Beatles book by Craig Brown wins £50k Baillie Gifford non-fiction prize

By Paul Glynn
Entertainment reporter

Published
Image source, EPA
Image caption,
A mural of The Beatles, painted on a wall in the Baltic Triangle area of their home city Liverpool

Craig Brown's book One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time has won a leading non-fiction award, the Baillie Gifford Prize, whose judges said it had "reinvented the art of biography".

The book tells the history of the Fab Four through a mixture of diaries, letters, interviews and charts.

The annual £50,000 prize is given to the UK's best non-fiction work.

Martha Kearney, the chair of the judges, described the book as "a highly original take on familiar territory".

It amounted to "a joyous, irreverent, insightful celebration of the Beatles", the broadcaster said.

Author and journalist Brown has written 18 books. He told the BBC on Wednesday, the fact that so many other good books about the band already existed actually "freed me up to whatever kind of book I wanted".

'Peculiar paths'

He said: "I could go down much more peculiar paths than if say only one or two books have been written.

"It let me pursue, in particular, minor figures associated with The Beatles, or minor figures knocked out of the way by The Beatles. Or people who hated The Beatles, or strange fans or hangers-on.

"So I could go down these peripheral paths, which if I had just been writing an authorised biography or a normal kind of chronological book or something like that, I wouldn't have been able to do."

Image caption,
Craig Brown also writes Private Eye's diary column

For 30 years Brown has also penned a parodic diary column in Private Eye. He was therefore able to see the funny side when someone tried (and failed) to adopt his identity to intercept his winnings.

"The organisers told me this morning they got an email from someone with a sort of Gmail thing with my name asking them to put the money in a PayPal account," he laughed.

"Because I do parodies a lot of the time, they thought it's funny - someone parodying me to steal my money!"

The rest of the Baillie Gifford Prize shortlist:

  • Matthew Cobb - The Idea of the Brain: A History
  • Sudhir Hazareesingh - Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture
  • Christina Lamb - Our Bodies, Their Battlefield: What War Does to Women
  • Amy Stanley - Stranger in the Shogun's City: A Woman's Life in Nineteenth-Century Japan
  • Kate Summerscale - The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story

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