The Desert Island Discs Archive

Your chance to discuss other performers from the golden age of British cinema.

The Desert Island Discs Archive

Postby thehistoryofmrpolly » Tue Nov 22, 2011 10:27 pm

For those who haven't yet seen the first wave of the Desert Island Discs archive which went online in April of this year, there is now a marvellous treasure trove of interviews stretching back to 1998 available for download, as well as data on all the show's guests back to 1942. We can only hope that as many of these earlier episodes which are still extant will similarly be made available for listening in time, as they contain interviews with hundreds of the greatest figures from classic British cinema - including all of those celebrated on this site, apart from Sid Field, Julia Lockwood and, inexplicably, Patricia Roc - but with two each from Margaret Lockwood, James Mason and Stewart Granger to make up the difference.

For now, though, perhaps some of you will be interested in a few links to the pages of former castaways whom you can now hear who seemed to me to be particularly relevant to devotees of the Silver Sirens era:

Sir John Mills, broadcast 7th May 2000

Jill Balcon, 14th October 2007

Sir Norman Wisdom, 6th August 2000

Virginia McKenna (perhaps a bit borderline for the era, but included for completeness), 26th September 2004

and the very underrated director Lewis Gilbert from 20th June 2010.

Enjoy!

—Marc David
Last edited by thehistoryofmrpolly on Sat Nov 26, 2011 2:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Richard Williams » Fri Nov 25, 2011 10:02 pm

Excellent find, Marc David - thanks! Look forward to being able to hear more of the pre-1998 recordings, including Margaret Lockwood on Desert Island Discs.

Have you read Lewis Gilbert's autobiography, All My Flashbacks: The Autobiography of Lewis Gilbert? Nothing on Cast a Dark Shadow, alas.
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Postby thehistoryofmrpolly » Sat Nov 26, 2011 3:47 pm

Glad you've enjoyed them! Alas, the plan appears to be to go in blocks of 500 broadcasts, so it may be a while before we get to her - but perhaps the next update could be from the oldest rather than from the most recent, which I believe would give us the 1951 Margaret Lockwood appearance. I can't wait to hear what she has to say about her love of Ride Of The Valkyries!

Still, if they do insist on going with the most recent first, then the next update will bring things to late 1986 or early 1987 - which will at least give us Sir Michael Hordern, Petula Clark, Dora Bryan and Dirk Bogarde amongst others.

I haven't yet gotten a copy of Gilbert's autobiography; from what I've heard, he's not too forthcoming about most of his earlier work, actually (which are frankly what I'm mostly interested in). Still, I'd like to track it down. The book I'm really looking forward to is Jean Kent's forthcoming memoir, The Last Of The Gainsborough Girls, apparently in the works at this very moment! Hopefully, it will make up for that rather substandard Patricia Roc biography we've recently been 'treated' to....

Per All My Flashbacks, though, I've just discovered the interview Gilbert gave to The Film Programme at the time that came out. But nothing about Cast A Dark Shadow in this either, I'm afraid. However, it turns out that there are now a few further short interviews of interest from the programme similarly online, mostly from their British film season in the summer of 2009: the aforementioned Ms Jean Kent (sadly only 11 minutes in length), Sylvia Syms (17 minutes), the great cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (12 minutes) - and, from Christmas of that year, a truly lovely, twenty-five-minute interview with dear, late Googie Withers.
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Postby WickedLady » Mon Dec 26, 2011 11:29 pm

Interesting - but I must ask the question, do all these early editions actually exist in the archives? Knowing how much BBC material has been wiped, I would be surprised (but delighted) if Margaret and Jean's 1951 appearances existed.

Marc, I'm sure you already know that Petula's last edition, from 1995, is currently available to listen to. Also if interest is Chili Bouchier's appearance from 1996.
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Postby thehistoryofmrpolly » Thu Jan 12, 2012 6:09 pm

Doubtless, not all of the interviews are still extant - that is always the way of the archives, and not even having to stretch as far back as the 1950s, to be honest! However, I can definitely attest to some of the very earliest interviews surviving: for instance, Michael Powell's appearance on 24th October 1942 has been transcribed in the book Michael Powell Interviews, edited by David Lazar. I haven't heard the tape myself, but Lazar clearly had access to either a complete or substantial recording of the programme, including the continuity announcer's introduction! Considering that this was only the twenty-second edition of Desert Island Discs ever broadcast, and from its very first year of existence, I have a great deal of hope that later editions have also survived - especially those with long-popular film stars whose interviews would doubtless have proved popular enough to warrant repeated broadcasts.

Thank you also for mentioning the new selection of interviews now available (as of just a week or so after my original post, in fact!), including those of Petula Clark and Chili Bouchier (the latter of whom was in one of my personal favourite British silents, Anthony Asquith's film Shooting Stars). These now bring the archive up to the last one thousand editions - the complete tenure of Kirsty Young to date and, before her, Sue Lawley. Amongst these can now be found:

Dirk Bogarde, 31st December 1989

Rachel Kempson, Lady Redgrave, 30th April 1989

Dame Vera Lynn, 3rd September 1989 (on the fiftieth anniversary of the British entrance into World War II)

Character actresses Athene Seyler, 2nd October 1988, and Thora Hird, 14th May 1989

Shirley Anne Field, 14th November 1993

And a name which would have been most familiar to every British actor and actress of the 1940s and 1950s, the prolific film critic Dilys Powell, 24th November 1991

And, since it's online for another three days, a very recent interview with director Guy Hamilton from Radio Scotland's The Movie Cafe, in which he discusses working with Carol Reed and a good deal else of his pre-Bond work, including his impressions of David Niven and Alastair Sim.

