Desert Island Discs

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Desert Island Discs is the world's longest-running radio entertainment programme,[1] broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It first appeared on 29th January 1942, with programme creator Roy Plomley presenting and comedian Vic Oliver the guest. The guest nominates eight pieces of music - originally, gramophone records - that they would like to take with them as a castaway to a desert island, and through this selection the interview explores their life. The programme has had only four presenters since 1942, the latest being Kirsty Young. The theme tune, By the Sleepy Lagoon (by Eric Coates), has remained from the programme's first broadcast.

Since the 1950s, guests have also been allowed to choose a book, and in the 1960s a "luxury" was also permitted.[2] To make the selection more interesting, the "luxury" should be inanimate and have no survival value (a satellite phone, for instance, is out). For books, the Bible (or alternative religious work) and the Complete Works of Shakespeare may not be selected - these are already installed on the island.[3] Several guests over the years have refused the Bible, including writer Tariq Ali, climber Joe Simpson, comedian David Walliams and showjumper Harvey Smith (though this was because he denied that he had ever read anything in his life).[4]

The programme formed part of Radio 4's line-up on its first day of broadcasting in 1967. Plomley presented until his death in 1985, fronting 1,791 editions, and was succeeded for three years by Michael Parkinson. Plomley's family retain the rights to the programme; the choices of neither Parkinson nor his successor from 1988, Sue Lawley, met with his widow's approval; Diana Plomley had wanted Sir John Mortimer, QC in the chair, and Lawley took over with a style that contrasted markedly with Plomley's gentle questioning.[5] Famous incidents included: an interview with Diana Mosley, widow of British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley, which generated hundreds of complaints in 1989 after she talked admiringly of Adolf Hitler; actor Oliver Reed demanding to take a blow-up doll; Norman Mailer nominating marijuana as his luxury item; and Lawley's discussion with Gordon Brown (now UK prime minister) about his sexuality.[6]


  1. Times: 'Sue Lawley escapes after 19 years'. 13th April 2006.
  2. BBC News: 'Desert island delights'. 29th January 2002.
  3. Guardian: 'The lagoon show'. 17th March 2002.
  4. Chortle: 'Walliams rejects the Bible… as he reveals loneliness on Desert Island Discs'. 22nd February 2009.
  5. Times: 'Sue Lawley escapes after 19 years'. 13th April 2006.
  6. BBC News: 'Desert island delights'. 29th January 2002.