Devised by Roy Plomley in 1942, the BBC’s “Desert Island Discs” may well  be the longest running radio series in the world. And it is still running today after over 3,000 episodes. An institution.

The format was relatively simple, the theme being how would one cope if cast away on a desert island. Each guest would be asked to choose 8 favourite records to take with them. And they can choose a book and a luxury item.

Initially it was a half hour format, then extended to 45 minutes, with only a section of each record played.
Roy Plomley was the host till his death in 1985.
An invitation to appear in the show was a sure sign of success.

The well known signature tune was “Sleepy Lagoon”, written in 1930 by Eric Coates.

The BBC has released over 500 episodes on BBC Sounds  ( and I trawled through to find any Hollywood connections.

The earliest recording is from 1950 and featured Margaret Lockwood.

Rex Harrison chose seven Benny Goodman tracks, saying “I just love jazz.”

Joan Bennett  appeared in 1963. Unfortunately it is not one that is available to hear.

Joan’s luxury item was suntan lotion!

Joan Bennett


Barbara, Ben ,Bebe and Richard Lyon.

The first one I listened to recently was from 1956 and the star was Bebe Daniels.

In the half hour format, there seemed little time for in depth questioning . In fact Plomley spent most time asking Bebe how she would cope on a desert island. Her extensive career in silent films was glossed over.

She did say Rudolph Valentino was easy to get on with , had great charm and a sense of humour. ( they were in “MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE (1924).

Bebe commented: “My father was born in Edinburgh….I was carried on stage at ten weeks…..I was seven when I made my first film……did lots of westerns.


Bebe named Bing Crosby as her favourite vocalist, and she chose Bing singing “Granada.”  She had known Bing  since 1931. She also chose her daughter Barbara singing ‘Stowaway’.

Bebe’s final music choice was one of my favourites- ‘The Coronation Scot’ which I always associate with the PAUL TEMPLE radio series.

Bebe’s luxury item was a typewriter and paper – “I’d like to write a mystery.” 



Fred Zinnemann was 83 when he was the castaway in 1991.

Fred Zinnemann

The director’s music choice was mainly classical – Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler and Bach. He also chose Cab Calloway and George Gershwin.

Fred Zinnemann (1907-1997) had studied law but said , “Instead of going to lectures, I went to movies.”

He had suffered anti-semitism in Vienna  and thought that was why he was drawn to the outsider who doesn’t quite belong.

His family wound up in Auschwitz – he did not want to talk about that subject.

In 1927, aged 20, he studied film in Paris and came to America  in 1929 with an introduction to Carl Laemmle,head of Universal.

He spent the 1930s making shorts.It was 1942 before he got to direct his first feature – KID GLOVE KILLER.

Of THE SEARCH ( which I rate highly), he said, “it was not suitable for a star – we needed someone unknown…I met young stage actor Montgomery  Clift and found him absolutely marvellous.”

Music was his first love and was happy to do OKLAHOMA after “From Here To Eternity.”

On colorisation: “A sign of the times – squeeze the last penny out of everything.”

His luxury item was a very large, self renewing luxury bottle of Scotch!

Winner of five Oscars, Zinnemann made less than thirty films – only eight each in the 30s and 40s and only three in the 60s and two in the 70s.

When asked if he looked at any of his films ,he said, “I sometimes look out of curiosity. I don’t spend too much time  reminiscing .”


Marlon Brando, Fred Zinnemann, Montgomery Clift.




Marlene Dietrich

Interviewed in her dressing room in a West End theatre in 1965, Marlene Dietrich declared she did not fear living in isolation on the desert island.

6 responses »

  1. Thanks for the Desert Island Discs link, Vienna. I’ve just listened to the Fred Zinnemann episode and found it very interesting. His memory failed him, however, when he said that All Quiet On The Western Front was the only film he appeared in as an actor. He also appeared in The Search as an UNRRA interpreter.

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