Tag Archives: Betty Driver

Desert Island Discs: Archive Addiction

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?

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Desert Island Discs: Betty dishes up

I’ve not watched Corrie for twenty years but even when I did, Betty had already been pulling pints forever. Till I heard her today on Desert Island Discs all I knew about her was that the actress has the same name as her character, she’s a dab hand with a hotpot, and she has a lovely dry sexy laugh at odds with her appearance.

What a revelation Betty Driver was on DID, and what a heartbreaker too. Who knew she had such a hinterland? I cried twice, and was gripped the rest of the time by sparkling tales of Gracie Fields, Henry Hall and Hoagy Carmichael, names that seem to come from a time beyond imagining, but were brought right up to date by this ninety year old, still sharp as a tack. Her miserable childhood (‘We never got a kiss, except one on New Year’s Eve – that was the love for the year’) was clearly still as raw now as almost a century ago. Her bullying mother pushed her onto the stage from an early age, recognising the commercial potential of Betty’s lovely voice. We heard this voice, recorded when she was about eighteen, but Betty said she couldn’t stand to hear it, had only chosen it as one of her discs because her friends (‘my seven gentlemen friends’) insisted on it. You didn’t have to be Sigmund to realise she couldn’t bear listening to her singing voice because of the memories of those awful years. Kirsty sensitively left us to analyse this ourselves, and left us too, to surmise that Betty’s rotten marriage to a cheat and wastrel was clearly a consequence of her complete lack of self-esteem.

There were revelations a-plenty. Betty can’t really make hotpot and is a terrible cook! One night when Coventry was bombed during WW2 she took care of the twelve year old Julie Andrews!  Ella Fitzgerald was a massive Corrie fan! Betty’s friend Winifred Atwell’s husband once punched Betty’s husband and when he told her, she said ‘Good!’

There were mysteries too. Betty claims to have no idea to this day what her mother spent the daughters’ massive earnings on, though she knew it wasn’t drink or gambling. And though  Betty spoke of her love for Henry Hall and how if things had been different she might have had a relationship with him, we never found out what got in the way. I’m guessing they were both married.

And there were plenty of tears. Her description of playing to half-dead soldiers at the end of the war had me bawling into my tea; when she discussed the fan letters she receives from children, I had to pause i-player while I composed myself.

It was a great interview with a fantastic interviewee. I’d like to have heard more about Betty’s beloved sister Freda. We didn’t find out if she was still alive (though a quick wiki reveals she died a couple of years ago). Once the sisters were free of their domineering mother they largely gave up show business and ran a pub together in Derbyshire. Then in 1969 the executive producer of Coronation Street walked in and said, ‘You’re pulling pints here – why not pull them in the Rover’s Return?’ Betty assumed this would be a six-week engagement, but more than forty years later she’s still there. And long may she remain, laughing huskily over the hotpot.

Posted by Qwerty. Listen to this programme here

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