Celebration: British Library acquires Harold Pinter’s awards

Nobel and BAFTA awards among more than 50 medals, plaques and artworks
Acclaimed playwright’s awards acquired for the nation through the government’s Acceptance In Lieu scheme

The British Library has acquired the collection of awards and honours presented to writer and Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter during the course of his long career. The UK national library – which acquired Pinter’s archive in December 2007 – received the awards through the Acceptance In Lieu (AIL) scheme.

Highlights of the collection include:

  • Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize medal and diploma
  • 1960 Evening Standard award for the best play of 1960 (for The Caretaker)
  • The iconic bronze mask of the BAFTA fellowship, presented in 1996

HM Government’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme, managed by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) is one of the primary ways of ensuring that important cultural treasures pass into the UK’s public collections. In June the British Library acquired the archive of J G Ballard through the scheme.

The awards include more than 50 medals, medallions, plaques and original artworks, of all shapes and sizes and testifying to the range and international profile of Harold Pinter’s achievements. The Herman Kesten Medal – presented by German PEN in 1985 – recognises Pinter’s work on behalf of persecuted and imprisoned writers, while the 2004 Wilfred Owen Prize was awarded in response to the controversial poems that expressed his opposition to the Iraq War.

Pinter’s acclaimed career as a playwright is well represented, with numerous awards and citations that include a Tony (1967) and several nominations; a Laurence Olivier Award (1996) for lifetime achievement; two Evening Standard awards (1960, 2004) and the Whitbread Anglo-American Theatre prize (1967). Along with Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, other international awards include the Franz Kafka Award from the city of Prague (2005), the Molière d'honneur from France, recognising his entire life's work (1997), and the Pirandello award, from Italy (1980).

Lady Antonia Fraser said: “This is what Harold would have wanted. He was extremely proud of his awards but even prouder of his manuscripts, already in the British Library. He used to say that the manuscripts earned the awards so it is right that they should be together.”

Kathryn Johnson, Curator of Theatrical Manuscripts at the British Library, said: “This collection is a rich and fascinating supplement to the Pinter Archives already held by the British Library, and which we make available to researchers of 20th century theatre and literature. The diverse items it includes provide a vivid perspective on Pinter’s worldwide influence. To take but one example: a simple citation from Buenos Aires, commemorating an award for the Spanish translation of The Caretaker, as early as 1962, conveys very strikingly the international popularity and reach of his work.”

MLA chair, Sir Andrew Motion said, “Treasures such as the Harold Pinter awards enrich and boost our public collections. The Acceptance in Lieu scheme and the work of its panel is of vital importance and like Pinter’s many accolades and awards, deserves to be celebrated. It is one of the most important means of supporting acquisitions by museums, libraries and galleries in the UK. We are delighted that the British Library has acquired Pinter's archive for the nation - ensuring that his legacy will be preserved for future generations to enjoy and study."

Along with high profile accolades, and honours such as Pinter’s CBE (1966), Companion of Honour (2002) and the Légion d’Honneur, presented by the Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin in a notable ceremony at the French Embassy (2007), there are awards such as the Orden de Chile and the Amistad Medal from Cuba – as well as a spoof award devised by the cast of Simon Gray’s Quartermaine’s Terms, which Pinter directed in 1981.

Kathryn Johnson added: “As well as being fascinating in their own right, these awards add an important new dimension to the Harold Pinter material held by the British Library. Pinter’s Nobel Prize for example will now sit alongside the handwritten notes and 19 typed drafts, covered in annotations, of his acceptance speech which already form part of the collection. Although Pinter was unable to deliver the speech in person due to ill health, the addition of the award to the archive completes the picture – showing the painstaking effort that went into his speech and that characterised Pinter’s life and career.”

This year’s PEN/Pinter Prize – established last year by the writers’ charity English PEN in memory of Harold Pinter – will be awarded on 20 October to the playwright and novelist Hanif Kureishi at a public event to be held at the British Library. At the same event, the International Writer of Courage prize will be presented to Mexican author, journalist and activist Lydia Cacho.

For more information contact:


The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.  

The Acceptance in Lieu scheme, administered by MLA on behalf of the Government, enables taxpayers to transfer important works of art and other important heritage objects into public ownership while paying Inheritance Tax, or one of its earlier forms. The taxpayer is given the full open market value of the item, which then becomes the property of a public museum, archive or library. The acceptance of the Ballard archive satisfied £350,000 of tax. The Acceptance in Lieu Scheme is celebrating its centenary in 2010 having been established by the Finance Act 1910.  Previous literary archives accepted in lieu include those of the novelist Anthony Powell (1905-2000) and the poet Katherine Raine (1908-2003). Details of all the material accepted in 2008/09 can be found at http://www.mla.gov.uk/what/cultural/tax/acceptance_in_lieu

Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) - Leading strategically, the MLA promotes best practice in museums, libraries and archives to inspire innovative, integrated and sustainable services for all. Visit www.mla.gov.uk


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