First Edition of Desert Island Discs
Roy Plomley was originally given a contract for eight editions of Desert Island Discs. He went on to present 1791 of them before his death in 1985. Plomley was succeeded as presenter of this iconic programme by Michael Parkinson , then Sue Lawley, and now Kirsty Young , with the 3000th broadcast not far over the horizon.
The first edition went out on Thursday January 29 1942, with the guest Vic Oliver, an Austro-American comedian, actor and musician. As this was wartime Plomley’s script and Oliver’s contribution were subject to pre-approval by the censor.
From our contemporary viewpoint Oliver may seem an unusual choice for what has become a very British institution , but at the time he was a popular radio star appearing on Workers’ Playtime and with Henry Hall. Perhaps the presenter was influenced too by Oliver’s connections – in 1936 he had eloped with and married Sarah Churchill, daughter of the Prime Minister, though Winston Churchill loathed his son-in-law whom he once described as ‘common as dirt.’
Oliver’s choice of music for the 1942 opener (he appeared again in 1955) was dominated by ‘light’ music, though he also included works by Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Wagner, that last composer a surprising choice for a Jew who featured on the Nazi blacklist for execution upon capture.
The luxury item and additional book were not part of the original format of Desert Island Discs, indeed the additional book had still not come in when Oliver returned in 1955 – his luxury then music manuscript paper.
Plomley’s brainchild, thought up in his cottage in Bushey in Herts, became a fixture of BBC Radio, guests asked to choose eight records they would wish to take with them were they cast away on a desert island. The theme tune, The Sleepy Lagoon by Eric Coates , at once fits and jars with the idea: the gulls heard over the lazily sweeping strings are not very tropical, the suggestion being that the island is somewhere warm; and the piece was inspired not by some South Sea island, but a view over Bognor Regis .
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