Desert Island Discs celebrates 70th anniversary

The BBC Radio 4 program Desert Island Discs was first broadcast on 29 January 1942, and celebrates its 70th birthday this week. It holds the record for the longest-running factual program in the history of radio.


Originally devised and presented by Roy Plomley, an aspiring actor who had supported himself with odd jobs,  the show’s format is simple: Ask an illustrious or famous figure to choose the eight pieces of music they would take with them to a deserted isle, and talk about what the tracks mean to them.


At the end of each program, the guest is sent into imaginary exile, along with their choice of a book, a luxury and one of their eight records.


At midday yesterday, all 40 local BBC radio stations and Radio Scotland, Radio nan Gaidheal, Radio Wales, Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle simultaneously broadcast their own Your Desert Island Discs, featuring listeners’ stories.

Sir David Attenborough appeared on Radio 4’s version, which was a special edition featuring the public’s favourite tunes and memories.

It was the Attenborough’s fourth time on the show, a record he shares with the actor, Arthur Askey.

In the past seven decades, there have been around three thousand castaways—musicians, actors, writers, politicians, athletes, scientists, and the odd royal.


After Plomley’s retirement, in 1985, he had three successors: Sir Michael Parkinson, Sue Lawley, and the current host of the program, Kirsty Young.


Margaret Thatcher chose Beethoven, Michael Caine picked Frank Sinatra and boxer George Foreman selected The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love.”

Just under 3000 luxuries have been chosen to be taken to the island, including 183 pianos, five trombones, the Albert Memorial and a cheeseburger machine.

The current presenter, Kirsty Young, has been widely credited with reinvigorating the program.

She told the Radio Times she has “probably the best job in the world” and would like to be doing it “until I’m 85.”

She added: “Although the premise is phoney, sitting in a studio talking to each other, I don’t think I’m deluding myself when I say you can establish connections. I’m constantly surprised, and delighted, by the frankness and honesty.”