One of the best things about the internet (mmmmmmaaaaaybe the only good thing, actually) is that I am constantly running across treasure troves of things that have existed for a long long time but were either completely unavailable to me or were just tricky to track down in any sort of efficient way.
I was particularly delighted to run across the online archives of the BBC 4 radio program (sorry: programme) Desert Island Discs, which looong precedes the internet (it’s been around since 1942) and consists of thousands and thousands of episodes. A lot of the early ones (pre 1951) are lost (and some of the older extant ones are really just clip shows), but I’m not sure it’s really possible ever to exhaust this online archive. But I’m giving it the old college try.
The setup is a famous one: conversation is had, during which guests are asked to choose eight recordings they’d want for possible desert island stranding accompaniment. Excerpts are played, justifications made, no tea no shade. A favorite is chosen. At the end of each episode, the guest is also allowed a couple of freebie literature gimmes—The Bible and a Complete Shakespeare—but must add a third book to bring along. Titles and authors repeat a lot; as much as I love her, I’m always slightly disappointed when people choose Jane Austen for this. What, they don’t have her memorized? Hmph.
Each guest is also allowed to choose a single luxury. I think this part is the most interesting and sometimes the most revealing. Sometimes it’s a cat. Sometimes it’s perfume. One guy chose a white rug. Liberace chose a piano, which seemed, I dunno, very Liberace. I mean: Liberace sitting around on a desert isle listening to himself play things in the style of Liberace seems very Liberace, anyway.
It would be extremely difficult to give you advice about where to dive in, so I suggest you pick a year and just start. I go back and forth regarding which I prefer: guests who are personal favorites (Hi, Emma Thompson, who chose a heavy-bottomed saucepan as her luxury) or ones that don’t ring the faintest bell (sorry, Hephzibah Menuhin, who chose a Chinese language course as hers and boy does that seem teacher’s pet-ty! RELAX! You’re at the beach!), but there’s never been a single episode I wasn’t glad I’d listened to.
I’ve been particularly dependent on Desert Island Discs since the onset of late-night doom-scrolling as a favorite hobby. I finally figured out I could spend the same amount of time listening to smart informed people talk about music and literature as I was spending listening to, oh, you know, politicians talking about things they have absolutely no knowledge of. It was a watershed moment, and if you think I’m not writing Margaret Lockwood in on every ballot this fall, you don’t know me very well. MARGARET LOCKWOOD 2022!
Happy happy extensive extensive listening! Find the podcast on your favorite podcast platform. You can thank me in 2040, when you’ve finished up.