The creator and original presenter of Desert Island Discs, (Francis) Roy Plomley, died on this day in 1985 – aged 71.
As well as a radio broadcaster, he was also a producer, playwright and novelist, and has “He was a joyous man” inscribed on his gravestone, which is either great sarcasm on somebody’s part (maybe his) or, as seems much more likely, a very comforting tribute by and for all those that knew him.
Desert Island Discs was first broadcast on 29 January 1942, and Plomley would go on to repeat the exercise 1,790 times more over a period of 43 years. The show has never been off-air since, making it one of the longest-running – and most famous – radio programmes in the world. Its current presenter is Kirsty Young, previous presenters are few: Sue Lawley and Michael Parkinson.
Its format is simple, yet both effective and compelling: a guest is invited to choose the eight songs they would like to have with them on a desert island, along with a book (they get the Bible and Complete Works of Shakespeare automatically, presumably waiting for them on the desert island in an unlocked chest with a revolver resting on top) and one luxury item, which Plomley was adamant should be only be “an inanimate object which is purely for the senses; something to look at, or touch, or taste, or smell, but which is not going to help you live”.
David was cast away in 2003 – his choices can be viewed here or here, should you care to recall our prior thoughts on his song selection. To see who else has shared their favourites, see the archive. There you will note the surprisingly good taste – I thought so, anyway – of comedian Ricky Gervais, whose luxury item, amusingly, was a vat of Novocaine. (Well, look again at his eight songs. No prizes for guessing which could call for pain killers.)
Actor George Clooney requested a Pink Floyd track, as did Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson (yet he still remains one of a group of people I’d personally like to see banished to a desert island, preferably without any comforts).
Speaking of Marmite-like (you either love them or you hate them) British exports – namely to America, where they have further enriched themselves and infuriated others by exploiting the competitiveness and amusing nastiness of reality TV…
Simon Cowell picked some good tunes. (No Bob Dylan, you’ll notice; he once famously said that he’d rather listen to Kelly Clarkson than Bob Dylan, and unless reporters were particularly non-perceptive that day, by all accounts he managed to keep a straight face as he said it.) He did much better than Gordon Ramsay.
Not that you’d generally wish to argue the toss – any kind of toss, really – with Chef Ramsay, but I do seriously doubt the appropriateness of taking just one record and it being ‘Yellow’ by Coldplay. As much as I have enjoyed the music of Coldplay in fits and bursts, honestly, how long before stark isolation, hunger and thirst would bring about one’s eventual psychological demise? Now imagine that you’re teetering on the brink, the gaping chasm of insanity opening up before you, and the only solace left, the only hope and inspiration most obviously and readily available to you contained within and to be taken from repeated play of your chosen song… and it’s ‘Yellow’. Surely the will to live can’t be all that great when you’re stranded on a desert island with a solitary useless and indulgent luxury object your only friend (I’d give Ramsay five minutes before he’s losing his temper and cursing his choice of effing vanilla pod), let alone with the only audible voice outside your head being an invitation from Chris Martin to look at the stars. I suppose you could be grateful that you aren’t able to watch the indescribably dull promo video, and perhaps recalling it would arouse a strange longing to walk in the rain along the Dorset shoreline, but still. A most unwise choice for what ought to be an anticipated time of mental fragility, I feel.
As ever, I welcome anything you can connect to any of the above, no matter how loosely. Your own desert island needs would be good (if you listed them previously, don’t look back; I’d be shocked if anybody chose the same eight eighteen months on). Remember that it’s eight songs, not albums, you’re allowed.
Considering that, in Roy Plomley’s own words, Desert Island Discs “adds a dimension to a listener’s mental picture of a well-known person, giving the same insight he would receive from visiting the celebrity’s home and seeing the books, pictures and furniture with which he surrounds himself”, if you were able and not unwilling to tinker with the trusted programme format, as happened before a luxury item could also be requested, which would you allow castaways to choose in addition to songs, a book and a luxury of no practical use? In other words, because that sentence was very long indeed, if you could go poking around a famous person’s home, where would you look to find out more about that person? Drinks cabinet? Magazine rack? Garden shed? Bookmarked websites?
I doubt that you will be stunned to learn that, down the years, a piano has been the most requested luxury (David chose a guitar); the Encyclopaedia Britannica has been by far the most popular book.
Don’t forget, as Monday is a holiday in the UK, blogging will resume on Tuesday.
Enjoy your weekend, everyone. See you in June.