Bar­neys, Books

In the 50 years since the Booker Prize was es­tab­lished as the coun­try’s premier lit­er­ary award, it has stoked more feuds and put more noses out of joint than Don­ald Trump on a good day

Daily Express - - RICHARD & JUDY - By Moira Petty

Daily Ex­press Satur­day Oc­to­ber 13 2018

tHE Booker Prize might be all about lit­er­ary fic­tion – but it has a di­rect link to that most pop­ulist of au­thors, Ian Flem­ing. Af­ter dream­ing up the idea of a book prize, pub­lisher Tom Maschler needed a spon­sor. Com­modi­ties com­pany Booker McCon­nell had de­vel­oped a side­line buy­ing up au­thors’ copy­rights, start­ing with the James Bond au­thor. It was a neat fit and the Booker Prize was born.

The first Booker Prize was awarded in 1969 to PH Newby for Some­thing To An­swer For, set in the 1956 Suez Cri­sis. “My mother fi­nally stopped ask­ing why I wrote when I had a per­fectly good job as head of the BBC’s Third Pro­gramme,” he said.

Newby won £5,000 and af­ter the cheque had cleared it was re­turned to him as a me­mento. His wife put it in the down­stairs loo. He used the money to pay off some of the mort­gage.

The Booker fal­tered ini­tially with pub­lish­ers re­luc­tant to pay fees to en­ter their books and emer­gency meet­ings were called.

In 1971 Mal­colm Mug­geridge, the writer of­ten known as St Mugg, re­signed as chair of the Booker judges mid­way through the process. The Catholic convert com­plained that con­tem­po­rary lit­er­a­ture was porno­graphic and with­out artis­tic merit. The pub­lic­ity boost was just what the Booker needed.

There was more con­tro­versy in 1972 when win­ner John Berger at­tacked Booker McCon­nell for its past colo­nial links with the Caribbean. He said he would give half his prize money to the Black Pan­thers. Booker de­cided all pub­lic­ity was good pub­lic­ity and re­mained as spon­sor.

There have been 243 judges to date and some un­usual be­hav­iour. In 1977 Beryl Bain­bridge lay supine on the car­pet at judges’ meet­ings, speaking up­wards from the floor. In the same year, Philip Larkin threat­ened to throw him­self out of the win­dow if Paul Scott’s Stay­ing On didn’t win. It did.

In 1976 a toss of the coin saw David Storey win for Sav­ille af­ter the judges were un­able to ar­rive at a de­ci­sion.

Ju­lian Barnes, who won in 2011, de­scribed the Booker as “posh bingo”. Writer AL Kennedy, who has won other awards but not the Booker, once said it was de­cided by “who knows who, who’s sleep­ing with who, who’s mar­ried to who and whose turn it is”.

Kings­ley Amis was short­listed for End­ing Up in 1974. One judge strongly favoured him – El­iz­a­beth Jane Howard, then his wife. “It’s eas­ily the best thing he’s writ­ten but I mustn’t say any­thing,” she said, leav­ing the room. They split the prize be­tween two au­thors that year – nei­ther of them Amis.

Amis did win – to his as­ton­ish­ment – in 1986 for The Old Devils. His crit­i­cal com­ments about the Booker ceased. He said he was go­ing to spend the prize – by then £15,000 – on “booze and cur­tains”.

Feud­ing short­listed au­thors An­thony Burgess, of Clock­work Or­ange fame, and Wil­liam Gold­ing, best known for Lord Of The Flies, drove the Booker on to the front pages in 1980. Burgess, cross that he hadn’t been told in ad­vance if he had won, brooded in his room at the Savoy while Gold­ing claimed the prize. Burgess hissed: “It’s a small parochial prize suit­able for small, parochial nov­els.”

Fronting the BBC’s cov­er­age in 1983, Selina Scott em­bar­rass­ingly failed to recog­nise judge An­gela Carter and asked what she thought of the win­ner. Scott then asked chair of judges Fay Wel­don if she had read all the books up for con­sid­er­a­tion.

“Over-my-dead-body” mo­ment num­ber one. As ut­tered by Dame Ju­lia Neu­berger, a judge in 1994, about James Kel­man’s win­ning novel How Late It Was, How Late. It was famed for the swear­ing lit­ter­ing its pages and a slow start to the nor­mal up­lift in sales en­joyed by the win­ner. One branch of WH Smith re­ported sell­ing just seven copies in the sub­se­quent week.

In 2002 Booker with­drew spon­sor­ship and Man Group took over, raising the prize to £50,000 with the short­listed au­thors also re­ceiv­ing £2,500.

AS By­att (1990) spent her win­ning cheque on a swimming pool for her

AMIS’S CHOICE: Booze and cur­tains

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