Time spent working with Ronnie was always a double tonic. First, he exuded an appetite for life. Then, he was predisposed to like everyone he met. He assumed they would like him too: Its never occurred to me that anyone could dislike me, he once confessed to me, during a long conversation about his life and work. Its probably very unattractive, in a way. But its to do with my mothers love. She instilled in me absolute confidence in myself.
And what confidence! In 1951, aged seventeen, Harwood sailed into Southampton from South Africa, alone. He carried with him ¬£7, a letter of introduction to a rabbi in Upper Berkeley Street, and a dream of making a life in the theatre. By the end of his life, a shelf in his booklined study in Kensington was crammed with tributes to his dream-come-true: a bafta (for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), an Evening Standard Best Play Award (for The Dresser) and the Stefan Mitrov Ljubi≈°a Award for his contribution to European literature and human rights. Glowing amidst them all was the Oscar, won for the screenplay of The Pianist in 2002. Within twelve hours of his getting it, his agent had received 24 offers of work, at fees Harwood would previously only have dreamed of.
Harwoods good nature was rare and beguiling, but there was a great deal more to him than rollicking bonhomie. The last time he had a play on in London, it was both a critical and a box-office disaster. The reviews of Mahlers Conversion were so savage that he was plunged into depression and writers block. Every morning, as he settled down in his study to write, he found himself facing a chasm: I was unable to access that part of myself that is the most profound. I was unable to do what Maggie Smith calls ‚Äúdredging‚Äù.
His depression was fuelled by a sense that, as a Jew, he had never really belonged in England, though he also felt that England had been wonderful to him. His life was rich in indicators of English success: children at public schools, a house in the country, friendship with the Prince of Wales, membership of the Garrick. But the notion of belonging or not belonging is, he said, one that the English cannot understand, because they belong. And, for all Englands generosity to him, I am not allowed to forget that Im a foreigner.