It was 1941 in war torn England that BBC radio stringer Roy Plomley had an idea for a radio series, Desert Island Discs. The war was depressing, particularly in 1941, Hitler was running amok across Europe and the UK was firmly in the gun sights. Desert Island Discs was a break from war coverage.

The concept was simple, a well know figure would be asked to select 8 records that they would want to take with them in the event that they were stranded on a desert island, possibly for years. This puts a great deal of pressure on the guest. What you like today may not be what you like next week or next year. Plomley found this out after the end of the 7 program deal. He was asked to produce 8 more, but the last program would be Plomley in the hot seat.

This proved to be a bit of a challenge. Plomley had a huge collection of records, as I recall 6000. He managed to whittle his choices down to 88. But finding the final 8 was a huge challenge.

I share Plomley’s dilemma. I love music, to boil it down to just 8 songs would be very difficult. Roy Plomley was onto something, you can use music to learn a great deal about people. Desert Island Discs continued to be a staple on BBC radio for over 70 years. Plomley died in the mid 80’s, but others have had the baton passed to them.

I had long forgotten Desert Island Discs as I left England in 1980. However recently I mentioned it in a reply to a question asked of me by a great family friend. A couple of days later a package arrived, in it a copy of the book penned in 1977 Roy Plomley – Desert Island Discs. It has been out of print for years. This was a well read, and obviously enjoyed paperback copy. The pages are yellowing, it is the sort of book that you might find at a yard sale and ignore. To me it is a treasure. In it Roy Plomley tells all, he bares his soul. I see how he used music as a tool to take an interview to new heights.

Rarely did he ask a direct question, instead he let the music as selected by the guest do the asking. This was pure genius.

I interviewed record producer Nico Breeze a couple of days ago. On a whim I asked him the Desert Island Discs question. It was unfair of me, and it certainly caught Nico by surprise. After a few seconds he said “hmm stranded on a desert island, well my number one pick would be Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry”.


It was a very clever and off the cuff answer.

I plan on experimenting with the wonderful concept of Desert Island Discs. It will be in a different format. I do not have the huge library of discs that the BBC has, nor do I wish to get busted for copyright infringement.

I am working with my first guest, stay tuned.

Simon Barrett

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