Welsh say 'racist' Booker judge must go

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The Independent Culture
An unexpected literary feud is taking shape following a demand from the Welsh Academy that the Booker judge A N Wilson be sacked from this year's panel on the grounds that he is an "out-and-out racist".

The Academy represents some 1,500 writers including Bernice Rubens, who won the Booker prize in 1970, and Andrew Davies, who wrote the recent BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

In a letter to the award's long-time organiser, Martyn Goff, the academy registered a formal complaint and requested that Mr Wilson, literary editor of the London Evening Standard, be dropped from the five-strong judging panel chaired by Carmen Callil, founder of the publishers Virago.

"One of your judges, A N Wilson, is well known for his strident anti- Welsh views," the letter warned. "His ill-informed opinions include the following from the Evening Standard on 6 March 1993: 'The Welsh have never made any significant contribution to any branch of knowledge, culture or entertainment ... They have no architecture, no gastronomic tradition, and, since the Middle Ages, no literature worthy of the name.' "

Noting that the Booker was Britain's best-known literary award, it continued: "It does you no favours to include an out-and-out racist on the 1996 panel. Indeed, such a state of affairs should not be tolerated in a civilised society. We therefore ask that A N Wilson be removed from this year's panel of judges."

Kevin Thomas, director of the Welsh Academy, said it had taken such a firm line because A N Wilson's comments were indicative of anti-Welsh prejudice, not because it feared Wilson would discriminate against novels submitted for the Booker by Welsh authors.

Had Wilson directed his comments at black people, he would not have been asked onto the panel in the first place, Mr Thomas argued.

"It seems to be acceptable to say these things about Welsh people. They are characteristic of a certain type of Oxbridge intellectual. We feel the Welsh are the last group that it is acceptable to be racist about and this is a particularly strong example of that."

There was growing anger in Wales about the use of the verb "to welsh", meaning "to swindle", Mr Thomas added, linked to a growing confidence in Wales and Welshness. "Yet Wilson described the Welsh as dingy, sly and untalented."

Mr Goff, however, is unmoved by the Welsh Academy's argument. "It's unbelievable, I think. They said, 'This is racism, will you push him off your panel'. But really, the private views of our judges are not our concern in any way," he reported.

"Any minority thing is their own business and not ours. A N Wilson is there to stay - absolutely. There could be a hundred reasons for removing him, but this is not one of them."

Mr Wilson was oblivious to the storm he had caused yesterday, as he was driving to Cornwall for a two-week holiday. This year's Booker Prize will be awarded on 29 October.

Our reference to the film Stiff Upper Lips on yesterday's page was in error. In fact, it is not due to come out until late this year or early next year.

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