Tag Archives: Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs: John Prescott

A public school education can be like slapping on an expensive set of veneers. You get something blindingly shiny, but you  wonder what they’re hiding. You only have to watch five minutes of Made in Chelsea to see how some of those who have been brought up to think they deserve to rule the world, have a forcefield of braying confidence which seems to substitute for brains, actual talent or a decent personality.

I also count amongst my friends, many decent men and women emotionally messed up by their experiences of boarding school. It’s not Hogwarts. Harry Potter, like Malory Towers and St Clare’s, portrays a preposterously positive vision of boarding school. Lord of the Flies with plusher furnishings and rugby pitches is more like it. And, to think, Parliament always has been dominated by public school boys. God help us all.

So it was refreshing to hear Secondary Modern-educated John Prescott (technically, Baron Prescott of Kingston upon Hull) on Desert Island Discs. He’s not a man to whom the word ‘slick’ would ever apply, but he’s so much more interesting than Cameron and Osborne ever will be. He shone in this interview. In contrast to them, and despite all of his achievements, his self belief is low. He finds walking into restaurants alone impossibly stressful. It’s clear that there are parts of him that are messy and chaotic, and equally clear he’s done some dumb stuff. The Jags, the affair. I’m not counting the punch, because although it was politically unwise, it was also done rather superbly (not that I condone punching people of course). But he admits his faults, and what also comes across is that he’s sincere, fascinating, and in many ways, remarkable. And he genuinely admires and adores his family. This was a man taunted and tormented in Parliament for being working class, Northern and not having the slick schtick of the braying Hooray Henries. But I think, it’s evident in this programme, that he will be remembered long after they’ve merged into one unmemorable pile of beige, over-privileged bores.

If you’re quick you can catch it on iPlayer. Well worth a listen.

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Desert Island Discs: Now we can all play!

Tell us about your next piece of music, Qwerty.

All these years I’ve been slogging away writing this Great British Novel (still unfinished, but publishers are welcome to approach me with a six figure advance), for one reason, and one reason only*. So I would become famous and be invited onto Desert Island Discs, there to confide in Kirsty Young about how tough it was; how I had to spend thankless decades telly-blogging and stacking shelves in Lidl, until my book became a cause celebre, an overnight sensation, a Hollywood movie, a mini-series on UK Gold, and suddenly I am fascinating and worthy of a solid forty-five minutes air-time thank you very much. And of course, Kirsty will ask me to share my inspiring story via the medium of music, which I will be only too happy to do.

* Actually I’d also like to be interviewed by Jenni Murray on Woman’s Hour.

Well what a waste of time! Because now Desert Island Disks is offering me, you, and a boy named Sue the opportunity to submit our eight favourite tunes without even having to first make it big at ICI or anything. I was miffed for a few minutes regarding all the time spent re-writing chapter 16 when I could have been out enjoying myself instead, but then I reconsidered. What a golden opportunity to share our favourite tracks! To discover great new pieces of music! To look at friends in a new light! (‘You’d choose a Marillion song? Really? You know you only get eight choices, right?’) So I submitted my choices on the DID website, and you can too, here. There’s going to be celebration programme on Saturday 11 June which will include some listeners’ choices. I’m not at all ashamed to say that I have put this date in my diary, for it is Event Radio.

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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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Desert Island Discs: Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper and Desert Island Discs: it just doesn’t sound right, does it? But it was a lovely juxtaposition of a rock-solid format with the original mad man of rock (can he really be 62 years old?)  Kirsty Young brought out the best in him, and he in her: by turns she was giggly, prim, probing and cheeky, and he responded with splendid anecdotes, beautifully told.

He clearly is incredibly charming and very professional, and I learned many surprising things about him. Actually I didn’t know much about him at all, so it was all a surprise. He has been married for more than thirty years (‘I’ve never cheated on her’) and has three children; his mother’s still alive, a tough ninety-something cookie whose classic line is, ‘Hey superstar, take out the garbage’; Sinatra covered one of his records; Alice had a ton of friends such as Jim, Janis and Jimi who died at 27; he could have gone the same way with the booze but straightened out and became a Christian. Not a proselytising one; he didn’t bang on about it, just said that when he was worried about the contrast between his religion and his stage act (‘I don’t know if I can be Alice any more’),  his pastor said, ‘I don’t expect you to sit around: go be who you are.’ And I’ve rarely heard anyone who sounds so at home with who they are.

He spoke with humour and grace about the ups and downs of his full and colourful life: his psychiatrist; how golf is his new addiction;  how he’s been with the same manager for 43 years without a contract. Nice choice of music too: lovely to hear the Who’s I’m a Boy, I’d forgotten what a great song it is.

The programme’s still available on Listen Again – an utterly entertaining and enjoyable 45 minutes.

 Posted by Qwerty

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The Reunion – a sentimental journey through … the round window

Don’t tell Sue MacGregor (I think she’d give me a school-marmish talking to), but I often find something else to tune to between 11.15am and midday on a Sunday if Desert Island Discs isn’t on Radio 4. Sometimes the Reunion can be a lovely, moving programme (the Kindertransport, for example, or Dunblane which was unbearably  poignant), but all too often its participants are either insufferably smug or dull.

Neither of these descriptions could be applied to this week’s guests – key members of the Play School team, programme creator Joy Whitby, musical genius Jonathan Cohen (I still have my beloved Play School and Play Away albums awaiting transfer to MP3 status), and presenters Toni Arthur, Floella Benjamin and Brian (childhood hero to many) Cant.

There were all sorts of fascinating facts to enjoy (for example, Play School was the first programme to show on brand new BBC2 thanks to a West London power cut on the launch night) but the real power of the programme was in relaying those voices from childhood.

The absolute joy of hearing Brian Cant was tempered by the terrible truth that at 77, age has taken its toll on that incredibly famous voice. I’m not sure I would have recognised him by sound alone, and that saddened me. (I hope it is still many years away, but there should be a national day of mourning when this lovely man goes through the proverbial arched window for the last time.)

Even Sue MacGregor seemed a little warmer than usual, joking with Joy Whitby (who was explaining that she had wanted a mix of presenters, “some of foreign import, and certainly half men, half women”) “Not necessarily in the same person?”.

If you want to know how Brian, Floella, Jonathan and Toni got their jobs, where the toys came from, the whole ethos of the programme, how Jonathan Cohen made up the music on pets’ day, and hear Brian’s eagle poo anecdote then make sure you listen again before it disappears into the BBC archives.

But do so with tissues to hand. If you can listen to Floella saying how people tell her that they knew that she loved them, because they lived in a children’s home and nobody was there to give them love, but the way she spoke to them through the camera made them feel wanted and loved and appreciated, without tearing up you’re a tougher soul than me. And if that doesn’t get you, Jonathan Cohen playing the programme out with the Play School theme will.

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