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Publisher's Summary

Winner of The Baillie Gifford Prize 2020

From the award-winning author of Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret comes a fascinating, hilarious, kaleidoscopic biography of the Fab Four.   

John Updike compared them to ‘the sun coming out on an Easter morning’. Bob Dylan introduced them to drugs. The Duchess of Windsor adored them. Noel Coward despised them. J. R. R. Tolkien snubbed them. The Rolling Stones copied them. Leonard Bernstein admired them. Muhammad Ali called them ‘little sissies’. Successive Prime Ministers sucked up to them. No one has remained unaffected by the music of the Beatles. As Queen Elizabeth II observed on her golden wedding anniversary, ‘Think what we would have missed if we had never heard the Beatles.’

One Two Three Four traces the chance fusion of the four key elements that made up the Beatles: fire (John), water (Paul), air (George) and earth (Ringo). It also tells the bizarre and often unfortunate tales of the disparate and colourful people within their orbit, among them Fred Lennon, Yoko Ono, the Maharishi, Aunt Mimi, Helen Shapiro, the con artist Magic Alex, Phil Spector, their psychedelic dentist John Riley and their failed nemesis, Det Sgt Norman Pilcher.

A kaleidoscopic mixture of history, etymology, diaries, autobiography, fan letters, essays, parallel lives, party lists, charts, interviews, announcements and stories. One Two Three Four joyfully echoes the frenetic hurly-burly of an era.  

©2020 Craig Brown (P)2020 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic Reviews

"A ridiculously enjoyable treat...Brown is such an infectiously jolly writer that you don't even need to like the Beatles to enjoy his book...brilliant...hilarious...And at a time when, like everybody else, I was feeling not entirely thrilled about the news, I loved every word of it." (Sunday Times

"A celestial combination of writer and subject...One Two Three Four is a critical appreciation, a personal history, a miscellany, a work of scholarship and speculation and a tribute as passionate and worshipful as any fan letter." (Esquire

"The perfect antidote to these times." (Julian Barnes, Guardian

What listeners say about One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time

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Great "read"but *ouch* no Yank accents please!

I really enjoyed listening to the book over recent weeks, particularly enjoyed the obvious research and thoughtful creative reflections which support the historical facts. But, oy veh, the attempts at American accents by the male narrators hurt my ears and made me cringe! Whether the quoted lines were from a New Yorker, Californian or Southerner, what we hear is a uniform drawled sort of Brooklynese. Kate Robbins did a much better job with the female voices (Yoko's lines really did remind me of her accented form of US English).

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  • Ms
  • 11-05-2020

Disappointing

Jumps about all over the place. Also lifts passages word for word from Cynthia Lennon’s book, John, with no acknowledgement. Found the narration painful and didn’t like the attempts at different accents. Waited ages for this to come out, and had high hopes as the author’s biography of Princess Margaret was excellent.

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  • Emma T
  • 12-05-2020

Excellent - perfect format for an audiobook

Having loved his previous book, Ma’am Darling, in audio, I couldn’t wait for this one. These make perfect audio books, with something new and interesting happening all the time. Brown is so skilled at making you laugh out loud, then leaving you with the most extraordinary moments of pathos. I found this a wonderful escape from lockdown and managed to stretch out the pleasure even further by playing Beatles music here and there. It’s fab!

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  • Deelite
  • 09-05-2020

Love Love Love (yeah yeah yeah)!

This book is a feast- Getting Kate Robbins to do the female characters was a touch. I double took realising that it wasn’t actually recordings of Margaret Thatcher and Marianne Faithful. Amazing! This book is such fun; we all know so much about the Beatles already that it didn’t revise my preconceptions of Their individual characters and contribution to music greatly; but Learning about his upbringing has given me more sympathy for John (who I always considered a bit of a pompous t**t). I love the personal tales of fans and family- so insightful- and I learnt heaps about the history and culture of the time- but in a gossipy, fun, playful way. Like a cosy chat in the pub with your cool uncle who’s met everyone back in the day but is cool and urbane enough to tease back some of the more interesting stories and drop at the right time for maximum impact. More please! Thanks 🙏

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  • Nick
  • 19-05-2020

Audio books don’t get better than this

I like the Beatles - not a superfan - but I don’t think it would matter if i hadn’t actually been a fan at all. This book is about so much more than a band - it’s about British history, post-war popular culture, growing up and growing apart, and is so completely entertaining, so chockfull of digressions and speculations, such a symphony of story, that I desperately didn’t want it to end. The voice work is also by far the best I’ve heard on Audible. A note to the producers - you see, narrators don’t need to use RP!

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  • Stephen Deal
  • 26-11-2020

Fabulous

A refreshing retelling of a well known story. A series of vignettes, anecdotes and recollections charting the rise and rise and eventual disintegration of The Beatles from schoolboy wannabe rockers to cultural icons. At times funny, at times poignant, always informative.

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  • ThePalmYard
  • 30-10-2020

Beatles Magic

I absolutely loved that. I'm quite emotional having just finished it. A great telling of one of the great stories of all time. The magic Beatles world lives on.

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  • jenks
  • 17-10-2020

Great work,great band,great listen

I loved how the story jumps in time and follows stories to the end. I can already imagine the film by roddy Doyle. Really enjoyable and surprising in its style, well worth a listen.

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  • Mr John B Buckley
  • 08-10-2020

A must for fans of Beatles trivia

Amazing catalogue of Beatles facts. Not so much on George Martin but a fair bit on Brian Epstein. Well read. It was a bit of a suprise when the book ended. The narrative isn't always linear.

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  • LR
  • 27-09-2020

The best audiobook I’ve listened to in ages

This is a terrific audiobook. I love The Beatles’ music but I’m not au fait with every facet of their history, so I actually learned quite a lot - about people like Magic Alex and the story of Jimmie Nicol. I feel bereft now that it’s finished. The performances are great. Mark McGann manages to characterise each Beatle with a particular impression, while Kate Robbins turns in a fine Yoko Ono & Cilla Black (though I’ll have to give her a bye for a quite terrible Northern Irish accent).

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  • Foxy
  • 22-08-2020

Disappointing and highly irritating

I'm struggling to get through this book. I've read quite a few books on the Beatles and this is the least enjoyable. What you get is a series of disjointed and short chapters on the Beatles' story, set against the background of the times. It's written from a very narrow perspective, that of the world of the establishment in '60's Britain. It's a very narrow and dull intepretation of the Beatles' story.

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