Contemporary British literary manuscripts usually end up in the care of Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The papers of A.A. Milne, Olivier Manning, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene are among the many writers whose papers have been sold to the Center. So it was with great relief that the British Library announced on December 11th 2007 that the Pinter Archive had been saved for the nation.
Harold Pinter, one of the foremost British playwrights of the twentieth century died on Christmas Eve. He will be remembered as a dramatist, poet, actor, director and political activist. His archive will be become fully available for consultation at the MSS Reading Room of the British Library on February 2nd 2009. Anyone who has a reader’s pass will be able to view items from the collection. Only one of the volumes is classified as ‘select material’; a file which contains personal letters to Samuel Beckett, Edward Bond and Joe Brearley. To read these items, it will be necessary to have a letter of recommendation as well as a reader’s pass.
The Archive consists of 150 boxes of manuscripts, scrapbooks, letters, photographs, letters and emails and will be a valuable resource for researchers and scholars of Pinter’s work for the theatre and cinema. Highlights of the collection include his correspondence with Samuel Beckett, some manuscripts which detail his working relationship with the film director Joseph Losey, an exchange of letters with Philip Larkin and the draft of an unpublished account of his early life “The Queen of the Fairies”.
There is an interesting blog on the British Library website about the cataloguing of the archive by its curator Kate O’Brien which details the conservation problems associated with preserving ephemeral materials. Pinter’s scrapbooks contain newspaper cuttings which have yellowed and become brittle with age and some of the modern paper types in them such as faxes, photocopies and inkjet printouts are not likely to survive too long. The archivist cannot remove a page from a scrapbook to preserve it in a box because then the integrity of the whole item would be lost. The solution will probably be to put the whole scrapbooks in boxes which will protect them further damage.