Desert Island Discs was thought up by Roy Plomley, “an unsuccessful actor turned slightly more successful radio broadcaster”, in November 1941, says Miranda Carter in the London Review of Books. “It was brilliantly timed.” The BBC was desperate for good light entertainment, and what could be more appealing in the middle of wartime than escaping to a quiet, sunny desert island? Plomley duly became the first host of what is now the world’s longest-running interview show. Desert Island Discs even has its own urban myth, in which Brigitte Bardot, who never actually appeared on the programme, says she wants “a peenis” for her luxury. “Choking on his microphone,” Plomley eventually realises she means “’appiness”.
Plomley hosted until his death in 1985, and from 2006 to 2018 the show had its greatest presenter, Kirsty Young. She “had a genius for asking the right follow-up question”. It was Young to whom Tom Hanks tearfully described his lonely childhood, and Yoko Ono recounted witnessing John Lennon’s murder. Plomley always had more interest in the music than in personal revelations. When the pianist Liberace was on, he revealed: “I am very happy with my success, but I look back at former times when I enjoyed simple pleasures that I can’t seem to enjoy now.” Plomley replied: “Right. Let’s have record number four.”