Claire Tomalin is one of Britain’s most eminent biographers. At the time of the 1980 prize, however, she had published just one book, The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft.
As well as her books about some of English literature’s heaviest hitters – Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens among them – she has worked as a critic and journalist (she was literary editor of the New Statesman when Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens were colleagues). After the death of her foreign correspondent husband Nicholas Tomalin in the Yom-Kippur War, she married the playwright and novelist Michael Frayn (Booker Prize-shortlisted in 1993). At the 1980 prize dinner: ‘I saw a tear trickle down Golding’s cheek when the announcement was made.’