Monday 24 November 2014

Discs, desert islands, and cowpats in Islington

There's a rather lovely tribute to Desert Island Discs in today's Times from Melanie Phillips: 
The show itself — invented in 1942 by Roy Plomley, who presented it for a mere 43 years — is a national institution. In its gentle, droll and panoramic way it provides a window into British culture. Plomley wrote in his original submission to the BBC that castaways would include “dance-band leaders, actors, members of the Brains Trust, film stars, writers, child prodigies, ballet dancers and all sorts of people”.
Its wide sweep of guests from all walks of public life, including many who are distinguished in their own field but are relatively unknown to the general public, has introduced listeners to whole areas of knowledge and fresh cultural worlds they are delighted to discover.
With its ability to educate, inform and entertain, Desert Island Discs is arguably the one show that defines the BBC, remaining faithful like no other to its core principles and retaining its original format.
The Today programme on Radio 4, which started in 1957, has changed in format, style and content. TV’s Question Time, which started in 1979, did not originally include so much audience participation and certainly no comedian on the panel. As for The Archers, which started in 1951, its attempt to reflect politically correct reality has made its storylines as likely as a cowpat in Islington.
Yet Desert Island Discs remains unchanged. No such show today would supply the mythical island with the Bible and Shakespeare. In that way it is an island in itself, resisting the rising seas of I’m a Celebrity, Big Brother and other such cultural effluent.
Its genius is that it allows each of us to fantasise about our own eight discs and being on our own desert island, alone and thrown on our own resources. Would we master our circumstances or allow them to master us? Are we survivors or expirers?
As in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Desert Island Discs enchants us with its isle full of noises “that give delight and hurt not”, and on which we delight to dream.


  1. But most of the guests are luvvies or similar celebrities. Why not more scientists ?

    1. Yes, just 4 out of the 37 guests this year so far have been scientists - Wendy Hall, Michael Marmot, Andre Geim and Hugh Montgomery.

      That's a general Radio 4 thing (except for 'In Our Time'), isn't it?

      There was a bit of a flowering of science on Radio 4 when James Doyle was controller and Melvyn Bragg was still hosting 'Start the Week' (1990s) but it didn't last.

      There is 'The Life Scientific' and 'In Our Time' though, and the rather climate-change-obsessed 'Inside Science'...

      ...which isn't very much really.

  2. Melvyn Bragg did a lot for science at the BBC, slightly to my surprise !

    Glad to see you are still BBC-bashing, Craig, keep up the good work. I am back in UK for a holiday after 18 months "at home " in Gambia. My satellite TV includes BBC 24 but , also to my surprise, Al-Jazeera seems best, closely followed by France 24 and CNN China, all of whose presenters seem to speak better english than the Beeboids.

    1. I was hoping that was you, Grant. Great to hear from you.

      That was also you popping the odd comment on at B-BBC recently, wasn't it? [I'm still a slightly obsessive B-BBC reader].

      Sue has been known to recommend France 24 too.

  3. The one and only ! Yes, I got back into B-BBC too. Makes a change from tending my bougainvilla,bananas,papayas,mangos and tomatos and sitting on the verandah with a G and T !

    Don't miss the BBC at all and no TV tax in Gambia !

  4. Well I'm not convinced it hasn't changed. Its structure might remain the same but now we have intrusive (but completely predictable) questioning about people's private lives and/or Newsnight style political questioning (first introducted by Sue Lawley I think).

    I often prefer Private Passions on Radio 3. Much more relaxed and genuine I always feel.

    With the politicos you often feel - like their alleged "support" for football teams -that it is all done for effect.

    Also Kirsty whatever her name is, is not unbiased. Last week she gave a list of things Theresa May had done, in admiring tones including quoting from the Koran in a speech to the Conservative Party conference - this was standard BBCPCBS. She didn't mean quoting it in a disapproving people as many normal and sane people might do, she meant quoting it in an approving manner, as required by our ridiculous genuflection culture.

    Dan Read

    There's also bias in the choice of guests: let's hear it for the female tiddly wink champion...because she's excelled in a male dominated world...

    Far too many of the guests are yawn-inducingly boring.

    That said, I agree the structure is pure genius.


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