Booker plays it safe with Beer

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Gillian Beer, Professor of English at Cambridge University, has been named as chairman of this year's Booker Prize judges.

She follows the publisher Carmen Callil who last year used her position as chairman to launch a stinging attack on literary critics who had criticised the British novel.

This year, however, there are unlikely to be fireworks, says Peter Harland, managing director of the publishing market research company Bookwatch - compilers of the best-seller lists - and a close industry observer.

"The panel has a good literary reputation and is likely to produce a good shortlist," he said. "But we won't get the same kind of fireworks as last year. Professor Beer is not a controversial figure."

Also on the panel are the novelist and critic Rachel Billington and Jan Dalley, literary editor of the Independent on Sunday. They are joined by Jason Cowley, journalist and reviewer, and author Dan Jacobson.

Last year, judge and literary critic A N Wilson caused a storm by denouncing the Booker Prize as "sleazy" and calling for it to be scrapped. He was accused by the author Jonathan Coe, another judge, of "throwing temper tantrums".

The shortlist will be announced in September. The winner of the pounds 20,000 prize will be announced on October 14.

Gillian Beer, only the fifth woman chairman in the prize's 29 years, is King Edward VII Professor of English Literature and President of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and a trustee of the British Museum.