This handwritten correspondence from Samuel Beckett to Harold Pinter pays testament to the enduring and affectionate friendship between the two celebrated writers, and reveals how Beckett offered Pinter praise and encouragement for his work.
It is part of a collection of letters and postcards from Beckett to Pinter which were written between 1960 and 1988, and forms part of the Harold Pinter Archive.
Letter from Samuel Beckett about The Homecoming
In this letter Beckett praises Pinter’s The Homecoming (1965), saying, ‘It seems to me the best you have done since the Caretaker & perhaps the best of all’. He particularly loved the part of the father (Max), saying ‘it should play like a bomb. I wish Pat could do it’. ‘Pat’ is Patrick Magee, the actor for whom Beckett wrote Krapp’s Last Tape, and who played McCann in Pinter’s The Birthday Party in 1964. In fact, when The Homecoming premiered in London in 1965, the part of Max was played by Paul Rogers, to great critical acclaim. It became Rogers’s most famous role and one for which he received a Tony Award when The Homecoming transferred to Broadway in 1967.
Postcard from Samuel Beckett about Betrayal
This postcard was written by Beckett in March 1978. Pinter had sent Beckett a typescript of his new play, Betrayal, which would open at the National Theatre that June. Beckett praises Betrayal with the words, ‘… that first last look in the shadows, after all those in the light to come, a curtain of curtains’, alluding to the play’s reverse chronology.
Betrayal tells the story of a seven-year affair between Emma and her husband’s best friend, Jerry. The play starts two years after the affair has ended and works backwards to when it began. A finely worked study of human deception, guilt and egotism, it clearly made an impression on Beckett as he wrote to Pinter again three weeks later saying, ‘I think of Betrayal. Strange poor present Judith [Jerry's wife] throughout as if invisible watching it all’.
Beckett was a prolific letter writer. Some 20,000 of his letters have been found and transcribed. Dan Gunn, editor of Beckett’s published letters, has noted that Beckett’s handwriting – often almost illegible – poses a major challenge – as does Beckett’s tendency to use unusual words and phrases.
How did Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter become friends?
Pinter discovered Beckett’s work in the early 1950s when, working as an actor in Ireland, he read a fragment of Beckett’s novel Watt in a poetry magazine. Desperate to find out more about the unknown writer, he soon after managed to locate a copy of Beckett’s Murphy, and saw Waiting for Godot at the Arts Theatre in London in 1955. Pinter later called Beckett ‘the greatest writer of our time’. The impact that Beckett’s work had on Pinter was profound and enduring.
Pinter and Beckett met for the first time when Pinter went to Paris in 1961 for a production of The Caretaker. Beckett drove them from bar to bar in his little Citroën until, at four in the morning, Pinter fell asleep on a table, overcome with indigestion and heartburn from all the alcohol, tobacco and excitement. He awoke to find Beckett with a tin of bicarbonate of soda which he’d been all over Paris to find – the soda did the trick and a lifelong friendship was born.
 The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1966–1989, ed. by Craig, Dow Fehsenfeld, Gunn and More Overbeck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), p. 483.
 Cambridge University Press, ‘An interview with Dan Gunn on The Letters of Samuel Beckett (Part 1)’, fifteeneightyfour: Academic Perspectives from Cambridge University Press (29 September 2016), <http://www.cambridgeblog.org/2016/09/an-interview-with-dan-gunn-on-the-letters-of-samuel-beckett-part-1/> [Accessed January 2017].
 Michael Billington, ‘Harold Pinter and the Hackney Gang’, The Guardian (29 November 2014), <https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/nov/29/harold-pinter-and-the-hackney-gang> [Accessed January 2017].
 New Theatre Magazine II, pt. 3 (May–June 1971), p. 3, cited in The Harold Pinter Companion, ed. by Peter Raby (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 76.
 Pinter tells this anecdote in a BBC TV documentary, 'A Wake for Sam' (1990); transcribed in Harold Pinter, Various Voices: Prose, Poetry, Politics 1948–2005 (London: Faber and Faber, 1998), pp. 58–59.
- Full title:
- Pinter Archive. Personal correspondence surnames Beckett–Brearley; 27 Oct. 1957–2 May 2003. 1. Samuel Beckett (b.1906–d.1989, playwright). Letters from only. Includes letters relating to publications about Beckett; 18 Aug. 1960–17 April 1988.
- 27 January 1965; 16 March 1978, Paris
- Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera
- Samuel Beckett
- Usage terms
Samuel Beckett: © The Estate of Samuel Beckett. The above selected images reproduced by kind permission of the Estate of Samuel Beckett c/o Rosica Colin Limited, London.
- Held by
- British Library
- Add MS 88880/7/2
- Article by:
- William McEvoy
- Gender and sexuality, 20th-century theatre
In Harold Pinter's Betrayal, an affair and its revelation are portrayed in reverse chronological order. William McEvoy explores how this reversal focuses our attention on the ways in which meaning and knowledge are constructed, and on the ability of language to hide as much as it reveals.
- Article by:
- Michael Billington
- Gender and sexuality, 20th-century theatre, Exploring identity
Michael Billington considers The Homecoming in the context of Harold Pinter's life and work, and explores how attitudes towards the play's portrayal of gender relations have changed.
- Article by:
- Michael Billington
- 20th-century theatre
Michael Billington recounts the strong reactions that critics had to early performances of The Birthday Party, and examines the way that Pinter's play engages with ideas about menace, memory and political resistance.
Related collection items
The Homecoming (1964) overview Written in 1964, and premiering in 1965, Harold Pinter’s two-act play The ...
The Birthday Party (1958) overview The Birthday Party, Harold Pinter’s second full-length play, was written ...
Betrayal (1978) overview Harold Pinter’s 1978 play employs a reverse-chronological structure to tell the ...