Longest running radio show wants you!

Desert Island Discs offers celebrities the chance to choose their favourite music. Now it's asking everyone to join in the game. Will you take up the radio's oldest music challenge?

Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs is nearly 70. On air since 1942, it’s a remarkable achievement in an industry that scraps most ideas after a few years. How has it survived?

The genius of the show is the format. Each week a famous guest is asked to imagine they’re a castaway on a remote desert island.

Removed from all human company, they’re allowed to take with them the following: their eight favourite songs, a favourite book and one luxury item of their choice.

Music is a personal affair. And because it’s personal, it’s also revealing: to hear someone’s choices is to discover something about them as people.

Simon Cowell’s favorite record turned out to be Mack the Knife, and his luxury item was a mirror. But the most popular piece of music over the last 70 years has been Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 in D minor.

The most popular luxury items? A piano, champagne, pen and paper and photographs have been the most regular choices, while Encyclopaedia Britannica is one of the most frequent choices of book. At 32 volumes it should fill a few years and leave you extraordinarily clever.

Apart from classical recordings, the most popular musical choice has been Edith Piaf’s defiant song Non, Je ne Regrette Rien. Not all the music choices are musical, however. The actor Sir Anthony Hopkins chose the sound of D-Type Jaguars roaring down the course at Le Mans as one of his records.

And some people are just plain self-obsessed. Seven out of the eight musical selections made by the classical singer Elisabeth Schwarzkopf featured her own voice.

But now, as part of the programme’s 70th birthday celebrations, they’re turning the spotlight away from the famous and asking everyone to submit their list of favourite songs, via the station’s website.

June 3rd is the closing date and some of the choices will be revealed on a special show on June 11th.

‘Now the nation has a chance to share in the agony and ecstasy of making their very own selection,’ says Kirsty Young, the programme’s presenter.

The crunch

Choosing the music may be harder than you think. ‘The one thing all the castaways say to me,’ says Young, ‘is how difficult it is to choose their eight discs.’ Occasionally you sense they’re choosing music to impress; at other times, you feel you’re seeing right inside their soul.

So here’s the crunch: as you think about your favourites, are you being truthful or trying to impress? Whichever, your choices will say much about you.

You Decide

  1. Is it important to like the same music as your friends?
  2. Is the greatness of a piece of music defined by how many people like it?


  1. Choose your eight songs, one book and a luxury item.
  2. Compose a piece of music with a desert island theme.

Some People Say...

“I'd prefer to take eight books.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How long are the castaways on the island?
They don't know – could be years! So you're choosing music not just for this week or this month. You want tunes that will last.
Music matters to people, doesn't it?
Certain music just pulls back an inner curtain and releases something inside us. So no wonder that music also proved the most popular luxury item. 46 of the castaways opted either to take with them a musical instrument, a karaoke machine or an iPod.
People must like appearing on the show and having their music played.
Few turn the offer down, but amongst those who have said 'No' to the show are the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the actors Laurence Olivier and Albert Finney and the next in line to the throne, Prince Charles.
What was George Clooney's favourite book?
War and Peace 'because there may not be toilet paper and it's a huge book.'

Word Watch

A person who has been shipwrecked or abandoned. In former centuries, pirates used to 'maroon' unpopular crewmates on desert islands.

Je ne regrette rien
(French) I regret nothing. The words were made famous by Edith Piaf, a popular French singer of the 1940s and 50s.

The Encyclopædia Britannica
The oldest English-language encyclopaedia still in print, first published between 1768 and 1771. The most recent 2008 edition comprises 32 volumes, written by about 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 expert contributors.


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