Sunday, March 18, 2012

Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs is one of the oldest BBC radio programmes. Famous guests, called “castaways” in the broadcast, are asked to choose eight of their favorite discs, a book and a luxury that they would take to a desert island. They also receive the bible and the complete work of William Shakespeare in addition to the items they have selected. The guests are then supposed to comment on their choices, which might be linked to people they know or to events of their own lives, and they are asked to talk about key moments of their lives and career.

Four presenters have succeeded one another in the 45-minutes-show so far. Roy Plomley, from whom the idea of the show sprang up, was the first emblematic broadcaster. He interviewed his first castaway Vic Oliver in 1942. This means that the show is now 70 years old. Plomley, also producer, playwright and novelist, went on doing this job for more than 40 years if we do not take the break between 1946 and 1951 into account. He died in 1985 and was replaced by Michael Parkinson the same year. In 1988, it was Sue Lawley's turn to take over and for six years now, everyone can hear Kirsty Young on this BBC 4 programme on a weekly basis, generally on Friday.

Kirsty Young

Roy Plomley

Desert Island discs was recorded for the first time on 27th January 1942 and aired two days later in the Forces Programme. The radio broadcast was introduced as followed: “a programme in which a well-known person is asked the question, if you were to be cast away alone on a desert island, which 8 gramophone records would you choose to have with you, assuming of course, that you had a gramophone and an inexhaustible supply of needles.”Since then, the concept of Desert Island Discs has not changed, except two additions which were made in 1951, namely the luxury and the book. The choice of luxury was introduced when ‘garlic’ was chosen by the actress Sally Ann Howes and the choice of book when Henry Kendall, actor and director, chose “Who’s Who” in the Theatre.

Who are the castaways and how are they selected? The castaways are celebrities who have played an important role in their field or in society. They are for instance actors, directors, musicians or writers. They are also chosen because they might appeal to the Radio 4 audience. The first castaway was Vic Oliver, a popular Viennese comedian, actor and musician. Other famous guests are Ian Fleming, Anthony Burgess, Whoopi Goldberg, Stephen King, Anthony Hopkins and many others.
As an example of the show, the very well-known actor and musician Hugh Laurie was interviewed by Sue Lawley in 1996.

The combination of music and interview, especially if the interviewee is well-known, is what made Desert Island Discs one of the most popular programmes of the English-speaking world. And as the show is now 70 years old and still aired every week, one may wonder if it would end one day.

Justine Dumont and Mathieu Pirsoul.

No comments: