Man who pro­vided Harold Pin­ter with a love nest

Barcelona is in Trou­ble

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - By Henry Woolf

Gre­ville Press, £10

Re­viewed by Michael Knipe

HENRY WOOLF claims he hardly ever at­tended school. His per­pet­u­ally un­em­ployed fa­ther would tell him that the sole pur­pose of the Bri­tish ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem was to pro­duce “mil­lions of wage slaves and sol­diers”.

“Al­ways live in your head, Hen­rile,” said Woolf Sr, who spoke five lan­guages and had trained as an ac­coun­tant. “It’s the only safe place for a Jew to be.”

In spite of this pa­ter­nal guid­ance, Henry Woolf went on to work in a pub­lic li­brary, be­come a job­bing ac­tor, a theatre di­rec­tor and, even­tu­ally, a univer­sity pro­fes­sor.

Most sig­nif­i­cantly, per­haps, while a 16-year-old pupil at Hack­ney Downs Gram­mar School in East Lon­don, Henry be­came the first per­son to recog­nise the essence of Harold Pin­ter’s tal­ent as a writer. Fur­ther­more, it was at his urg­ing that Pin­ter wrote — in just two days — his first play, The Room, which Woolf pro­duced and di­rected in 1957.

He re­mem­bers the au­di­ence “wak­ing up from its po­lite cul­tural stu­por and be­gin­ning to en­joy it­self.” The crit­ics of the pe­riod hated the play, he says, But “some­thing spe­cial was go­ing on. Some­thing very funny and at the same time rather men­ac­ing. A new voice was speak­ing, and English theatre was never go­ing to be the same again.”

It was Woolf who per­suaded Pin­ter to pub­lish his first novel, The Dwarfs, which Pin­ter had writ­ten at the age of 22. They re­mained friends and col­lab­o­ra­tors for life.

Now, aged 87 and re­tired from his pro­fes­sor­ship and head of drama at the Univer­sity of Saskatchewan in Canada, Woolf has writ­ten, with a light, self-de­pre­ci­at­ing touch, a mem­oir of the life he has led through the past six decades, on and off the stage and of­ten at the cut­ting edge of the odd­ball avant-garde theatre.

His tales are pep­pered with anec­dotes in­volv­ing the more es­o­teric mem­bers of the the­atri­cal pro­fes­sion, such as Peter Brook, Ken Russell, Joan Lit­tle­wood, Anew McMaster, Peter Magee, Glenda Jack­son and, of course, Pin­ter.

He tells of how he fa­cil­i­tated Pin­ter’s ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair with Joan Bakewell, “who made ev­ery think­ing man’s pulse quicken when she ap­peared on the nightly tele­vi­sion pro­gramme, Late Night Line-up.”

But Woolf’s most amus­ing episodes are those cen­tred on his own Pin­teresque per­son­al­ity. He loved soli­tude and the prim­i­tive squalor of liv­ing in bed-sit­ters in the 1960s so much that, when first mar­ried, he asked his wife if he could go back to the bed­sit­ting room he used to live in and just sit there for an af­ter­noon.

Michael Knipe is a for­mer for­eign cor­re­spon­dent of ‘The Times’ Rag and bonus: Henry Woolf (left) with Harry H Corbett and Wil­frid Bram­bell in a 1974 episode of BBC TV’s clas­sic com­edy,


Step­toe and Son

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