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Revealed - the Desert Island Discs archive

Wednesday 30 March 2011, 13:31

Cathy Drysdale Cathy Drysdale

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Roy Plomley with Eileen Fowler, fitness expert, in 1974.

What a week for everyone involved in Desert Island Discs. It began with a blizzard of checking, fixing and not a little sweating to get everything ready for the launch of the new web site. Of course in the event, it all went very smoothly and soon there were people passing by my desk saying, "it's live!" with a mixture of amazement and excitement. No time to stop though as we were recording an interview with Tony Robinson at 1030. This was followed by recording some more of our new series for Radio 4 Extra - Desert Island Discs Revisited - in which Kirsty introduces some gems from the archive.

We're kicking off this Sunday at 1000 on Radio 4 Extra with a series of children's authors beginning with the wonderful J.K. Rowling (from 2000). After that it was my chance to show off the website for the first time to Kirsty. She'd seen the designs of course, but it's a very different thing to seeing the sumptuous all-singing, all-dancing version. Happily she was thrilled with it (she thinks people will find it addictive) and she was soon searching for castaways who had choosen 2 of her favourites - tracks by ELO and Joni Mitchell. The site itself is a fantastic technical feat involving lots of brilliant people who do jobs I still don't understand - it's been a pleasure working with them.

A word on the material that's there - from the outset we've treated everything - the track, book & luxury choices, what was written about the programme and the audio as part of the archive. So both what you read and what you can hear should be considered in the context of the time they were written and broadcast. Many castaways have gone on to even greater achievements (David Cameron, Colin Firth), changed or lost jobs - it's fascinating to see what they've done since the original recording. I hope everyone will agree how beautiful the site looks - thanks to iPlayer picture editors - but there are some castaways for whom we've been unable to source copyright-cleared pics. If agents, publishers, family members or the castaways themselves can help us, we'd be delighted to receive an email from them.

Martin Sheen and Desert Island Discs producer Leanne Buckle in a Broadcastng House studio in February 2011.

Martin Sheen and producer Leanne Buckle.

We're building up now to our return on Radio 4 - with the fantastic Martin Sheen. I was distraught to miss the recording (done in February) - I'm a huge fan of The West Wing - and sure enough Martin was an absolute delight, introducing himself to unsuspecting members of staff and public alike in the reception of Broadcasting House with "Hello, I'm Martin Sheen. Good to meet you". A colleague caused great delight apparently as he left the next door studio and came upon him unexpectedly greeting him with, "Well hello Mr President". Wish I'd been there. It's going to be a great start to our next run of programmes and hopefully everyone will enjoy hours of fun searching with website... and that's before you even start listening - there's over 350 hours of archive editions of DID available - both to listen to via the site or to download. As someone who's always been passionate about what the BBC has in its archives, this is one of the most thrilling aspects of the whole project.

Finally, this has been a huge project but I hope you won't mind if I say a public 'thank you' to the stars of the show - David Jones and the Radio 4 interactive team, Caroline Sotorrio and the magneticNorth team in Manchester and the one and only Tony Crabb - our project manager who kept the whole show on the road. They've all been an inspiration to work with. Happy listening.

Cathy Drysdale is Executive Producer of Desert Island Discs

  • The new Desert Island Discs web site is online now.
  • Listen to Martin Sheen's appearance on Desert Island Discs on Sunday at 1115.
  • The pictures show Roy Plomley, the programme's originator and long-time presenter, with guest fitness guru Eileen Fowler in 1974 and the programme's current producer Leanne Buckle with Martin Sheen.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    This page needs proofreading:


    Hint, search for "progreammes".

    Other than that, nice job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The archive seems to be a sad record of the appalling taste in music of 'successful' people who, for the most part, must have been too busy to sit down and listen to anything properly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    ichaelkenward, thanks for alerting us to the typo. I can fix that. And L A Odicean, the musical taste of guests is beyond my control :-)

    Steve Bowbrick, Editor, Radio 4 blog

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    This has made my day....year even! I love D.I.D and recently discovered that podcasts were available to download but this is phenomenal...well worth all the hard work, thanks radio 4, that's my years worth of online listening sorted. Fab job!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Lovely to have this record.

    I was a little perturbed, however, by the fact that the alphabetical listing is not sorted by last name, as I would have assumed. I'd not have expected to find Lady Antonia Fraser in the Ls. (Poor Baroness Haleh Afshar is even worse served, being listed as 28/12/2008.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Congratulations, finally, after all these years. Apart from the acknowledged dire musical taste of so many celebs (especially politicians fearful of causing offence), DID is a national treasure. The most memorable guests are those with wisdom to impart and I am genuinely shocked that among the episodes available to hear, Isaiah Berlin's from 1992 is not among them. For me his has been the most illuminating in my lifetime. The great liberal sage played at perfect pitch. He not only selected - if we are to trust his estimation - what might count as eight of the greatest pieces in the canon, but then in the conversation between the music told us succinctly why each recording or composer was an acme of its kind. "Bach: our daily bread... Brendel: in the presence of genius... Figaro: the best opera ever" etc. The whole made an eloquent tutorial.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I should add that it is great to be able to dip into the archive (in all directions) so easily. Christopher Lloyd's programme is a gem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    This is a fantastic achievement. I look forward to working my way through them all and for the gaps to be filled in. Good work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I don't want to listen to Desert Island Discs or the Archers if I did I would tune to Radio 4. Keep 4 extra for drama, comedy, sci fi, and quiz shows please. I switch off when Desert Island Discs or the Archers are broadcast on 4extra. Please do not use this station for these programmmes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Can I agree with gb1957. If you want to air the old repeats (rather than make the archive available online)you could always rest some of the dire programmes on radio 4, like midweek or Saturday live. Neither of which would be missed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    what is this drivel, why does it exist i dont care if someone who was on tv once or just somehow became famous liked a certain piece of music or read a book.
    and to repeat it because you cant write new shows is just an insult.
    for people who like this do you listen while standing behind your net curtains spying on your neighbours?.
    if you feel the need for this show(laugh) then put it on cd and sell it i am sure there are enough bargain buckets to handle it.


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Find out about this year's panel and theme