50 Items for 50 Years - The Prize Ceremonies


Invitation to the 1969 ceremony

The award ceremony has taken place at a number of different venues over the years including Drapers Hall, Claridges, Guildhall, the Royal Horticultural Halls, and the British Library. In this timeline you'll see a few examples of invitations to the prestigious event.


Something to write for

The first prize was awarded to author and Controller of the BBC's Third Programme, P. H. Newby for his novel 'Something to Answer For'. In the Archive is a copy of the cheque awarded to Newby by Dame Rebecca West.


A literary muse

A trophy was awarded in the first few years of the prize, and was featured dramatically on the publicity material for the first year with flames emerging from the upheld bowl; but the practice dwindled and a new trophy wasn't introduced until the 40th anniversary year.

24 November 1972

Biting the hand?

1972 John Berger used his acceptance speech to criticise the sponsor's involvement in the cane sugar industry in Guyana, and vowed to give half the prize money to the Black Panther movement. An internal memo shows Booker's unruffled response.

21 December 1973

Another bite of the hand!

The year after John Berger's controversial acceptance speech, J. G. Farrell also used his speech to criticise the sponsor - announcing that he was 'no more enamoured of capitalism than my predecessor'. By this time, Booker appears to be taking such comments in their stride and with little offense as the Archive shows he was invited to a post-victory dinner with the sponsor.

2 November 1978

If at first you don't succeed

Iris Murdoch is the most shortlisted author in the prize's history. She was shortlisted six times, and won in 1978. Here she is pictured with Chair of Judges Alfred Ayer and Booker Chairman Michael Caine.


Golding vs Burgess

1980 was the year that two literary heavyweights were pitted against each other in the shortlist - William Golding with his novel 'Rites of Passage', and Anthony Burgess with 'Earthly Powers'. Martyn Goff, the prize administrator of the time, recalls that Burgess insisted that he would not attend the ceremony unless he was the winner. Goff had the unhappy job of telephoning him at the Savoy Hotel to tell him he hadn't won, and true to his word Burgess stayed put.

14 October 1981

Booker on film

The award ceremony and dinner were first televised in 1981, and much planning went into it to make sure it went smoothly.


Faction vs fiction

In 1982, the winning novel, 'Schindler's Ark' by Thomas Keneally, was the subject of a great debate about whether it was a work of fact or fiction. Whichever it is, the decision to award it the prize stands, but you can check out the debate in the press cuttings and make up your own mind.


The pitfalls of using an autocue

In 1983 Chair of Judges Fay Weldon used an autocue to give her speech at the award ceremony. It was highly critical of the publishing industry and as Fay recalls, in an interview with the Sunday Herald, she was 'making this anti-publisher speech and calling them to order. Well, usually in a speech like that, you say all of that first, and then in the last bit you say, 'But of course none of this applies to any of you here, who are all honourable, honourable people.' But, oddly enough, the unions, who I was supporting vigorously, were on a work to rule, and cut the power at 10 o'clock, and the boards went black, just before I got to the 'you are all honourable men' bit. And so because you are reading it, you don't know where you are, so I just sat down and said, 'That is really all I have to say.' So they didn't get that bit. And they were so incensed. And the head of the publishing union came over and hit my agent. It was a wonderful evening!' The Archive has a transcript of the speech in full for those who would like to see how it ended.

20 September 1993

The best of the best

Special prizes were created for the 25th and 40th anniversaries of the prize - the 'Booker of Bookers' and the 'Best of Booker' respectively. Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children' won both, but it wasn't an easy victory - a press release announcing the 'Booker of Bookers' winner shows that the judges were torn between Rushdie and William Golding's 'Rites of Passage'.


Invitation to the 1995 ceremony

17 October 2001

Food for the mind, and food for the stomach

In 2001 celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay made an appearance at the award ceremony, serving up prawn cocktail, welsh beef, and apple and blackberry crumble.


Invitation to the 2004 ceremony


Filling the gap

The Lost Man Booker Prize was a one-off prize to honour books published in 1970 that were not considered for the prize due to a change in submission dates. It was awarded posthumously to J. G. Farrell for his novel 'Troubles'. The shortlist was chosen by Rachel Cooke, Katie Derham, and Tobias Hill. The winning book was voted for by the reading public via the Man Booker Prize website.

16 October 2012

Haven't we met before?

Four authors have won the prize twice: J. G. Farrell (1973 and Lost Man Booker); J. M. Coetzee (1983 and 1999); Peter Carey (1988 and 2001); and Hilary Mantel (2009 and 2012). Hilary Mantel won with the first two novels in her proposed trilogy on Thomas Cromwell - will she make it a hat trick with the third?


Booker women in numbers

A few statistics: Over the past 49 years of the Booker Prize, 33% of winners and 38% of shortlisted authors have been women. 43% of judges have been women. Of the 17 female winners, 8 were from the UK, 2 from New Zealand, 2 from India, 1 from South Africa, 1 from Canada, 1 from Ireland, 2 had dual UK nationality (Germany and Ireland). Interestingly, increasing the number of female judges is no guarantee of an increase in the number of female authors shortlisted: in 1977 there was only one female judge but 4 out of 6 shortlisted authors were women; and in 1986 4 out of 5 judges were women, but only one female author was shortlisted.


If at first you don't succeed...

...wait 47 years! The organisers of the prize invited HRH the Queen to the inaugural award ceremony - the invitation was declined. Finally, in 2015, royalty did attend, with HRH the Duchess of Cornwall presenting the prize to winning author Marlon James.