Desert Island Discs
Desert Island Discs is a BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

 programme first broadcast on 29 January 1942. It is the second longest-running radio programme (surpassed only by the Grand Ole Opry
Grand Ole Opry
The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly country music stage concert in Nashville, Tennessee, that has presented the biggest stars of that genre since 1925. It is also among the longest-running broadcasts in history since its beginnings as a one-hour radio "barn dance" on WSM-AM...

, 28 November 1925), and is the longest-running factual programme in the history of radio
History of radio
The early history of radio is the history of technology that produced radio instruments that use radio waves. Within the timeline of radio, many people contributed theory and inventions in what became radio. Radio development began as "wireless telegraphy"...

. Originally devised and presented by Roy Plomley
Roy Plomley
Francis Roy Plomley , OBE was an English radio broadcaster, producer, playwright and novelist.-Early life:Plomley was the son of a pharmacist and was educated at King's College School, Wimbledon...

, each week a guest ("castaway") is asked to choose eight pieces of music, a book and a luxury item for their imaginary stay on the island, while discussing their lives and the reasons for their choices. The programme's theme is By the Sleepy Lagoon composed by Eric Coates
Eric Coates
Eric Coates was an English composer of light music and a viola player.-Life:Eric was born in Hucknall in Nottinghamshire to William Harrison Coates , a surgeon, and his wife, Mary Jane Gwynne, hailing from Usk in Monmouthshire...

 in 1930. Since 2006 it has been presented by Kirsty Young
Kirsty Young
Kirsty Jackson Young is a Scottish television presenter and radio presenter. She is the main presenter of Crimewatch and Desert Island Discs. She is married to millionaire club owner Nick Jones.- Career :...



Guests are invited to imagine themselves cast away
A castaway is a person who is cast adrift or ashore. While the situation usually happens after a shipwreck, some people voluntarily stay behind on a deserted island, either to evade their captors or the world in general. Alternatively, a person or item can be cast away, meaning rejected or discarded...

 on a desert island
Desert island
A desert island or uninhabited island is an island that has yet to be populated by humans. Uninhabited islands are often used in movies or stories about shipwrecked people, and are also used as stereotypes for the idea of "paradise". Some uninhabited islands are protected as nature reserves and...

, and to choose eight pieces of music, originally gramophone records, to take with them; discussion of their choices permits a review of their life. Excerpts from their choices are played or, in the case of short pieces, the whole work. At the end of the programme they choose the one piece they regard most highly. They are then asked which book they would take with them; they are automatically given the Complete Works of Shakespeare
Complete Works of Shakespeare
Complete Works of William Shakespeare is the standard name given to any volume containing all the plays and poems of William Shakespeare. Some editions include several works which were not completely of Shakespeare's authorship , such as The Two Noble Kinsmen, a collaboration with John Fletcher, as...

and either the Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 or another appropriate religious or philosophical work.

Guests also choose one luxury, which must be inanimate and of no use in escaping the island or allowing communication from outside. The devisor and original presenter of the programme, Roy Plomley
Roy Plomley
Francis Roy Plomley , OBE was an English radio broadcaster, producer, playwright and novelist.-Early life:Plomley was the son of a pharmacist and was educated at King's College School, Wimbledon...

, enforced the rules strictly, but they are less strictly enforced today. Examples of luxuries have included champagne and a piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

, the latter of which is one of the most requested luxuries.

After Plomley's death in 1985, the programme was presented by Michael Parkinson
Michael Parkinson
Sir Michael Parkinson, CBE is an English broadcaster, journalist and author. He presented his interview programme, Parkinson, from 1971 to 1982 and from 1998 to 2007.- Early life :...

, and from 1988 by Sue Lawley
Sue Lawley
- Early life and education:Born in Sedgley, Staffordshire, England and brought up in the Black Country, she was educated at Dudley Girls High School and graduated in modern languages from the University of Bristol and some time later started her career at the BBC in Plymouth...

. Lawley stepped down in August 2006 after 18 years. She was replaced by Kirsty Young
Kirsty Young
Kirsty Jackson Young is a Scottish television presenter and radio presenter. She is the main presenter of Crimewatch and Desert Island Discs. She is married to millionaire club owner Nick Jones.- Career :...

