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Publisher's Summary

A Spectator Book of the Year

A Times Book of the Year

A Telegraph Book of the Year

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

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

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Admittedly I couldn’t last beyond the first hour

The parody accents only sometimes detract from the pompous misogyny of this irritating author. Avoid it

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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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  • Robert Child
  • 14-05-2021

Funny and sad!

Easy to read, and you don't need to be a fan. having lived though this time I really enjoyed it


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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.

18 people found this helpful

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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.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Mr D
  • 08-02-2021

Cut and Paste and Repeat

What starts out as an enjoyable bounce around the world of The Beatles soon becomes repetitive, lazy and sneering with a strange obsession with the ruling classes. Not nearly as clever as it thinks it is.

9 people found this helpful

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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!

8 people found this helpful

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  • Hannah Mainland
  • 05-06-2020

This book is total crap, don’t bother listening to it

It appears to be written by upper class knobs, who have no understanding of Northern culture. Don’t bother to listen, it’s appalling

7 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 20-05-2020

Here’s another example, and another, and another.....

Some interesting insights, for example the identity and brief history of the girl whose story inspired She’s Leaving Home, but time after time after time after time (did you get the idea by the second “time”? Exactly.) we are given example after repetitive example of the same thing, eg accounts of Lennon’s assault of Bob Wooller, letters by deluded American fans, misheard lyrics and many more.

An untidy book, vaguely chronological but skipping back and forwards regularly. Some repetition, eg John’s words upon the death of Brian Epstein appear at least twice. Some very odd bits, like the chapter in which a girl identifies her Paul and John as her mum and dad respectively. And don’t get me started on the counter factual Chapter 148.

Interesting performances, with some good dramatic reading and reasonable accents. Marianne Faithfull is hysterical.

I listened all the way through, but this was ultimately a disappointing experience.

7 people found this helpful

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  • CKC
  • 05-07-2020

minutiae explored in naff accents

You may enjoy this if you crave really forensic scrutiny of Beatles-world (do we actually need to know the content of the commercial breaks in that Ed Sullivan Show?). Audible asks for rating on "story" but don't expect conventional narrative - or any sort of interpretation of events for that matter. And even though Craig Brown is involved (but why?), don't expect satire. The "story" is more performed than told - much of it is reported speech and so delivered in painfully irritating accents. Very disappointing integration of dozens of other biographies and documentaries.

6 people found this helpful

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  • M. JOUSTRA
  • 18-07-2020

Mixed bag

A few great stories and bits of interesting information mixed in with huge amounts of waffle and irrelevant padding in a highly disjointed and random timeline. Great performances from Mark McGann and Kate Robbins. Mediocre performance from Craig Brown telling his dull stories of Beatles tours. Could be half the length. Sorry - but I really wanted to enjoy this more, especially after the fabulous Elton autobiography ‘Me’

5 people found this helpful

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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 🙏

4 people found this helpful

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  • Nicholas
  • 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!

2 people found this helpful

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