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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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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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!

4 people found this helpful

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  • Ms
  • 11-05-20

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.

3 people found this helpful

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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 🙏

2 people found this helpful

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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!

1 person found this helpful

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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.

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An immersive read

This audio book is brilliantly narrated by Mark McGann, Kate Robins and Graig Brown, the voices are so spot on that I find it hard to believe that there was only three narrators.

The book is the best biography of the Beatles I have read. I got lost in the world of the Fab Four in this immersive read.

I’d recommend this book to all Beatles fanatics as much as I would to those who have never read a Beatles biography before.

Just brilliant. Five stars across the board

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Not a boring biography

An interesting and novel take on the story of The Beatles. As someone who was a teenager in the Sixties and had a relative who worked for The Beatles, there were details that I didn't know so good to learn. Some of the performances were a bit 'flat' but overall a great listen. I feel this is better as an audio book than it would be as a straight read.

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Forensic detail!

I found this a good one to run with as there is so much detail and lists if I missed a bit it didn’t matter. I did know a lot of the Beatles story but it was nice to have it verified. I am 65

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  • 15-12-20

Not as good as expected.

Some great stories but let’s be honest it’s basically a massive cut and paste job.

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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.