By the sleepy lagoon
May 3, 2011 1:11 PM   Subscribe

On the 29th January 1942 the first ever Desert Island Discs was broadcast. Surpassed only by the Grand Ole Opry it is the second longest running radio show in history. Beautiful in its simplicity - each castaway is asked to choose eight pieces of music, a book and a luxury item for their imaginary stay on the desert island. For those who have not come across it before aquaint yourself with its iconic theme tune 'By the Sleepy Lagoon' here. Then for newcomers and old hands aquaint yourself with the wonderful new BBC website with searchable archives of 2852 episodes detailing castaways choices, and now with more than 500 episodes available for free download.
posted by numberstation (23 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I've gone through and downloaded a few episodes with people I've heard of, but if there are really cool interviews with people who aren't quite as famous, I'd love to hear about them. It's kind of a daunting archive.
posted by Rinku at 1:18 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I thought "desert island discs" was a phrase invented by Steve Simels or somebody.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:23 PM on May 3, 2011

Agree its a daunting archive and I considered doing a list of stand out shows but it is such a subjective thing I thought best not too.
posted by numberstation at 1:30 PM on May 3, 2011

For years the BBC wouldn't make Desert Island Discs available on iPlayer due to the complexity of the music rights issues. Making so much of archive available is a significant and welcome development.
posted by Huw at 1:48 PM on May 3, 2011

These float by in the list of BBC shows I look through... Every once in a while I snag one. Annie Lennox's show was pretty excellent.
posted by hippybear at 2:16 PM on May 3, 2011

They started podcasting them via iTunes last November and since then, I've kept the following ones as being worth a relisten:

Morrissey, James Ellroy and Martin Sheen who are all well known enough to be self explanatory. Also worth a listen are Lord David Cobbold, who turned his family's stately home, Knebworth, into a massive gig venue, and Dr Gwen Adshead, who is a forensic psychotherapist and a very thoughtful and thought provoking interviewee (she works with very disturbed offenders at Broadmoor).

It's a great programme, and it's rare that new episodes disappoint. Although I have discovered using the site that no-one has yet picked a record by the Replacements which I find somehwat disspiriting.
posted by Sifter at 2:29 PM on May 3, 2011

My subjective list of the ones I'm planning to listen to:

Michael Rosen (poet, children's writer, broadcaster)
Victoria Wood (comedian, actor)
Peggy Seeger (musician)
Shirley Hughes (children's writer and illustrator)
Claire Tomalin (biographer)
Jan Pienkowski (children's writer and illustrator)
Julia Donaldson (children's writer)
Mary Beard (academic and writer)

I hope they put up the older ones at some point. Jacquetta Hawkes, Tom Lehrer, Ngaio Marsh, Richard Hoggart, Rosamond Lehmann, Noel Streatfeild, Victor Gollancz ...
posted by paduasoy at 2:36 PM on May 3, 2011

Well why not -some stand out ones for me:

David Mitchell (Comedian)
Johnny Vegas (Comedian)
Rory Stewart (Diplomat / spook / MP)
Robert Fisk (Journalist)
Ricky Gervais (Comedian)
AC Grayling (Academic Philosopher)
AA Gill (Journalist)
David Attenborough (Presenter)
Sebastian Faulks (Author)
Ralph Fiennes (Actor)
Oleg Gordievsky (Defector)
John Humphreys (Journalist)
posted by numberstation at 2:41 PM on May 3, 2011

Isn't Paul McCartney one of the few people who didn't choose a classical piece?
posted by mippy at 2:42 PM on May 3, 2011

The Wikipedia article mentions:

In Tom Stoppard's play The Real Thing, the playwright protagonist, Henry, frets over his upcoming appearance on Desert Island Discs, worrying about whether he should be honest and admit his admiration for pop music (particularly pop music derided by critics) or pretend to favour more conventionally admired music.

The one memory I have of seeing Jeremy Irons perform this role in the 1980s was the mention, in this context, of Pink Floyd.
posted by Trurl at 2:43 PM on May 3, 2011

As derided by critics?
posted by mippy at 2:49 PM on May 3, 2011

Johnny Vegas' was excellent.
posted by Jofus at 3:01 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

As derided by critics?

"The trouble is I don't like pop music which it's all right to like. You can have a bit of Pink Floyd shoved in between your symphonies and your Dame Janet Baker - that shows a refreshing breadth of taste or at least a refreshing candour - but I like Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders doing 'Um Um Um Um Um Um'."
posted by Trurl at 3:13 PM on May 3, 2011

Something I never knew, but now do from the suggestions above: some people have been on Desert Island Discs multiple times. Victoria Wood twice; David Attenborough three times.

Wikipedia notes that "several castaways, including Arthur Askey and Kenneth Williams, have been cast away twice" -- although it appears from the archive that in fact Askey was on four times. A record?
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:33 PM on May 3, 2011

re the music rights issues, compared with the original broadcast many of the music passages on the download mp3s are severely truncated often just a couple of seconds long, and the bitrate is either 64 or 128k.
It's better than nothing but I'm not about to throw away the trusty FM radio!
posted by Lanark at 4:03 PM on May 3, 2011

When napster was first big I was all WHOO I CAN LISTEN TO ANYTHING I WANT. That lasted about a week, and then I ran out of ideas of what I wanted to listen to. So I started doing "top 10s", did about 100 of them in the end. I got people to write down their top 10 and address (on a beermat, napkin, whatever) and I posted them a CD. Close friends, family, the person behind the counter in the coffee shop, random jazz drummers from bands I saw in bars...

I've still got copies of about 30 - and they're great things to listen to, as compilation CDs without the talk. But I've always wondered how much better - or worse - they'd be with the full desert island disks commentary, interview, and justification. ("So why is `moon over marin' in your top 10?").

A great programme. But it'd be great to get some graphs - what song's most popular? what band? In my limited collection, the most popular band was The Beatles. But the most popular song was Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks. Which is kinda odd, and probably due to sampling bias. But hey.
posted by handee at 5:37 PM on May 3, 2011


Here's a direct link to the RSS feed for anyone interested.
posted by aganders3 at 7:48 PM on May 3, 2011

Humphrey Lyttelton (band leader, broadcaster and national treasure)
posted by hardcode at 1:05 AM on May 4, 2011

Two favourites:

John Peel (Luxury item - a football)
Kathy Burke (Luxury item - a life-size laminated photo of James Caan from Dragon's Den)
posted by DanCall at 5:25 AM on May 4, 2011

DanCall got me excited that John Peels show had been added since i had searched for it yesterday but .. no.
Andy Kershaw
Billy Connolly
posted by stuartmm at 9:19 AM on May 4, 2011

Wonderful archive. Personally I'd be quite interested to know fellow MeFites' take on the topic. Could be a fun project...
posted by jnrussell at 9:36 AM on May 4, 2011

Maybe an actual theme for the next mixtape CD swap.

Ooo. That'd be interesting. The participants listen to a good sampling of these DID shows, and then sort of make their own in the form of an hour long self-interview and music, and that's what they distribute to their swaplists.

Or possibly a separate thing altogether.

Either way, an interesting idea, jnrussell.
posted by hippybear at 12:21 PM on May 4, 2011

Sorry about that stuartmm - I assumed they were all available. Let's hope Peel is soon. In the meantime listen to Kathy - she's no John Peel, but it's an excellent half hour of radio!
posted by DanCall at 1:12 AM on May 5, 2011

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