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'He was always generous' - tributes to writer Wesker.

Hay Festival director Peter Florence has paid tribute to his friend British playwright Sir Arnold Wesker, who has died aged 83.

The London-born writer, one of the key British figures of 20th century drama, lived and wrote from his cottage in Wales for more than 40 years and spoke at the first Hay Festival in 1988 after a chance meeting with Florence in a pub.

"He was a brilliant writer and performer who is part of the history of Hay. There will be a tribute to him at this year's festival," Florence said.

Recalling Sir Arnold's supper parties, which sometimes went on for days and often included guests from the literary world, the Hay founder said his work Roots was "the greatest ever play about growing up".

The prolific writer, best-known for his trilogy of plays Roots, Chick-ken Soup With Barley, and I'm Talk-king About Jerusalem, previewed plays at Hay and also penned books and poems.

When he was shown a rundown Welsh cottage in the Wye Valley near Hay by his London publisher more than 40 years ago, the writer, who was knighted in 2006, said he never imagined he wanted a rural idyll, but fell in love with it.

He would go to the cottage for up to six weeks to write and entertained writers such as John Fowles, Edna O'Brien, Doris Lessing and Margaret Drabble there.

The son of Jewish refugees, Sir Arnold spoke about his "strong Abbie Wightwick Reporter abbie.wightwick@walesonline.co.uk connection to Wales" which began when his father's family, part of the Jewish community from Ukraine, landed in Swansea in the early 20th century.

As a child he was evacuated to Wales from London.

Buying the cottage near Hay-on-Wye long before the town's now famous festival launched, the playwright was in the Blue Ball Inn at Hay having a drink when a young Peter Florence came in with his father.

"He said: 'I am a writer, I'll speak at your festival'," recalls Florence, "He was always generous and encouraging. "For years he was a faintly reclusive figure who lived on Hay Bluff. He would have dinner parties that went on for days. It was easier to stay than leave, because it was in the back of beyond.

>Hay director Florence "We just stayed there telling stories, eating and drinking. He made the most wonderful stews. He was a gregarious host."

The house was also a place for family celebration, the writer said before putting it up for sale in 2009 and moving to Sussex.

Over a career that spanned five decades Wesker achieved global recognition, with some of his plays translated into 20 languages. Copies of his works sold in the hundreds of thousands.

Suffering from Parkinson's later in life, Sir Arnold continued to write and published his first collection of poetry, All Things Tire of Themselves, in 2008.

At the time of his 70th birthday, Wesker wrote: "And though, like most writers, I fear dying before I write that one masterpiece for which I'll be remembered, yet I look at the long row of published work that I keep before me on my desk and I think, not bad, Wesker, not bad."

Wesker's granddaughter Leanne Courvoisier revealed the playwright's passing on Twitter: "There was a monkey called Arnold Wesker, who died. RIP grandad."

Peter " Comedienne and actress Jenny Eclair tweeted: "Met Arnold Wesker at Hay lit fest many years ago - he approved of my filth - which was lovely."

In the Commons, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to Wesker as a great playwright and "one of those wonderful angry young men" of the 1950s.

"Like so many angry young people (he) actually changed the face of our country," he said.

Wesker is survived by his widow, Dusty, and their three grown-up children. Their daughter Tanya died in 2012.

CAPTION(S):

<BPlayright Arnold Wesker poses for a portrait at the Hay Festival in 2004

<BHay Festival director Peter Florence

<B Right, Wesker enjoying himself at the Royal Court Theatre in

London, 1961
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Article Type:Obituary
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 14, 2016
Words:670
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