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Craig Brown’s One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time wins the 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction

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Craig Brown’s One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time has been awarded the 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction.

Reviewed by the Evening Standard as a “kaleidoscopic work” that zings with freshness, Brown’s innovative biography of The Beatles will take home the grand prize of £50,000.

Brown, a veteran journalist and former biographer of Princess Margaret, explained that his aim was to inject the book with the whirlwind vitality of the swinging 60s.  

The biography not only touches on the familiar tales of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, but also weaves in the stories of those they met along the way: Brian Epstein, Fred Lennon, Aunt Mimi, Helen Shapiro, and their psychedelic dentist John Riley, to name but a few.

The result is what Martha Kearney, chair of the judges, has described as “a joyous, irreverent, insightful celebration of The Beatles, a highly original take on familiar territory.  

Craig Brown has reinvented the art of biography

“It’s also a profound book about success and failure which won the unanimous support of our judges. Craig Brown has reinvented the art of biography,” she added.

Martha Kearney was joined on the judging panel this year by fellow BBC presenter, professor and author Shahidha Bari, editor and novelist Simon Ings, New Statesman writer Leo Robson, New York Times opinion editor Max Strasser, and journalist and author Bee Wilson.  

Commenting on the win, they explained that Brown was noted for his original take on both genre and subject.

“Craig Brown has miraculously found a way to take the most familiar of subjects – The Beatles – and to turn it into an entirely fresh composite biography, one that is both sadder and funnier than in any previous account of the band.”

As well as having penned a further 18 books, Brown is also a prolific journalist, whose columns have been featured in The Guardian, The Times, The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph.

His last biography, Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret, was released to similar acclaim, winning the James Tait Black Memorial Award and the South Bank Sky Arts Literature Award.

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