, who interviewed illustrator Quentin Blake
Quentin Blake
Quentin Saxby Blake, CBE, FCSD, RDI, is an English cartoonist, illustrator and children's author, well-known for his collaborations with writer Roald Dahl.-Education:...

 for her first show, broadcast on 1 October 2006.

The first castaway was Vic Oliver
Vic Oliver
Vic Oliver was an actor and radio comedian.He was born in Vienna, Austria, the son of Viktor von Samek and came to England via America....

, and several castaways, including Arthur Askey
Arthur Askey
Arthur Bowden Askey CBE was a prominent English comedian.- Life and career :Askey was born at 29 Moses Street, Liverpool, the eldest child and only son of Samuel Askey , secretary of the firm Sugar Products of Liverpool, and his wife, Betsy Bowden , of Knutsford, Cheshire...

 and Kenneth Williams
Kenneth Williams
Kenneth Charles Williams was an English comic actor and comedian. He was one of the main ensemble in 26 of the Carry On films, and appeared in numerous British television shows, and radio comedies with Tony Hancock and Kenneth Horne.-Life and career:Kenneth Charles Williams was born on 22 February...

, have been cast away more than once. The most requested music over the first 60 years was Ode to Joy, the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven)
The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, is the final complete symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven. Completed in 1824, the symphony is one of the best known works of the Western classical repertoire, and has been adapted for use as the European Anthem...


Copyright status

Until late September 2009, Desert Island Discs could not be heard on the BBC's iPlayer service, which allows most programmes to be heard up to a week after transmission. The programme's website explained this was due to rights issues, as explained in The Sunday Times
The Sunday Times
The Sunday Times is a British Sunday newspaper.The Sunday Times may also refer to:*The Sunday Times *The Sunday Times *The Sunday Times *The Sunday Times...

in 2006:

Because Plomley was a freelance, Desert Island Discs became his copyright. After his death in 1985 it went to his wife, Diana Wong. She still owns it but is now in her eighties and their daughter, Almond, acts for her. Mother and daughter and the BBC agree on the need to have Plomley mentioned in the credits and the corporation pays Diana an annual sum (£5,000 in 1996, so probably more now). However, the family and the BBC cannot agree on the availability of the show after its weekly broadcast. This is why it is not available to listen to via the BBC’s website.

It was announced on 27 September 2009 that an agreement had been reached with the family that the programme would be available to stream via the iPlayer. The first castaway available through the Player was Barry Manilow
Barry Manilow
Barry Manilow is an American singer-songwriter, musician, arranger, producer, conductor, and performer, best known for such recordings as "Could It Be Magic", "Mandy", "Can't Smile Without You", and "Copacabana ."...

. Subsequently, the programme was also made available as a podcast, beginning with the edition broadcast on 29 November 2009 which featured Morrissey
Steven Patrick Morrissey , known as Morrissey, is an English singer and lyricist. He rose to prominence in the 1980s as the lyricist and vocalist of the alternative rock band The Smiths. The band was highly successful in the United Kingdom but broke up in 1987, and Morrissey began a solo career,...

. However, due to music clearance issues, the music selections on the podcast versions are reduced to only playing for around thirty seconds or so (and in rare instances are unavailable, as mentioned in an announcement made by Kirsty Young during the appropriate point of the programme).

On 30 March 2011, the BBC placed over 500 episodes from the show's archive online to listen to via iPlayer.

Appearance in fiction

In Tom Stoppard
Tom Stoppard
Sir Tom Stoppard OM, CBE, FRSL is a British playwright, knighted in 1997. He has written prolifically for TV, radio, film and stage, finding prominence with plays such as Arcadia, The Coast of Utopia, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Professional Foul, The Real Thing, and Rosencrantz and...

's play The Real Thing
The Real Thing (play)
The Real Thing is a play by Tom Stoppard, first performed in 1982. It examines the nature of honesty, and its use of a play within a play is one of many levels on which the author teases the audience with the difference between semblance and reality....

, the playwright protagonist, Henry, frets over his forthcoming appearance on Desert Island Discs, worrying about whether he should be honest and admit his admiration for pop music
Pop music
Pop music is usually understood to be commercially recorded music, often oriented toward a youth market, usually consisting of relatively short, simple songs utilizing technological innovations to produce new variations on existing themes.- Definitions :David Hatch and Stephen Millward define pop...

