Advocates: Harold PinterOne of the many people influenced by Stephen Joseph was notably the playwright Harold Pinter. The pair first met when Pinter was a student at Central School Of Speech And Drama, where Stephen Joseph was a lecturer; the pair worked together during the two terms in 1951 that Pinter attended the college.
Their major collaboration came later following the disastrous first West End production of Pinter's play The Birthday Party. The critics (with the main exception of Harold Hobson) were extremely harsh about the production, which closed soon after its premiere. The backlash was so severe that it raised doubts in Pinter's mind about his abilities as a playwright.
Stephen Joseph, who had read about the reception to the play and was in contact with Pinter, offered him the chance to direct The Birthday Party with the Studio Theatre Ltd company, based in Scarborough. Pinter agreed and made his professional directorial debut with The Birthday Party in 1959 on the Studio Theatre Ltd's winter tour. Notably the play featured Alan Ayckbourn as Stanley just months before he wrote his own first professional play.
Stephen Joseph and Harold Pinter stayed in contact and Pinter apparently later paid tribute to Stephen Joseph by saying that Stephen's encouragement and faith in his abilities were a major reason why he continued to write after his initial experiences with The Birthday Party.
In Michael Billington's official biography of Harold Pinter, The Life & Work of Harold Pinter, he briefly touches upon the relationship between the two men.
"'As a student, [quote from fellow-student Barry Foster] Harold was quite diligent. We’d do potted versions of plays at the end of term. I remember doing scenes from A Midsummer Night's Dream with Harold playing Bottom and myself Lysander. He plunged into that wholeheartedly, but that was very much to do with the inspirational direction of Stephen [Joseph] who was a highly intelligent, gifted man.' Indeed, Joseph became one of those influential father-figures who crop up throughout Pinter’s early life. When the students were asked by Joseph to write an essay on dramatic history, Pinter suggested that he would like to do something on the crucial ulcer at the centre of the Jacobean world. Pinter gave it everything he’d got. ‘You write then, do you?’ said Joseph. ‘Yes,’ said Pinter. ‘Well, hope you go on with that,’ said Joseph, in a tone of warm encouragement that Pinter still remembers. It was also something that paid off in 1959 when Joseph got Pinter to direct the second professional production of The Birthday Party in Scarborough featuring another of his protégés, Alan Ayckbourn."
(Michael Billington, The Life & Work Of Harold Pinter)
Although Pinter did not speak publicly about Stephen Joseph in any great length, in an interview at the British Library in 2008 he mentioned Stephen - perhaps offering the strongest indication of how influential Stephen Joseph was on the then young actor's decision to move into writing.
"One day I wrote an essay and [Stephen] said to me - I was supposed to be a young actor - and he said to me ‘Why don’t you stick to writing?’ I said, ‘I probably will’.
(Harold Pinter, 2008)
All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd and Paul Elsam.