Home  / MS 678

MS 678

Reference code

MS 678


Robert McCrum archive



Administrative / Biographical history

McCRUM, John Robert

Robert McCrum is a former publisher, freelance journalist, a former associate editor and literary editor of The Observer, a broadcaster, writer, novelist, author, playwright, biographer and memoirist. He is a Peabody and Emmy-award winning scriptwriter and internationally-recognised cultural historian.

McCrum was born in Cambridge, the eldest son of Michael McCrum and Christine fforde. His father was headmaster of Eton College from 1970 to 1980. He was educated at Sherborne School and studied History at Corpus Christie College, Cambridge from 1972 to 1975. He won a post-graduate Thuron scholarship to study at the University of Pennsylvania from 1975 to 1976.

He went on to work as a publicist at Chatto & Windus in London until 1979. That year, he won the Tony Godwin prize to gain experience in the publishing business in New York, where he was placed with the firm Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.

McCrum was employed by Faber & Faber in London in 1979 as editorial director, rising to become editor-in-chief from 1980 to 1996; during this time, he established himself as a veteran of the British book world. Despite famous examples like Lawrence Durrell and William Golding, Faber & Faber did not have much of a record as a fiction publisher, and McCrum established the company as a publisher of novels, at what seemed to be an exciting time for new fiction. He edited and introduced to a British readership some of the foremost new writers of the 1980s. Many of these novelists were non-British, or wrote fiction that was at a tangent to England and Englishness. They include Milan Kundera, Lorrie Moore, Mario Vargas Llosa, Barbara Kingsolver, Marilynne Robinson, Peter Carey, Harold Pinter and Hanif Kureishi. McCrum also discovered the work of the future Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, Booker Prize winner and American masters such as Paul Auster and many more - some of whom were virtually unknown at the time. The Faber fiction list became international under his stewardship. To date, McCrum has edited four Nobel laureates (Vargas Llosa, Pinter, Pamuk and Ishiguro).

He left Faber & Faber in 1996 to work as a journalist at The Observer until 2018. As literary editor and later as associate editor, his journalism focused on interviews with many great contemporary writers such as V.S. Naipaul, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Lorrie Moore, Clive James, Alan Bennett and Seamus Heaney, as well as features, essays and book reviews. He established himself as a newspaper critic and cultural commentator, producing a steady output of erudite commentaries, reviews and literary reflections. Between 1996 and 2008, he wrote a widely-read weekly column in The Observer - ‘The World of Books’.

McCrum has written for a variety of other publications and literary outlets, including The Guardian, The New Yorker, The Times, The Listener, the BBC, Channel 4, Condé Nast Traveller and American Scholar.

In between his two careers as publisher and journalist, McCrum suffered a serious stroke in 1995, a life-changing experience he describes in his memoir My Year Off: Rediscovering Life After a Stroke (1996) and its sequel Every Third Thought – On Life, Death and the Endgame published in 2017. It was also serialised on BBC Radio 4.

McCrum has written several acclaimed books, including Globish - How the English Language became the World’s Language (2010), Shakespearean: On Life & Language in Times of Disruption (2020) and a biography and definitive life of P.G. Wodehouse in 2005. He has also written seven novels, including In the Secret State (1980), The Fabulous Englishman (1984) and Mainland (1991).

As a broadcaster on BBC Radio 4, he completed three acclaimed series, Shakespeare and the American Dream, The Life in My Head: From Stroke to Brain Attack, and America Rewritten. He wrote a nine-part, Emmy-award winning television series The Story of English (and co-wrote its companion book), which traces the evolution and social impact of the English language. The series was also very well-received in the United States.

In addition to his writing and publishing work, McCrum has also served as a judge for several literary awards, including the Man Booker Prize. He has received several awards for his own writing, including the Somerset Maugham Award and the E.M. Forster Award, and in 2018, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Exeter University.

Robert McCrum’s archive encompasses all aspects of his publishing and literary output – drafts and research for his books, articles, plays and films, broadcasts and documentaries. It includes personal papers and correspondence relevant to all aspects of his life.



Extent & medium

141 boxes containing 367 files and 155 volumes

Content description

The archive consists largely of working papers, typescripts and manuscripts of Robert McCrum's publications including a number of his novels, non-fiction work, children's stories and also some unpublished work. It includes working papers and published articles in his capacity as a journalist. Significant papers reflect his work in publishing and the book trade during the 1980s including a collection of typescripts by authors that McCrum worked with in his publishing capacity, notably the typescript of what was ultimately published as The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, The English Patient by Michael Ontdaatje and Harold Pinter's Ashes to Ashes, among others.

The archive also holds a collection of personal papers relating to his family, school and university years, a collection of his diaries and notebooks, some of which have preliminary ideas for his fictional works. There is also a significant body of assembled personal correspondence and related papers and also correspondence relating to his literary work, publishing and journalism.

The archive also includes a large collection of personal and work-related photographs.

In addition to his literary papers the collection includes McCrum’s selected personal copies of his published works including:

The Psychological Moment

The Fabulous Englishman
The Story of English
A Loss of Heart
P.G. Wodehouse: a Life

[Detailed catalogue entries for these have been recorded in the main library catalogue]


The collection was created and accumulated by McCrum during the course of his life and career as author, publisher and journalist.

Associated material

In addition to the copies of his work given by McCrum along with his literary papers, the Library has acquired copies of some of his other published books and these are catalogued separately.

Existence and location of originals

Papers relating to Robert McCrum's years as literary editor at Faber & Faber may be found in the Faber Archive

Existence and location of copies

Robert McCrum's articles that appeared in The Guardian and The Observer print editions and online since September 1998 are available on theguardian.com
Further information and resources

Can't find what you are looking for?

Digital resources

Terms and conditions

Powered by CollectionsIndex+ Collections Online