50 Items for 50 Years - Behind the Scenes

6 May 1968

An idea is born

The beginning of the Prize can be traced back to correspondence between publisher Tom Maschler and food service wholesaler Booker McConnell. The earliest item in the Archive is a proposal from Maschler requesting funding from Booker McConnell to establish a new literary prize.

26 August 1968

What's in a name

Choosing a name can be a tricky business, and there were several options on the table including the Bucklersbury Prize - named after Bucklersbury House, the location of Booker's Head Office. However, the appropriateness of the literary-sounding Booker name in the end won out over concerns about the longevity of the company's sponsorship.


Rules, rules, rules

Over the years the Prize rules have changed many times with regard to the eligibility of novels, the number of submissions, the judging process, and the prize money. See how the rules for the 1969 compare to the 2018 prize years later in this timeline.

9 March 1978

Money, Money Money

The prize money was initially £5,000. This was doubled in 1978, and a memo from the Archive shows how the sponsor weighed up the pros and cons of increasing the money. The prize was increased by a further £5,000 in 1984 and made it up to £21,000 before the Man Group, the new sponsors upped it to £50,000 in 2002.

7 May 1991

A thing of beauty

In 1991, the tradition of having specially designed bindings of the shortlisted novels created and awarded to the authors was born. Each year, a group of Designer Bookbinders create unique bindings that reflect the contents of the novels. The bindings are works of art and have been exhibited at various locations including the British Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

3 March 1993

Can't choose, won't choose

Only twice has the prize been awarded to joint winners - in 1974 to Nadine Gordimer and Stanley Middleton, and in 1992 to Michael Ondaatje and Barry Unsworth - and twice appears to have been enough! The rules were changed in 1993 to allow only one winner.

15 February 1994

A step back in time

At the 1993 Booker Prize dinner, Ion Trewin and Gillian Beer came up with the idea of holding a retrospective Booker-style competition at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, and thus the 1984 Booker (and its later successors) was born. Take a look at the shortlist, which novel's your favourite?

17 September 1998

Booker on the web

In 1998 the prize took a promotional leap onto the world wide web. A website did already exist before 1998, but it appears to have been practically impossible to find. By the late 1990s the web had been identified as a way of promoting the prize, and this involved finding a more obvious URL, registering the site with the popular search engines of the day, and linking to related sites.

25 April 2002

Who's paying for all this?

After 33 years of service, Booker (now owned by The Big Food Group), bowed out as sponsor of the prize, and the Man Group stepped up to fund the UK's most prestigious literary award, and the prize was renamed the Man Booker Prize.

May 2002

The US vs the Commonwealth

With a change of sponsor came rumours that the prize would be opened up to the Americans, and debate about whether UK and Commonwealth authors could compete in such an expanded playing field. As a draft statement from the Archive shows, expansion of the prize was considered, but came initially in 2005 in the form of the Man Booker International Prize. Change did come eventually, however, and the Man Booker Prize rules of eligibility were amended to include authors of all nationalities in 2014.


The end of an era

Martyn Goff (1923-2015) became administrator to the prize in 1973 through his work with the National Book League (later Book Trust). He would liaise with the judges and the media, and helped raise the profile of the prize and of reading throughout his career. He retired from the prize in 2006 and was succeeded by Ion Trewin, who took on the role of Literary Director of the Prize.

13 June 2006

A close friend of the family

Launched in 2007, The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is run with the support, as its mentor, of the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by the Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi (DCT). See the first page of the proposal for an 'Arab Booker Prize'.

12 October 2010

A fond farewell

Literary Editor and Publisher Ion Trewin's involvement with the prize began in 1974 as a member of the judging panel. He joined the Management Committee (later the Advisory Group) in 1989, and became the prize's Literary Director in 2006 following Martyn Goff's retirement. He was a well respected figure in the literary world and his death in 2015 was met with great sadness. The role of Literary Director of the prize passed to journalist and writer Gaby Wood.


Yet more rules

Compare the 1968 rules earlier in the timeline with the 2018 rules

23 February 2018

For the record

Following a change of sponsor and the creation of the Booker Prize Foundation, a home was sought for the archive of the Booker Prize. Oxford Brookes University Library became the permanent home of the Booker Prize Archive in 2003, and has welcomed researchers from around the world who wish to use the wealth of archival resources that the collection contains.