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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.

About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.


  • I live in the UK and Desert Island Discs is an institution. It must be so exciting to come across it for the first time!

  • I’m 71 and British and I’ve been listening to DID since I was an infant. For knitters, Kaffe Fassett’s episode from 1990 is a standout. Like many radio listeners, in tedious moments I find myself compiling my own list of records, book and luxury. There is a variation on the game which is to choose the eight discs and book that one would take to a Desert Island and abandon there for ever. I was told once that the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare are already on the island because in the very early days, almost every guest chose one or the other, which became rather boring.

  • I’m (another) knitter from the UK with a lifelong history of listening to DID – if you’ve not listened yet my goodness there’s a goldmine to enjoy! Once you get started you’ll be hooked. It’s good to listen to people you know a bit about but some of the people you’ve never heard of turn out to be the most fascinating to hear. Every emotion will be touched by those people you tune into as you delve into this precious archive.

  • As soon as you say the programme name I hear the intro music playing in my head and see scenes of my great grandparents’ and grandparents’ homes, any family home really. Desert Island Discs is truly, and deservedly, an institution. Do you think it would be allowable, in the days of online music, to choose their archive as one of one’s ‘discs’? That would keep the island interesting for a few years 🙂

    • DG you are a treasure and I would choose you as my luxury item if I was castaway. You reinforce my threadbare faith in humanity…and you make me laugh.

  • I’m hooked. DG thanks for the recommendation,

  • Bruce Springsteen’s DID playlist was a history of R+R. It made me happy.

  • DG, every day that starts off with you is a good day.

  • This is one of the very best podcasts and the really old ones (even though they’re just clips) are fun to hear if you’ve any interest in the particular person. What’s the most interesting part is WHY the music selection was made – what memory did it evoke or what inspiration did it energize? Such a good program. And you might add “The Bowery Boys” – phenomenal history of NYC, and “99% Invisible” – speaks to the inherent design ethos is everything we see.

  • As an individual who has a significant hearing loss, another really cool thing about the internet, and something I just realized when clicking the link to the BBC 4 Radio website, is that I can ACCESS this wonderful series and FULLY enjoy it with the available backup of voice-activated closed captions. Do realize what joy this brings me? Without such technology, this would be yet one more form of entertainment (and INFORMATION) that I would have to chalk up as something in which I can no longer fully participate and enjoy. Yes, of course, reading the captions while listening isn’t quite the same as sitting back and closing your eyes and simply listening — or knitting while listening. But at least this wonderful series is available to me and others like me (like LOTS and LOTS of other people!) who have difficulty discriminating speech when presented strictly via audition. Thank you for introducing this series to me. This is going to be FUN!

  • I had no idea this was a show. My friends and I have played this game forever, varying it up at different times – just 5 pieces of literature, just 5 discs, etc. As we play through the years, it’s interesting that sometimes we change our choices, and some of our lifelong comforts truly stand the test of time.

    • I’ve always wondered if a giant box of knitting, spinning and crochet supplies would be allowed as the “luxury”, or considered too practical? And would the patterns have to be counted as a book?
      The book I think would have to be a loooooooooong one if you were to be marooned for any length of time…

  • THANK YOU (again!) for an excellent recommendation. I have a loooong road trip coming up and these will be perfect.

  • Another UK knitter here, and I am so glad to see you enjoying this programme. For me, the episode with the footballer (soccer player) Ian Wright one of the best. And when you’re done with DID, try In Our Time for more smart people talking about everything from the beginnings of coffee houses to cave art, President Ulysses Grant to the evolution of crocodiles and everything in between.

  • The Tom Hanks episode of DID was wonderful. And John Cleese asked for Michael Palin as his luxury (not granted!). There are soooo many good programmes on BBC Radio 4 – try I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue…..

  • Just wanted to follow up and let you know how much I’ve enjoyed this recommendation. DID got me through a 3,000 solo road trip and a trip through Spain/Portugal. Lots of time on planes, trains, and busses on that journey. And there are still thousands more episodes to go! I’m totally hooked.

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