The Booker Prize Foundation has launched an online celebration for the Man Booker Prize’s 50th anniversary, charting key moments in the prize’s history.
Under the banner “Vintage Man Booker” there will be stories, images and video from the archive hosted on the Man Booker Prize website alongside newly commissioned content - including a Man Booker 50 song written and performed by comedian Adam Kay. According to the Man Booker, the tune for Kay’s song “owes a debt to Tom Lehrer as much as Gilbert and Sullivan” and features all 51 winners’ names in under a minute.
Other commissioned content comprises a new film by National Life Stories released by the British Library. Entitled “Behind the Scenes: The Man Booker at 50”, it draws on hundreds of hours of audio interviews held in the Authors’ Lives collection of the Library’s Sound Archive “to tell a vivid history of the prize”.
Key events comprised by the film include: Malcolm Muggeridge revealing his resignation as a judge in 1971, in protest there was too much sex in the books submitted; the coin toss that led to David Storey winning the prize in 1976, as told by former administrator Martyn Goff; Elizabeth Jane Howard’s successful attempt to include a novel by her husband, Kingsley Amis, in the 1974 shortlist as recollected by the late literary director Ion Trewin; and answerphone messages left for Graham Swift by Pat Barker and Salman Rushdie following his win in 1996.
In addition, Oxford Brookes University has digitised 50 items from the official Man Booker Prize archive (which has resided at the university since 2003), along with material from the first year of the prize, to create a web page “50 years of the Booker Prize in 50 items”.
Among the selection of digitised items is correspondence about the beginnings of the prize between publisher Tom Maschler and Charles Tyrell of Booker McConnell; the documented discussion about the prize’s name; judge Dame Rebecca West’s “painfully honest” judging notes; and the resignation letter from judge Nicholas Mosley in 1991.
"It's wonderful to have so much of this material available to a wider public. The prize has had its famous — and entertainingly infamous — moments, but behind each one is a more textured story," said Gaby Wood, literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation. "The voices stored in The British Library and the wealth of documents at Oxford Brookes University allow the prize to be better known, in all its intrigue and complexity. A fact worth celebrating with a song, and much else."
Celebrations for the prize's 50th anniversary have this year already included a special award, the Golden Man Booker Prize, which was awarded to The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. The longlist for the 2018 prize, where Ondaatje again makes an appearance, was announced in July. A shortlist is due to be unveiled on 20th September.