—Marc David
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Postby thehistoryofmrpolly » Sat Jan 28, 2012 10:26 pm

I stand corrected! Alas, thanks to the recent 70th anniversary celebrations of Desert Island Discs, I've since discovered that those very oldest editions of the programme were, like much of the BBC's radio output of the time, scripted in advance, meaning that the source of the Michael Powell interview that I cited was it fact taken from its script rather than from a surviving recording.

However, it does turn out that the earliest surviving edition of the programme has been confirmed as dating from 1951. Indeed, this is not even quite so much lost as perhaps it seems, as there were only 65 episodes of the programme broadcast prior to that year, since the show was on hiatus for a full five years quite early on, and missed out a good deal of time on top of that. This does, unfortunately, mean that we have lost Stewart Granger's 1945 appearance, and ones with Deborah Kerr, Valerie Hobson, Michael Redgrave, Lady Eleanor Smith [author of The Man In Grey], Leslie Howard, Arthur Askey, Ivor Novello, Pat Kirkwood and Dame Celia Johnson.

BUT! One of the earliest surviving editions of the programme is indeed that of a certain castaway of 25th April 1951 - as you can hear yourself, as tantalisingly excerpted on this evening's Archive On 4 programme, Castaway: 70 Years Of Desert Island Discs. Yes, it's Margaret Lockwood herself, appearing from 13:59 to 14:44 (with an introduction from 13:47) and explaining in unmistakably mellifluous tones just why she was so fond of that Eton Boating Song which she picked on both of her appearances.

And, furthermore, another batch of podcast episodes has now appeared, taking us back to the beginning of 1986, more than twenty-five years ago, through the complete tenure of Michael Parkinson - meaning that practically every episode apart from those hosted by Roy Plomley himself is now online. This newest set of about a hundred includes one I've been long awaiting: that of Sir Michael Hordern, who - incidentally, made one of his very first appearances in the film A Girl In A Million, and appeared on Desert Island Discs on 15th February 1987. Also available now are:

Dora Bryan, 15th March 1987

and Kenneth Williams, 26th July 1987.

So is it perhaps only a short matter of time more until we start arriving at those 1981 appearances of Stewart Granger and James Mason (not to mention Lord Bernard Miles, Donald Sinden and Diana Dors en route)...?!
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Re: The Desert Island Discs Archive

Postby WickedLady » Wed Feb 15, 2012 12:18 pm

Courtesy of a friend...

The following is a list of all the episodes that are still known to survive from the 1950s. This list is taken straight off the BBC catalogue:

DESERT ISLAND DISCS:MARGARET LOCKWOOD. 25/04/51 [earliest surviving edition]
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:JIMMY EDWARDS..... 01/08/51
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:ALFREDO CAMPOLI... 21/08/53
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:TOD SLAUGHTER..... 24/03/55
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:SIR MALCOLM SARGEANT .... 28/04/55
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:EMLYN WILLIAMS.... 07/06/55
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:BEBE DANIELS...... 02/04/56
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:JIM LAKER......... 09/07/56
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:TEX RITTER........ 23/07/56
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:DENNIS BRAIN...... 13/08/56
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:FRED STREETER..... 15/07/57
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:LEOPOLD STOWKOWSKI 19/08/57
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:CHRISTOPHER STONE. 23/09/57
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:LUPINO LANE...... 30/12/57
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:BEN LYON.......... 17/02/58
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:BILLY MAYERL...... 21/04/58
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:ROY PLOMLEY....... 12/05/58
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:AGNES NICHOLLS.... 19/05/58
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:ELISABETH SCHWARZKOPF .... 28/07/58
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:ELSIE AND DORIS WATERS.... 11/08/58
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:NAOMI JACOB....... 23/08/58
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:HEPHZIBAH MENUHIN. 25/08/58
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:RICHARD DIMBLEBY.. 13/10/58
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:ELENA GERHARDT.... 10/11/58
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:JOHN OSBORNE...... 19/01/59
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:JUDY GRINHAM...... 09/03/59
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:LOTTE LEHMAN...... 22/06/59
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:JOHN SNAGGE....... 26/09/59
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:DAVE BRUBECK...... 12/10/59
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:ALFRED HITCHCOCK.. 19/10/59
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:ROBERTSON HARE.... 31/10/59
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:BENNY HILL........ 16/11/59
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:JOAN SUTHERLAND... 23/11/59
DESERT ISLAND DISCS:JOHN PADDY CARSTAIRS .... 07/12/59
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Re: The Desert Island Discs Archive

Postby thehistoryofmrpolly » Sun Mar 04, 2012 10:37 pm

Many thanks for the comprehensive - and, unlike my own, actually authoritative - reply! This list makes for illuminating, although admittedly also discouraging reading. (Although, curiously, some of the dates listed seem to contradict the online archives from the BBC.) Alas that Joan Greenwood's appearance from 1952 is not amongst the preserved! I dare say I was looking forward to hearing that one most of all.

However, whilst of course disappointing to see how much of the era is missing from the BBC's holdings (if only these thirty-four remain of the total 403 episodes of the 1950s!), I can't help but be enthusiastic to know for certain that the likes of J Robertson Hare, Jimmy Edwards, John Osborne, John Paddy Carstairs, et al are still represented there. And, considering that the majority of the ones you've listed are from 1958 and 1959 (ten each, albeit both from years with full programmes of fifty-two episodes), it would seem that things might be beginning to get at least a bit better than this by the start of the 1960s.

And, of course, how fortuitous to see that the very earliest surviving edition just so happens to be that Margaret Lockwood appearance. Clearly the work of a like-minded archivist of over sixty years ago!

—Marc David
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