 (particularly pop music derided by critics) or pretend to favour more conventionally admired music.

The programme is mentioned by Bender in the Futurama
Futurama is an American animated science fiction sitcom created by Matt Groening and developed by Groening and David X. Cohen for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series follows the adventures of a late 20th-century New York City pizza delivery boy, Philip J...

episode "Obsoletely Fabulous
Obsoletely Fabulous
"Obsoletely Fabulous" is the fourteenth episode of the fourth production season of Futurama.-Plot:At a robot expo, Mom's Friendly Robot Co. introduces a new, more advanced robot: Robot 1-X. Feeling unwanted after Professor Farnsworth buys one to help out around the office, Bender decides to get a...


In Howard Jacobson
Howard Jacobson
Howard Jacobson is a Man Booker Prize-winning British Jewish author and journalist. He is best known for writing comic novels that often revolve around the dilemmas of British Jewish characters.-Background:...

's The Finkler Question
The Finkler Question
The Finkler Question is a 2010 novel written by British author Howard Jacobson. The novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2010 and was the first comic novel to win the prize since Kingsley Amis's The Old Devils in 1986....

, Finkler is invited to appear on the programme. In the 3rd Series of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet is a British comedy-drama television programme about seven English migrant construction workers. In the first series, the men live and work on a building site in Düsseldorf....

 series antagonist Jeffrey Granger, played by actor Bill Nighy
Bill Nighy
William Francis "Bill" Nighy is an English actor and comedian. He worked in theatre and television before his first cinema role in 1981, and made his name in television with The Men's Room in 1991, in which he played the womanizer Prof...

 claims he "has been asked to appear" on the show.

The 1996 Absolutely Fabulous
Absolutely Fabulous
Absolutely Fabulous, also known as Ab Fab, is a British sitcom created by Jennifer Saunders, based on an original idea by her and Dawn French, and written by Saunders, who plays the leading character. It also stars Joanna Lumley and Julia Sawalha, along with June Whitfield and Jane Horrocks...

episode "The Last Shout" featured the character Edina Monsoon
Edina Monsoon
Edina Monsoon is the main character in the BBC programme Absolutely Fabulous, played by Jennifer Saunders, who is also the creator of the show. The character is known for her extravagance and various attempts to follow new crazes and trends....

 (played by Jennifer Saunders
Jennifer Saunders
Jennifer Jane Saunders is an English comedienne, screenwriter, singer and actress. She has won two BAFTAs, an International Emmy Award, a British Comedy Award, a Rose d'Or Light Entertainment Festival Award, two Writers' Guild of Great Britain Awards, and a Peoples Choice Award.She first came into...

) being interviewed by Sue Lawley
Sue Lawley
- Early life and education:Born in Sedgley, Staffordshire, England and brought up in the Black Country, she was educated at Dudley Girls High School and graduated in modern languages from the University of Bristol and some time later started her career at the BBC in Plymouth...

 (in an off-camera cameo) for Desert Island Discs. All of Edina's music choices were songs by Lulu
Lulu (singer)
Lulu Kennedy-Cairns, OBE , best known by her stage name Lulu, is a Scottish singer, actress, and television personality who has been successful in the entertainment business from the 1960s through to the present day...


For the "Dibley Live" (1998) episode of The Vicar of Dibley
The Vicar of Dibley
The Vicar of Dibley is a British sitcom created by Richard Curtis and written for its lead actress, Dawn French, by Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer, with contributions from Kit Hesketh-Harvey. It aired from 1994 to 2007...

, in which the characters are generating programming ideas for the village's one-week radio station, the chronically dull Frank originally proposes a program called Desert Island Desks, in which he would recount his favourites from the many desks at which he has sat during his lifetime. Instead, he opts for An Hour of Frank Talking, in which he unexpectedly reveals how he came to discover his — hitherto undisclosed — homosexuality; however, none of the locals turns out to have heard the show, having anticipated a boring hour and chosen not to tune in.

External links

  • Desert Island Discs (BBC latest episode)
  • Sue Arnold, "The Lagoon Show", The Observer, London
    London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

    , 17 March 2002
  • Official BBC archive of Desert Island Disc programs
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