Brian Blessed is a legendary British actor with a booming voice and charisma to spare. He’s been in everything from Shakespeare to Doctor Who, although most people remember him as the winged Prince Vultan in Flash Gordon. He also climbs mountains for fun and is the oldest man to have made it to the magnetic North Pole.
Harold Pinter is a now deceased playwright of doom, paranoia, and existential dread. Plays like The Birthday Party and The Caretaker have looping, pointless dialogues hinting at grim back stories and violent encounters. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005.
Now, thanks to Brian Blessed’s autobiography Absolute Pandemonium, we know that Prince Voltan once punched out the Nobel Prize winner. Here’s Blessed talking about the incident in the context of his friendship with Peter O’Toole.
That went back to the very first time I met [O’Toole] — at a party in the mid-1950s where I’d memorably just punched Harold Pinter’s lights out. No long dramatic pauses as in his plays. Wham! He got one right on the side of the jaw.
I was a drama student at the Old Vic theatre school in Bristol and we were celebrating the opening night of Pinter’s very first play in the university drama studio. Though he was then an unknown, he could be extremely rough when ‘refreshed’ and was wandering round threatening to hit everyone. Because I was a big lad and I’d boxed in my youth, my friends were looking to me for protection.
Pinter came up to me and said menacingly: ‘You must be the hard man everyone’s talking about.’ Then he took a swing.
Now, Pinter was without doubt a great dramatist — the heaviest of them all — but his punches were more Gilbert & Sullivan. I dodged a couple, then let go a quick left hook, which sent him tumbling backwards.
O’Toole — a leading actor at the Old Vic Theatre — was also at the party. (Of course he was! He could smell a booze-up at a thousand paces. Unlike me: I don’t touch alcohol.) He rushed up, helped Pinter to his feet and led him away, turning to give me a ‘did you really do that?’ look.
Fair enough. Blessed also claimed to have sparred with the Dalai Lama during one of his expeditions to climb Everest. Which is just weird enough to be true.
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