50 Items for 50 Years - Scandals

29 July 1971

A lack of sympathy

In addition to the Naipaul eligibility crisis, 1971 saw one of the judges resign halfway through the process. Malcolm Muggeridge decided he could not continue as a judge due to his 'lack of sympathy' with the novels submitted for the prize, the majority of which he considered pornographic. He was replaced by novelist Philip Toynbee.

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 offence as the Archive shows he was invited to a post-victory dinner with the sponsor.


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 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.

25 September 1991

None of my favourites

In 1991, Nicholas Mosley resigned from the judging panel when none of his choices made the shortlist. In an article in the Times, Mosley claimed that 'the other four judges complained that my chosen books were novels of ideas, or novels in which characters were subservient to ideas'.

24 October 1993

A mushroom feast

In 1993, workers at Middlebrook Mushrooms (a subsidiary of Booker plc) made plans to protest about alleged unfair dismissal during the prize dinner. In response, Booker issued a press release two days before the award ceremony, and plans were made to get all the guests into the Guildhall as swiftly as possible.


All publicity is good publicity...

1994 was a bumper year for scandal and outrage: Chair of judges, Professor John Bayley, drew much criticism when he claimed that 'new fiction is at best ambitious and at worst pretentious'; the shortlist was deemed boring and compared to the sleeping pill 'Mogadon'; cries of nepotism rang out when the wife of Booker judge James Wood, Claire Messud, made the shortlist; the expletive heavy content of the winning novel divided critics; and judge Rabbi Julia Neuberger made her dislike of the winning novel very public.


The 1999 'feminist mafia' row

In 1999, the judges hit the headlines when Professor John Sutherland started a public slanging match by publishing an unflattering account of the conduct of his female fellow judges, and hinting at a gender split in the panel. The other judges strongly denied the accusations. Shena Mackay and Natasha Walter wrote an open letter to The Guardian asserting that Sutherland had breached the trust of his fellow judges, and strayed into 'pure fantasy'; Mackay adding later that 'it was inevitable, given there were two women on the panel, that we would be cast in the role of a "feminist mafia"'. Boyd Tonkin conceded that 'to some extent there was a gender division' but sided with Mackay and Walter, concluding 'I think John just did not get what he wanted, which was Frayn'. Chair of judges, Gerald Kaufman, on the other hand, managed to see the funny side, and remarked that he was 'greatly enjoying the fireworks that have broken out since the prizegiving.'