Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to your questions about Desert Island Discs - on air and online.
More than 1450 programmes - from 1951 to the present day - are now available on the website. These include the vast majority of programmes presented by Roy Plomley, the show’s creator. There are also some short archive extracts that we hope to make available in the future. Unfortunately some programmes were never archived or may be missing for legal or other reasons.
The first Desert Island Discs was broadcast in 1942 when most radio programmes were live and generally not recorded. In the decades that followed many programmes were not retained in the archives because the cost of keeping (and storing) the discs on which they were recorded was high.
As broadcasting technology developed, 1/4 inch tape was used to record the interviews, but even then the cost was so great that often the tapes were reused to record other programmes.
It may be that the Desert Island Discs archive will never be complete, but if you have access to any recordings of programmes broadcast particularly pre-1976 that you cannot see on our site now, we would be very pleased to hear from you. Please email us via the Contact Us form which you can find on every castaway page.
There are several options.
You can browse by castaway name, date of broadcast, occupation-type, presenter-name (Roy Plomley, Michael Parkinson, Sue Lawley or Kirsty Young), gender or a combination of all of those.
You can also use the search box. You can search the entire archive at once, or just search for castaway names, music choices, books & authors or luxury items.
The data for every Desert Island Disc programme broadcast since 1942 is published on the site. For more information about how the site developed, see Making the Archive.
Details of each of our guest’s music choices are available on their castaway episode page. To find the right page, put the castaway’s name into the yellow search box and leave All ticked (don’t tick Musical Choices). Click on the result, then scroll down all the way to the bottom of the page to “Music Played” – please be aware that the music choices sometimes take a moment to load.
As with all search engines, the more complete the information you enter, the better the results will be.
When searching for music, you'll return the best results if you start by searching for the name of an artist or composer. We’ve formatted the description of classical tracks beginning with ‘symphony, concerto, sonata, cantanta’ etc and then followed that with the number, movement etc. So if you’re looking for a particular symphony, you will need to enter the words ‘Beethoven symphony 9’ rather than the phrase ‘Beethoven’s 9th’.
Given the rights position and the number of tracks chosen by our castaways so far – in excess of 22,400 – we’re not able to provide samples of the music choices.
Listeners accessing our programmes from abroad are occasionally reporting problems playing some of our archive content.
If you’re getting persistent error messages, you can try this work-around: scroll down the page and look for the yellow Download MP3 button. Depending on what browser you are using, the audio should simply start playing or you will be able to download it to your computer. The full-length iPlayer and the downloadable versions are identical as far as the conversation is concerned, but the latter has shortened music for copyright reasons.
At the moment, our agreements with copyright holders mean we can only include shortened versions of tracks in downloadable versions of our programmes. For musical choices we can include up to 1’00” of classical or jazz tracks and up to 0’30” of commercial recordings. In addition, we do not have the rights to certain speech extracts, particularly sports commentary.
Again, it’s a matter of our rights agreements. In some instances, particularly with sports commentaries, we’re unable to rebroadcast the Castaway’s choice of extract in either the downloadable or the on-demand version
Yes, you can visit a mobile version of this site on any smartphone, or mobile phone with a web browser.
Just like the desktop website, you can find out what every castaway has chosen. Most smartphones will allow you to listen to the programmes, or download them.
You can also listen to live programmes and download podcasts on the iPlayer Radio app.
For technical reasons, the version of the programme you’ll hear via the mobile site is the shorter, edited version. We are working to offer the longer version on mobiles.
The information is part of the Desert Island Discs archive and was sourced from the original material which was written about each programme at the time of broadcast. We are using the words that were written to promote, describe or introduce the programme at the time, taken from various databases and (some defunct) online systems and from the BBC archives.
The editorial principle underpinning the website is that every piece of data is part of the overall Desert Island Disc archive, and much of what was said captures a particular moment in the castaway’s life which puts the interview itself in the context of the time it was recorded. In addition, updating the information would have been an on-going project that required considerable resources.
We'd love to have a suitable image for every castaway but it hasn’t been possible to source a high quality digital image for everyone yet.
However, if you are a castaway for whom we don’t have an image, and might be able to provide us with one, please contact us via the Contact Us form.
Decisions about how to group our castaways were based on the occupations of those who have appeared on the programme. Some occupations are better represented than others, and others feature more in the early years than they do now, reflecting how society has changed since the programme began.
It was a challenge to coherently group the eclectic mix of luxuries chosen by Desert Island Discs guests and this caused much debate. It is obviously unscientific but at least provides some options for comparing one castaway’s choices with another.
With a data-rich site like Desert Island Discs, and despite the checking we have already carried out pre-launch, there are bound to be elements of the data that are incorrect or missing. In some cases, people may disagree with the decisions we’ve taken about how to name musicians and musical tracks.
However we have tried, as far as possible, to standardise the naming and formatting of track descriptions in order to maximise the efficiency of the search facility.
We'd very much like to hear if you discover any information that is factually incorrect or missing on the site. Please use the contact us form.
If you’d like to bring something about this site to our attention, there is a contact us form on every page of the website. All emails will be read but we can’t undertake to answer every one individually.
If you wish to report a fault, mistake or broken link on our website, please use the contact us form.
For problems with BBC iPlayer, please visit BBC iPlayer Help.
If you’re concerned about something in one of the archive programmes we’ve published on the site, please contact us using the contact us form.
The format is simple – a guest is invited to choose eight discs, a book and a luxury to take with them as they’re castaway on a mythical desert island. They’re given the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible. During the interview they explain their choices and discuss key moments in their lives, people and events that have influenced and inspired them and brought them to where they are today.
For more information about the programme see the History of Desert Island Discs.
There have been four presenters of the programme since it began in 1942 – Roy Plomley, Michael Parkinson (now Sir), Sue Lawley & Kirsty Young.
Castaways are people who’ve played a significant role in their field or in society and who have a story they’re happy to share, and who we feel will appeal to the Radio 4 audience.