pinteresque pause …
Eartha Kitt, she of the amazing voice like melted 85 per cent chocolate, has also passed on this Christmas. Eartha made one of the best Catwomen ever and had Orson Welles on his knees, calling her, “the most exciting woman in the world”. Listen to her sing the double-entendre “Let’s Do It” in her trademark single-entendre style. Her “Just An Old Fashioned Girl” was my hymn in childhood. “ ... I want an old fash-i-oned mill-yona-a-a-aire” ... where did I go wrong? (Oh, yeah! New Labour got them all.)
Harold and Eartha — RIP
Also badly missed, poet Adrian Mitchell.