Where next for the Man Booker Prize?

Stella Rimington responds to the NS's criticisms of the shortlist.

Leo Robson's unforgiving assessment of both the composition of the panel of judges for this year's Man Booker Prize and the shortlist those judges have come up with has caused some fluttering in the dovecotes. In Saturday's Guardian, in an interview with Stuart Jeffries, Rimington responded to Robson's charge that "you wouldn't ask John Bayley to be a consultant on Spooks". "People weirder than me have chaired the Booker," she insisted. "A previous chair was Michael Portillo." "The aim of the Booker," Rimington went on, "was to appeal to the average intelligent reader and we [the judges] are average intelligent readers."

Rimington's appeal to the "average intelligent reader" is fair enough, but, as Robson pointed out, she and her fellow judges seem decidedly pessimistic about the kinds of demands that might be made on such a reader. One of the judges, diarist and former MP (and regular NS contributor) Chris Mullin said he'd wanted to choose "readable" books. But, Robson wrote, "some of us recoil from the use of 'readable' to mean (essentially) 'can be read without struggle/thinking/turning off the telly. And people who have been selected for their skill as readers should not be making a point of using 'read' as a noun."

In any event, the result of the judges' deliberations was a longlist (never mind the shortlist) that ignored, inter alia, David Bezmozgis, Philip Hensher, Hisham Matar, Ali Smith, Ross Raisin, Hari Kunzru, Belinda McKeon, David Miller, Tessa Hadley, Edward St Aubyn, Michael Ondaatje, Adam Mars-Jones, Dermot Healy.

At a press conference on 6 September, the administrator of the Man Booker Prize, Ion Trewin, insisted the judges had chosen six books "as exciting as [in] previous years", whilst at the same acknowledging, with a hint of desperation, the "unusual nature" of the shortlist - which rather gave the game away.

I gather there have been mutterings about Trewin's stewardship of the Prize, and even a suggestion from some in positions of influence that he might consider "falling on his sword". Whatever he decides to do, if, as Robson put it, "things continue as they are, it isn't hard to imagine a time when the prize will be seen as a way not of celebrating novels, just of selling them". Indeed, some in the literary world are wondering if it isn't time to start another prize altogether.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

The Jump/Channel 4
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The most dangerous show on TV: is The Jump becoming a celebrity Hunger Games?

Will it take a life-threatening injury, or worse, before the madness ends?!

First they came for former EastEnders actor Louis Lytton. Then, they came for former EastEnders actor Sid Owen. Then, they came for former Holby City actor Tina Hobley. But now, the third season of Channel 4’s The Jump has moved on from retired soap stars to claim a new set of victims: Britain’s top athletes, including Rebecca Adlington, Beth Tweddle and Linford Christie.

The winter sports reality show The Jump takes your average collection of D-list celebrities, with a few sports personalities mixed in for good measure, and asks them to compete in a series of alpine challenges – skeleton, bobsleigh, snowboarding and, of course, ski jumping – while Davina McCall says things like, “Look at that jump. Just look at it. Are you nervous?”

It sounds fairly mild, but Sir Steve Redgrave, Ola Jordan, Sally Bercow and Melinda Messenger have all withdrawn from the programme after injuries in the past.

Riskier than I’m a Celebrity, Splash! and Dancing on Ice mixed together, the third season of The Jump is fast turning into a dystopian celebrity harm spectacle, a relentless conveyor belt of head injuries and fractured bones.

So far, seven out of the competition’s 12 contestants have sustained injuries. First, Lytton tore a ligament in her thumb, before being rushed to hospital after a training incident at the end of last month. Then, Owen fell on his leg during the first episode having previously complained of “a bad crash during training” for the skeleton.

Adlington (who openly wept with fear when she first gazed upon the titular ski jump, described as being the “height of three double decker buses”) was hospitalised and withdrew from the show after a televised fall left her with a dislocated shoulder: she said the pain was “worse than childbirth”. Hobley soon followed with a dislocated elbow.

Tweddle suffered a particularly bad accident during rehearsals, and now remains in hospital after having her spine fused together, which involved having a piece of bone taken from her hip. On Monday, Christie became the fourth contestant to be hospitalised in the space of two weeks, pulling his hamstring. As of today, Made in Chelsea cast member Mark Francis is the fourth contestant to withdraw, after fracturing his ankle.

In response to criticisms, Channel 4 reminded viewers that 46 of their celebrity participants have so far emerged unscathed across the three series, which seems like a remarkably low bar to set for a major reality TV series: “no one’s been seriously hurt so far” is not much of a safety procedure.

Judge Eddie the Eagle implied that contestents were injuring themselves through their own laziness and coffee obsessions. He wrote in the Daily Mail:

“Those competitors should be up and down the steps relentlessly – jump and go back, jump and go back. Instead too many will have a couple of goes before going off for a coffee and forgetting to return because they're feeling tired.”

But as the celebrity casualty list approaches double figures and more than 12 viewers have officially complained, the channel has begun an urgent safety review of the show, after one insider reportedly labelled it “the most dangerous show on television”.

It all seemed like fun and games when we were watching reality TV stars rolling around in the snow in embarrassing lurid lyrca suits. But will it take a life-threatening injury, or worse, before the madness ends?! Pray for Brian McFadden. Pray for Sarah Harding. Pray for Tamara Beckwith. Pray for the end of The Jump.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.