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.
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 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.
“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,” said Lady Antonia.
She added: “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. Harold received a phone call from Joe’s partner with the news, and then went and sat down and wrote the poem in response. Such is the artist’s response.
“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.
“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.
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.