On air for more than 70 years, Desert Island Discs provides a formidable archive of interviews with everybody from Liberace to Kim Cattrall and most recently Judi Dench. The program not only focuses on celebrities, but also on noted scientists, doctors, artists, and anyone who has been outstanding in their field of work.
Presenting the show since 2006, Kirsty Young, also known for Crimewatch, takes the listener on a journey through the life of the ‘castaway’. The interviews are far from superficial and allow the listener to understand the life of the subject through their personal interests and tastes as well as their life story. The week’s castaway is asked to pick eight tracks that, if they were to be stranded on a desert island, would keep them from insanity and loneliness. As well as these, they are allowed a book of their choice, the complete works of Shakespeare, the Bible (or whichever holy text is appropriate) and one luxury item. The interview is structured around these discs, which give the program a laid back atmosphere, not probing and critical like an interview on the news or for a magazine, it is more like an in-depth chat over a cup of tea with someone you have not spoken to for a long time.
Young’s interview with Noel Gallagher from 1st July this year showcased a different side to the infamous rock star. It presents a man, now a husband and a father, who has a nostalgic and worldly view of his wild and drug fuelled career. Whilst Gallagher’s disc choices were not surprising, consisting of U2 and The Beatles, Judi Dench’s discs were somewhat more intriguing. They added to the seemingly endless layers of mystery and discovery which enfold Dench’s half century career.
The most interesting castaway I have encountered is Dr Bill Frankland, a 103 year-old practicing doctor who was a prisoner of war for three years in Singapore during World War II. Following the war he became a registrar for Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin, and then went on to make ground-breaking treatments for hay fever, and treat high profile patients such as Saddam Hussein. This extraordinary life is captured as best it can be in 38 minutes through Desert Island Discs and the soothing tones of Young.
The show’s opening theme, By the Sleepy Lagoon by Eric Coates, is evocative of the relaxed yet epic journey the listener takes with the castaway every week. Almost every broadcast since 1956 is available online in the Desert Island Discs archive. Each program is a time capsule of a person’s life that is waiting to be revisited on a rainy day, or just anytime really.