Desert Island Discs is a BBC Radio 4 programme first broadcast on 29 January 1942. It was devised and originally presented by Roy Plomley.

Desert Island Discs holds the record for the longest-running factual programme in the history of radio and is one of the longest-running radio programmes in the world (surpassed only by the Grand Ole Opry, 28 November 1925 in the United States and by Sunday Half Hour, 14 July 1940 in the United Kingdom.).

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 in 1930. Since 2006 the show has been presented by Kirsty Young.


Guests are invited to imagine themselves cast away on a desert island, 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 and either the Bible 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. Roy Plomley, enforced the rules strictly, but they are less strictly enforced today. Examples of luxuries have included champagne and a piano, the latter of which is one of the most requested luxuries.

After Plomley's death in 1985, the programme was presented by Michael Parkinson, and from 1988 by Sue Lawley. Lawley stepped down in August 2006 after 18 years. She was replaced by Kirsty Young, who interviewed illustrator Quentin Blake for her first show, broadcast on 1 October 2006.

Notable castawaysEdit

The first castaway was Vic Oliver, and several castaways, including Arthur Askey and Kenneth Williams, 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. One of the most remarked broadcasts was Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's 1958 selection of eight of her own recordings – something never repeated by any other castaway.

Copyright statusEdit

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 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. Subsequently, the programme was also made available as a podcast, beginning with the edition broadcast on 29 November 2009 which featured Morrissey. 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 fictionEdit

In Tom Stoppard's play The Real Thing, 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 (particularly pop music derided by critics) or pretend to favour more conventionally admired music.

In the 1979 film Porridge criminal boss, and avid Radio 4 listener, Harry Grout stated that it was an ambition of his to one day appear on the programme.

The programme is mentioned by Bender in the Futurama episode "Obsoletely Fabulous".

In Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question, Finkler is invited to appear on the programme. In the third series of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, antagonist Jeffrey Granger (played by Bill Nighy) claims he "has been asked to appear" on the show.

The 1996 Absolutely Fabulous episode "The Last Shout" featured the character Edina Monsoon (played by Jennifer Saunders) being interviewed by Sue Lawley (in an off-camera cameo) for Desert Island Discs. All of Edina's music choices were songs by Lulu.

For the "Dibley Live" (1998) episode of The Vicar of Dibley, in which the characters are generating programming ideas for the village's one-week radio station, the chronically dull Frank originally proposes a programme 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.

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