Harold Pinter: Histories and Legacies


The Harold Pinter: Histories and Legacies project is funded by the AHRC. the project team aim to address two specific aspects of Harold Pinter’s cultural activities: what performance aesthetics have been attached to his work over the course of his career and what impact has his work had on the broader palette of British performance (stage and screen) history since the late 1950s. The construction of a comprehensive database of professional UK productions (and broadcasts and film releases) will be central to first mapping histories. Applying metadata to entries in the database will facilitate later research, including but not limited to the scrutiny of patterns across productions. In thinking of these patterns in terms of the ‘histories’ and ‘legacies’ of his work, we will detect, define and collect different narratives in both categories, and employ the following as research questions to interrogate them:

  • How has Pinter's writing been approached, appropriated or interpreted by the creative artists involved in the different media in which this has been expressed?
  • How have the products of those processes in themselves participated in an evolving British aesthetic attached to his work, and what role has that played in broader national and international understandings of British theatre and film?
  • How has his influence on other artists been mediated by productions of his work or by the construction of his celebrity?
  • How has his being situated within or against perceived cultural moments or movements impacted on the (public and critical) reception and interpretation of his work?
  • How has knowledge of past iterations of his work affected new iterations?

Research context

Harold Pinter’s (1930-2008) output over five decades spanned a number of genres: theatre, film, television and radio drama, poetry, prose and political essays. His work has enjoyed a place in the popular imagination from the early 1960s, due in the first instance to the combined impact of the successful stage plays The Caretaker and The Homecoming augmented by the popular audiences that television dramas such as The Lover, The Collection and A Night Out attracted, and by the esteem and box office success of early screenplays such as The Servant and The Pumpkin Eater. His contribution to literature and to the world stage was recognised by a number of awards: the Nobel Prize for Literature (2005), the European Theatre Prize (2006), the Companion of Honour for services to literature (2002), The Légion d’Honneur (2007), to name a few from the last decade of his life. His films have attracted Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations and won BAFTA, Palme d’Or, Writers Guild of Great Britain awards.

His work has been an influence on other writers such as Howard Barker, Edward Bond, Howard Brenton, Caryl Churchill, David Hare, David Mamet, Patrick Marber and Sarah Kane and his influence has been in the dramatic form employed in television soap operas, situation comedies, ‘alternative' comedy and world cinema. His career has involved significant collaborations with important actors and directors including Dirk Bogarde, Judy Dench, Lindsey Duncan, Michael Gambon, John Gielgud, Peter Hall, Ian Holm, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Losey, Anna Massey, Katie Mitchell, Ralph Richardson, Ian Rickson and Meryl Streep. His creative output, then, was integral to the development of the British stage in the last half of the twentieth century. As both writer and performer, Pinter had experience in film and television production, and studio and location processes, offering the opportunity to track and evaluate the impacts of these. His writing for cinema and TV can be considered in relation to similarities and differences in uses of place, expectations of actors’ working processes and different forms of verisimilitude. Pursuit of our research questions will assist in the ambition to understand key British cultural products, their cultural currency and how that is manifested and transmitted, and their impact within their own professional context, and internationally.

Pinter scholarship is international in dimension. His dramatic works have been translated into all main global languages, and performances of his work persist with regularity all- year round, all around the world. Cultural approaches to and appropriations of Pinter’s writing offer a wide range of emphases of different facets of his work, and this foregrounds his significance as a voice that stimulates and promotes both aesthetic cultural activity and engaged citizenship.

The Pinter Histories and Legacies project will seek to build on, and further sustain and facilitate activity in Pinter scholarship. A comprehensive database of UK Pinter productions, with rich metadata that collates contextually appropriate materials, bibliographical or biographical material to each data item, will serve to stimulate new readings of the development of Pinter’s career, his evolution as a writer, and the relevance of his position embedded within different cultural establishments or movements.

By generating new narratives of Pinter’s significance, which may validate or challenge those that sustain current scholarship or traditional scholarly perspectives, the project will offer a focus for developments in Pinter scholarship, and more broadly in theatre studies. In addition to scholars, the outcomes of the project will be of interest to the theatre-going public, and to practitioners who confront and produce Pinter’s work. Having an embedded practitioner within the work of the project will serve to maintain a focus upon the utility of research discoveries to professional rehearsal processes.


The project is a collaboration between researchers at three institutions.

At The University of Leeds:

Principal Investigator Mark Taylor-Batty is an internationally recognised expert in the field of Pinter scholarship. He is the author of three books on Harold Pinter’s work, holds an executive role on the International Harold Pinter Society, and participated in advising Harold Pinter on - as well as assisting to construct - the web-site devoted to his work (http://www.haroldpinter.org/). 

At The University of Reading:

Co-investigator Jonathan Bignell has led funded research on five previous AHRC collaborative grants in television historiography and has studied British television drama with extensive use of archive sources, also working with media industry professionals. His leadership roles include Trusteeship of Reading’s world-leading Beckett archive and networks specializing in research into media history. View Jonathan's University of Reading page

At The University of Birmingham: 

Co-investigator Graham Saunders is an internationally recognised authority on post-war British theatre and has experience working on archival holdings related to two major AHRC projects on the work of the Arts Council of Great Britain and the reception of Samuel Beckett in the UK & Ireland. The Co-investigators have distinct but cognate expertise, and experience of planning and managing funded research. View Graham's University of Birmingham page

Each institution will employ a Postdoctoral researcher attached to the project.

Publications and outputs

The project will generate and collaborate in a number of academic and public events. An inaugural conference will be scheduled for early in 2018. With our project partners The British Film Institute, we look forward to collaborating on a mini-festival of Pinter screenings in late 2018. More details will be presented here as we progress.