Desert Island Discs is Britain’s longest-running radio programme.
Devised by the English radio broadcaster and producer Roy Plomley in November 1941, each episode of Desert Island Discs features an interview with a celebrity who imagines that they have been cast away on a desert island with only a limited number of home comforts. In the early years they were permitted to choose eight songs to take with them, although a few years after the programme’s inception castaways were also allowed to take one book and one luxury item, in addition to a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare and an appropriate religious or philosophical work such as the Bible.
Plomley was commissioned to create the new radio programme by the BBC’s Head of Popular Record Programmes, Leslie Perowne. Just two months after he pitched the idea, he found himself in the bomb-damaged studio at Maida Vale conducting the very first interview with popular entertainer Vic Oliver who chose Chopin’s Étude No.12 in C minor, “Revolutionary”, as his first piece of music.
The first series was originally commissioned to run on the BBC Forces Programme for eight weeks but, excluding a break between 1946-51, has remained on air for 42 weeks a year ever since. Plomley himself presented the programme until his death in 1985, in which time he recorded 1,791 episodes. He was succeeded as presenter by Michael Parkinson.
Desert Island Discs still features the same theme music, “By the Sleepy Lagoon” by Eric Coates which is overlaid with sounds of herring gulls to conjure up the feeling of being by the sea. Some listeners, however, continue to take issue with this sound effect since herring gulls are not known to congregate near tropical islands.