Viv Hardwick talks to Hunter Davies about his saddest and busiest year at the age of 80

SUCCESSFUL author and journalist Hunter Davies recalls vividly the worst piece of advice he gave anyone. It was to legendary Northern Echo Harold Evans when he arrived to take the helm of The Sunday Times. "I told him to go back to Darlington because he was a provincial journalist and never make it in London because they'll eat you up. And he ignored my advice," jokes Davies.

The 80-year-old has sold out his Royal Literary Fund Talk at Durham Book Festival today where he will discuss his new release The Co-op's Got Bananas! A Memoir of Growing Up In the Post-War North, which includes the author's early days in Carlisle and education at Durham University. The event is chaired by North-East writer Michael Chaplin.

It's hard to think of Davies as 80 having been the youthful, and only, authorised biographer of the Beatles. "I'm eternally amazed at reaching 80. Everyone talks of old people, but you don't think about yourself as old because you only think about yourself in your head. When I was young, 80 seemed incredibly old, but now lots of people are 80 and any minute now there will be a million who are 90," he says.

Typically tongue-in-cheek about being a star guest at Durham, he says: "Everybody and their dog has got a literary festival these days and you see the same people doing the rounds. I've got three books out this year and I felt beholden to the publishers to do my bit."

The other two releases are Lakeland: A Personal Journey and the latest in his series of books about John, Paul, George and Ringo, The Beatles Encyclopedia. "The Beatles book is a personalised and opinionated work. What's funny is that my wife (writer Margaret Foster) died this year and I've been going to festivals and book launches since about 1964, but what used to happen is that people would queue for a book signing and every second one would say, 'Is your wife here?' and when she wasn't they would leave. I used to be furious about that," he jokes.

Davies admits it's been hard to mourn Margaret because this has been his busiest year as an author, but reveals that he sold the couple's second home, near Loweswater, in the Lake District, because he couldn't bear the thought of visiting without her.

"We used to live there for six months, May to October, and I couldn't face being there on my own. Next week, I'm going to stay with friends in Loweswater because I intend to go back there for ever. I think it's chance and luck that I'm so busy and I've also got three newspaper columns and I still haven't cleared Margaret's room out, and she died in February. I just haven't had time to mope and mourn, but next year might be different," says Davies, who is just finishing the follow-up to The Co-op's Got Bananas.

"This continues the story from 1960 when I get married and come to London. It should be out next year and take me up to the present-day. At the moment it's called A Life in the Day Off which is taken from my days at Durham University, 1954-58, when I was editor of

the student newspaper Palatinate. The first thing I ever wrote was a joke column about archetypal students under that title and 20 years later, when I was editor of The Sunday Times magazine, there was a column with the same title that is still going strong," he says.

Davies' relationship with the Beatles began when he wrote the 1965 novel Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush which led to a meeting with Paul McCartney to discuss a theme song for a film adaptation.

"In 40 years since the Beatles biography I've done 40 books on 40 different subjects and come back to the Beatles in the last four or five years. The John Lennon Letters and Beatles Lyrics were books containing things the fans probably didn't know, but The Encyclopedia is a bit of fun where I've rated people. places and songs.

"I've always loved the song Strawberry Fields Forever because when I put the idea of a biography to Paul in 1966 and then went to see Brian Epstein, he played me the acetate of the record. I thought it was amazing, and I was astounded because it was psychedelic and wondered, 'What will the fans think, you can't sing along to it?' I asked Brian what Strawberry Fields meant and he had no idea, but I got the job and that song has lots of resonance for me."

Durham Book Festival runs until October 16, with more than 50 events including author talks, poetry readings, performance, and political debates. Many events, including appearances from Alan Johnson MP and David Baddiel have now sold out, but you can still grab last minute tickets for a wide range of events. Here’s our selection of the top picks:

Carmen Marcus: The Book of Godless Verse, Sat, Oct 8, 3.30pm-4.30pm. Durham Town Hall (Burlison Gallery)

£6/£4. In 2015 Carmen Marcus, from Saltburn, was named a BBC Radio 3 Verb New Voice.

She will be performing her Radio 3 commissioned work, Breaking Up with Jesus, as well as a festival commission A Stranger’s Case, about shared experiences of leaving behind or fleeing home.

Cathy Rentzenbrink and Decca Aitkenhead: Love and Loss, Saturday, Oct 8, 5pm-6pm. Palace Green Library, £8/£6. Two moving, personal stories about love, loss, and trauma.

Live Canon present War Poets, Sun, Oct 9, 1pm–2pm. Durham Town Hall, £10/£8. A live performance of several centuries of war poetry, from the Live Canon Ensemble.

Writing the First World War with Pat Barker and Michael Morpurgo. Fri, Oct 14, 7pm–8.15pm. Durham Cathedral Nave

£12/£10. Award-winning authors Pat Barker and Michael Morpurgo will together talk about what draws them to the First World War and will also reflect upon their illustrious writing careers.

George Monbiot and Ewan McLennan: Breaking the Spell of Loneliness, Weds, Oct 12, 7pm-8.30pm. The Miners' Hall, £12/£8.

Last year, author and journalist George Monbiot wrote an article for The Guardian on the personal and social effects of loneliness, which quickly went viral. He approached folk singer and songwriter Ewan McLennan and suggested a musical collaboration.

An Evening with Anthony Horowitz: Weds, Oct 12, 7.30pm-8.30pm. Gala Theatre, £10/£8. The author's festival debut with a talk about his fascinating career and to introduce a brand-new book, Magpie Murders, a classic crime novel with more than one twist.

The internationally best-selling author's 40 books includes two new Sherlock Holmes novels, the James Bond novel Trigger Mortis; and the teen spy series Alex Rider plus creating and writing TV's Midsomer Murders and Bafta award-winning Foyle’s War.

Richard Hines: No Way But Gentlenesse: Sat, Oct 15, 3pm-4pm. Palace Green Library, £8/£6. Born and raised in a South Yorkshire mining village, Richard Hines had a boyhood encounter with a nest of kestrels and inspired older brother Barry Hines’s classic novel A Kestrel for a Knave. Richard later trained the kestrels that soared into cinematic history in Ken Loach’s classic film, Kes.

Songwriter in Residence: Kathryn Williams and Friends: Sat, Oct 15, 4pm–5.30pm. Gala Theatre Studio, £10/£8. This year’s major book festival commission brings together leading singer-songwriters and exceptional poets and novelists. Performers include Kathryn Williams, Tom McRae, James Yorkston and Polly Paulusma and writers are Paul Farley, Salena Godden, Laura Barnett and Kirsty Logan.

For all events and tickets, see