Plaque unveiled to mark Clapton birthplace of Harold Pinter
Blue Plaque
Blue plaque to mark Harold's birthplace
Lady Antonia Fraser Pinter unveiled a plaque, sponsored by Clapton Pond Neighbourhood Action Group (CPNAG), on Saturday September 22, marking the house in Thistlewaite Road, Clapton, where Harold Pinter, her husband, was born and grew up. He died in 2008.

Among those who turned out to mark the occasion with Lady Antonia and members of her family, were actor, writer, director Steve Berkoff, who also attended Hackney Downs School, and playwright Tom Stoppard, along with actor Julian Sands, who movingly read out a poem entitled 'Dear Joe', written by Harold about his Hackney Downs School teacher Joseph Brearley. Hackney North MP Diane Abbott, Willie Watkins, President of The Clove Club, Hackney Downs School Old Boys network, and local residents also attended.

Lady Antonia Fraser Pinter gave the following speech:
"It gives me enormous pleasure to unveil this handsome plaque and to congratulate the Clapton Pond Neighbourhood Action Group for all their work. Harold would have been very happy about this. He was extremely proud of his origins - and quite rightly so. As his work makes very clear, they had made him what he was. Plus of course that extra dash of inspiration which was entirely his.
And in this connection, I would like to mention his parents, Jack and Frances Pinter, who lived here: to whom Harold was tenderly devoted. In true Only-Son way, the first thing he said when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature was, fifty years I suppose after he left this house: I just wish my parents were alive… we all know that feeling.
When I say Harold was proud of his origins, he always paid tribute to the Hackney Empire - his first theatre - and Hackney Library - from which I regret to say he liberated a novel by Samuel Beckett, something which was only rectified after his death when his collected books were sold. The book was returned.
But above all, he was grateful to Hackney Downs School and the teacher he found there. I will allow him to say it all himself much better in his celebrated poem 'Dear Joe', written to his teacher immediately after his death, which Julian Sands will read for us.

Above the plaque
Lady Antonia Fraser Pinter with (left) Ian Rathbone, Chair of CPNAG, and (right) actor Julian Sands above the plaque

We can imagine Harold as a very happy boy, combing these streets, reading Shakespeare with his friends, reciting the gloomier parts of the Elizabethan playwright Webster just for the fun of it as he entered this house, and having a great deal of fun in between. He loved his boyhood. So it is with great happiness and not a little emotion that I unveil this plaque in his memory."

Following the unveiling, the well-known actor Julian Sands then powerfully recited the poem 'Dear Joe'.

Ian Rathbone, Chair of CPNAG, commented: "This particular plaque brings us a reminder of how someone from here in inner city Clapton can go on to make a significant contribution to the cultural and political life of the whole world.

"A wonderful model for our young people here, too often written off in the past and told that no-one who comes from here ever did any good or got anywhere. Well, Harold did! And so can they."

He added: "And not just Harold - his Hackney schoolfriend Henry Woolf also has done great things in acting, writing and university teaching.

"A plaque says that this place is worthwhile, that worthwhile people live here and what's more, it's visible. You can see it every day and be reminded. It's a focus for people from all around to come and look and start to see this place in a different light.

Harold Pinter outside 19 Thistlewaite Road, 1978

"A whole history of someone is being reminded of here and that they lived here and that the influences of this place here, this area of Clapton, became a part of them and then their art and then part of the world wide culture....

"That Harold became a radical voice in different ways is not that surprising - his birthplace Clapton is also a place with a whole history of dissent and non-conformism.

"It is a remarkable story that a lad with Jewish émigré grandparents from Eastern Europe could end up through his artistic endeavour creating a new word in the English language - Pinteresque - and a radical voice speaking out in a troubled world.

"We hope that in years to come, people will visit this street to see this plaque and remember a great writer, artist, playwright, Nobel Prize winner and radical voice who has made such a significant contribution to the cultural and political life of the world."

He gave thanks to Ned Heywood who made the plaque, Tim Cowen who made the pelmet, John Lewis Ltd who very kindly made and donated the curtains, and those who currently live in the house for all their help. Particular thanks was given to Eve Harrison of CPNAG who worked really hard to make the event happen but was unable to attend due to a prior engagement.

Julian Sands, Lady Antonia Fraser Pinter and Steve Berkoff

Julia Lafferty, local historian, gave a brief account of the background to the Clapton which Harold grew up in - one with many different strands of dissent and non-conformity woven into the fabric of the life that Harold grew up in. She presented the latest collection of Hackney Society writings "Hackney: An Uncommon History in Five Parts" to Lady Antonia. The book mentions Harold Pinter and also key buildings around Clapton Pond which he would have known, like Lea Bridge Synagogue, Pond House, Kenninghall Cinema etc, as well as touching on the radical and literary traditions for which the borough is well known, with writers like Daniel Defoe and Edgar Allen Poe.

Harold is valued with fondness by the Kurdish community of which there are several hundred members in the area of Clapton. In his last 25 years, he increasingly focused his essays, interviews and public appearances directly on political issues. He was an officer in International PEN, (Poets, Essayists, Novelists) travelling with American playwright Arthur Miller to Turkey in 1985 on a mission co-sponsored with a Helsinki Watch committee to investigate and protest against the torture of imprisoned writers. Pinter's experiences in Turkey and his knowledge of the Turkish suppression of the Kurdish language inspired his 1988 play Mountain Language.

Harold has already been honoured in Hackney when on 16 June 2009, Lady Antonia officially opened a commemorative room at the Hackney Empire in Mare Street. The theatre also established a writer's residency in Harold's name.

Henry Woolf, Harold's school friend from his Hackney years and part of 'Harold's gang' at Hackney Downs School sent the following message:

"Many congratulations to you and your neighbourhood action group for achieving this. It warms my heart that my old friend is being visibly commemorated at the house in which I have spent so many happy hours."

Steve Berkoff (left) who also attended Hackney Downs School, Lady Antonia Fraser, playwright Tom Stoppard (right) along with actor Julian Sands (far right).

In 2007, Henry gave an interview to the Guardian (12 July 2007) during which he said:

"We were all fiercely loyal to the group. None more so than Harold. He still is. Look how he has stuck by his old codgers. His old mates. He could have gently dumped us years ago as the world embraced him, with no hard feelings on our part. But he hasn't. Friendship is sacred.

"If you want a glimpse of what we were like then, how particular, how different from each other, yet sharing a common language, a common stance, read The Dwarfs. It brilliantly captures young men in all their pride and peacock before society closes in and squeezes the life out of them. The ambiguities of loyalty and betrayal weave their way through the pages of The Dwarfs (Harold's early novel, written at the age of 22), themes which recur in Pinter's work."

Another old schooldays friend Mick Goldstein, wrote from Australia: "It is a matter of great regret that being so far away I shall not be able to attend. At the time we were both living in Clapton - I was "just around the corner" at Thornby Road."

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