Author David Storey won the 21,000-pound prize for his novel Saville through sheer luck in 1976, after a three-judge panel was unable to decide on a winner, the prize's former administrator Martyn Goff has revealed.
According to a report in 'The Guardian, an interview with the late Goff, made public in a new film from the British Library drawing on hundreds of hours of audio interviews about the prize, novelist Walter Allen and critic Francis King were torn between Storey's novel and another book.
Mary Wilson, the poet and wife of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, should have had the deciding vote, but she was so offended by the amount of sex in that year's novels she refused to take part in the debate.
"She was sort of leaving it to the other two judges. And they could not agree and she didn't want to vote, and we got to a total stalemate," Goff said.
"Eventually one of the other two judges said, 'Well, I'm in favour of one of the two books'. The other said 'I'm in favour of Storey', and the only thing we can do and this has never been revealed before is to toss for it, and they spun a coin and that was the winner," Goff said in the interview reported by the newspaper.
Along with the unusual way in which 1976's winner was chosen, the archive also reveals the scorn with which Rebecca West, who judged the prize in 1969 and 1970, regarded the contenders.
In one letter, West dismisses John le Carre as writing "according to formula", Kingsley Amis as "curiously disappointing", Wendy Owen as "a half-wit" and Melvyn Bragg as "grossly over written," the report said.
The archive also unveils that Malcolm Muggeridge quit the judging panel in 1971 as, like Mary Wilson, he thought most of the books had too much sex in them and Saul Bellow tried to have that year's winner V S Naipaul kicked from the shortlist, as he thought Naipaul's episodic book 'In a Free State' was not really a novel.
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