Rebecca West, the prize’s first female judge, poured scorn on most of the novels considered for the 1969 prize. In one candid letter from the archive, she vetoes books by 23 authors, including Melvyn Bragg (“grossly over-written”), Michael Frayn (“dull”), Kingsley Amis (“curiously disappointing, again”), Dave Gurney (“vulgar nonsense”) and Hugo Charteris (“peculiarly repulsive”).

In the same letter, West is almost as damning about the books she likes. She gives the green light to Paul Scott (“long-winded”), Thomas Wiseman (“competent”), and Anthony Powell (“not earth-shaking, I feel, because there is such a high percentage of twddling on [sic]”). Of that year’s winner, PH Newby, she writes: “I admire some of this man’s work so much that I cannot bear to admit that I cannot make out what this book is about”.

Details of the Vintage Man Booker archive can be found at