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Memorable Collection Of Castaways
on 22 September 2012
This entertaining and engaging book celebrates 70 years of Radio 4's popular programme invented in 1942 by Roy Plomley and presented by him for 43 years, followed by Michael Parkinson (1986-98), Sue Lawley (!988-2006) and now Kirsty Young. Nearly 3,000 castaways have been interviewed including celebrities, politicians, world leaders and prominent figures who have made significant contributions within their own field and have led lives of interest. The editor, Sean Magee, says he made his selection of the 87 interviews in an attempt to reflect the variety of the castaways and nature of individual programmes although they seem to me to be a random choice. The formula is still the same. Each castaway chooses 8 discs, one book and a luxury item (the Bible and Shakespeare's works are considered essential) and an interview that hopefully reveals a lesser known side of the guest of honour in a 'no-holds-barred' fashion often with surprising results.
Magee divides the book into decades with an interesting precis of events and history occurring during each one plus other personalities unable to be accomodated in his interview choice. A listing of all interviewees is at the end of the book. He also provides a summary of the individuals before the interviews that follow. These have been heavily pruned and replaced by fillers provided by Magee between the dialogue that I feel detracts from the the episodes. Each of the presenters have/had their own method and depth of preparation before meeting their guests and style of their interrogation. Plomley's questions in earlier years were scripted. The best are those of any expert interviewer who seizes the opportunity, when it arises, to probe and push for more answers and details. Sue Lawley could be relentless. The reactions and results may be surprisingly personal, sometimes hostile or embarrassing, all adding to the attraction and attention of the listener and now the reader.
This is a book to pick up and thumb through. There is a gem of a find on almost every page. The inevitable question of coping with isolation leads George Formby to say he'd have to live on grass, Princess Margaret would be fearful, especially of the dark, Shirley Bassey would probably starve to death, Enoch Powell thinks it would be a cruel fate because man is a social animal, Gracie Fields "sounds like the places I've been on tour".
Earl Hines, the pianist, describes Al Capone as 'a very congenial fellow' and recalls his acts of kindness, Diana Mosley tells Sue Lawley that Adolph Hitler was 'extraordinarily fascinating' and had mesmeric blue eyes. Johnny Vegas tells Kirsty Young of the fate of his pet rabbit due to family hardship. Luxury items include Kenneth Williams with a crate of cologne, Spike Milligan a Barclaycard and the cooking act Fanny Craddock (a typewriter and paper) and her long-suffering husband Johnnie a get away from her golf clubs and balls. The choice of books is varied and often surprising. The discs likewise are diverse with personal oddities.
Many hours of material are here to explore and discover within the pages of this handsomely produced and presented book. Fuller interviews would have been appreciated with less editorial comment but overall this is packed with enjoyable reading and colourful illustations. It is readable at any time, but would also make an ideal present for fans of the show both old and new. Written interviews will never be a substitute for those spoken. For interested parties the Desert Island Disc website has about 1500 accessible episodes. Invitations to participate in the programme are apparently more prestigious than knighthoods!
P.S The 'Flotsam and Jetsam' publication is an ideal companion book to this. Both are unlikely to be updated or reproduced in the near future. Get them while you can.