Curse you, Radio 4! I’d just about got over my Twitter addiction, was taking it one day at a time, submitting to a higher power, remembering to brush my teeth, and then you go and launch the Desert Island Discs archive and that’s another lost weekend. Lost weekend in the John and Yoko sense meaning 18 months, and incidentally do you know that Yoko Ono is the only castaway ever to choose a Sean Lennon song? And that another of her choices, Lili Marlene, has been chosen by castaways as diverse as VS Naipul and Norman Mailer? Or that Mailer’s luxury was the finest marijuana, and that illicit drugs were also chosen by Haneif Kureshi and Sir Peregrine Worsthorne? Or that both Peregrine and David Mitchell chose books by Evelyn Waugh? You can see how you get a bit caught up in it.
It’s early days, so there are inevitably a few little teething troubles. The search engines don’t always work effectively, and there are surely a load more interesting facts and figures than the ten most chosen tracks (all classical. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony has been picked 97 times. Though the Beatles – all tracks collated – have been picked 247 times, list fans.).
And not all the people you want to hear are available. It’s an incredible archive – you can hear everyone from Sybille Bedford (who?) in July 1998, to the present day. But so many of the ones I remember most fondly were earlier than this. John Peel (1990), Alfred Wainwright (1988), Bruce Forsyth (1996, in which he completely wiped the floor with Sue Lawley) – these are some I’d love to hear again. And some of the older ones from before my time, the Roy Plomley years: Deborah Kerr and Ivor Novello in the 1940s; Alfred Hitchcock and Paul Robeson in the 1950s; just about everybody in the 1960s but especially Julie Andrews, Beryl Reid, Alan Bennett and Fanny Craddock.
The FAQ does have the throwaway line, ‘We aim to make more programmes available in the future.’ WHEN? WHEN?
However, these are mere quibbles. There are hundreds that you can listen to. How splendid to be able to hear Clarissa Dickson-Wright again, recounting how she thought she was dying of a heart attack on the dance-floor to Ra Ra Rasputin, only to discover the pain was a broken underwired bra. Or how she developed quinine poisoning from all the gin and tonics. And tonight when I played Rolf Harris’s stint in the desert island hammock, the Qwertlets were transfixed. Not just by Rolf’s genial company, but by me sobbing to Two Little Boys – gets me every time. Two terrific, more recent episodes that I’ve written gushingly about elsewhere – Betty Driver and Alice Cooper – are also here for Listening Again or Downloading Forever.
You can also look up who’s chosen your own desert island discs, which you have carefully prepared for the moment they run out of actors and ICI directors and extend invitations to un-famous telly bloggers. Rather coolly, the only person who loves Cole Porter singing You’re the Top as much as I do is Simon Schama. Rather less coolly, I am in the company of David Essex and Allo Allo’s Gordon Kaye in my choice of God Only Knows.
This is also the chance to examine one of the big Desert Island Disc legends: in 1958 did Elisabeth Schwarzkopf really choose eight records of herself singing? Looks like her egomania might have been oversold – I think it’s only seven. Her luxury was suntan oil – who said self-obsessed? – and she shares that choice with a bunch of strange bedfellows including Annie Lennox and Ted Heath. And Ted Heath’s record choice of If I Were A Rich Man is shared by Esther Rantzen and Vidal Sassoon and… god I must stop, it’s eight in the evening and I haven’t had breakfast yet.
Posted by Qwerty