For those of you unfamiliar with the BBC Radio Four programme, ‘Desert Island Discs’, I feel that some background information may assist in your understanding of the words to come.
The programme was thought up by Roy Plomley, who presented the show 1942-1985! Then came Parky, followed by Sue Lawley 1988-2006. The current presenter is Kirsty Young. If you are famous enough to be invited onto the programme, the idea is to imagine that you are about to be sent to a desert island. You choose eight pieces of music/songs, a book and a luxury item that you would take with you when cast away to the island. In between the playing of snippets of your chosen discs, the interviewer asks probing questions about your life thus far.
‘What would your desert island discs be?’ To somebody who has never heard of Roy Plomley’s radio programme invention, this question could perhaps sound like the sort of thing one spy might ask another; seated on a park bench, pretending to read a large newspaper and not making eye contact. If one is not a secret agent then it is a question which prompts much thought. Imagine that you have been for a delicious, impromptu curry, and fallen off the not-drinking-quite-so-regularly wagon set by a new year and good intentions. The company was perfect. The food was divine, and so was the wine, but the background music? Not so much. The placement of the speaker above one’s head in the restaurant served to underline this musical weak link.
Homeward bound, waxing lyrical about perfectly spiced prawns and the creaminess of the monkfish curry, conversation moved on to the sound track of the meal.
‘It wouldn’t make it into my desert island discs,’ declared my chap. Well, no, indeed, ditto. So then, what would? The journey home wasn’t long enough for us to come to any conclusions, it was a few hundred miles too short for that. My suggestion that a Police song would surely be one of my chap’s eight, on account of the double life he led as Andy Summers in a Police tribute band in a previous incarnation, was met with a reluctant, ‘no.’
‘What? Not even the Sue Lawley one?’ I asked, gobsmacked. He shook his head.
For those of you unfamiliar with such a Police song, sing along to ‘So Lonely,’ and substitute said words with ‘Sue Lawley.’ Yes, as in the news broadcaster. It is particularly satisfying when sung in harmony, which tends to happen from time to time, when my chap is enjoying a reminisce. Even more satisfying when singing out Sue Lawley’s name, guitar in hand, to audiences across the land as your alter ego – as I am assured was the case throughout a chunk of the ’90’s. Given that the lady herself used to present Desert Island Discs, I thought it rather an apt choice. ‘Message in a Bottle’ even more so, I was informed, given that the story of the song is about being a desert island castaway. However, with only eight tracks allowed, by the rules of Desert Island Discs, my chap felt disinclined to use one of them up on a Police song, concerned that it wouldn’t be musically interesting enough to sustain him on a desert island (perhaps largely due to having performed them a thousand times!). In any case, this revelation opened up the taxing question of whether to choose eight discs that document your life, or eight discs that you just love listening to. After all, you may never be rescued from the island, and those eight tracks would have to keep you company for ever more. It’s all very tricky. Ideally, I suppose, a combination of the two would work best – although I would probably be changing my mind right up until I was actually talking to Kirsty. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, renowned German soprano, appears to have had no such dilemma. When she selected her Desert Island Discs in 1958, seven out of the eight discs that she chose were sung by her! A perfect combination of life memories and favourite music – if a little self-indulgent…
We returned home, heads full of music, replete with Indian fine dining; musing over what luxury item we would take to the desert island. Violin? An endless supply of paper and pencils? I was favouring a never-ending pot of deluxe moisturiser as we commandeered the settee for some easy watching television. Hot beverages in hand, the crime drama, ‘Death in Paradise’, appeared on the screen before us – ideal post-dinner entertainment. I loved Ben Miller in it, and Kris Marshall too, but was unprepared for the next new detective replacement – Father Dougal?! It turned out that Father Dougal was now DI Mooney, and not a dim-witted Catholic priest in a sitcom from years gone by, but seeing him on a tropical island was still rather incongruous. The unexpected appearance of Simon Callow a few minutes later, was a cheering antidote to my mildly disturbed being.
Fortunately, the marvellous Mr Callow survived his stint in paradise, being neither the dead body nor the murderer. The victim this episode was a writer, apparently famous, though
Fr Dougal DI Mooney still had cause to tap about on his computer for internet confirmation. As the detective ‘a-ahed’ in comprehension at his screen, we sat in stunned silence, as the unmistakable theme music from Desert Island Discs wafted out from beneath the DI’s nose, and into our living room.
“No…!” we breathed in unison. Talk about coincidence!
“My castaway this week is a writer,” Sue Lawley informed us knowledgeably from Mooney’s computer.
I turned to look at Andy Summers, on the settee next to me. “Sue Lawley, Sue Lawley…” we sang, in harmony.
When Theresa May was cast away to the desert island in 2014 she chose Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as her book choice, and a lifetime subscription to ‘Vogue’ for her luxury. Stephen Hawking requested a large supply of crème brûlée, and Desmond Tutu asked for a machine that made rum and raisin ice cream. Splendid.