69 years, almost 3000 shows, more music selections than my brain can process ... and now it's all online. The BBC's new Desert Island Discs website is my New Favourite Thing.
This is an exhaustive and beautifully cross-referenced archive of every guest, all of their musical selections, their book of choice and their one luxury item. It's magnificently searchable. Limit your search to a name, musical selection, book or luxury item, or just search everything. Or browse by occupation (hundreds of keywords), presenter, gender (797 women, 2062 men, are we really surprised?) or whether the program is available to listen to online — over 500 of them already are.
It gets niftier. Search a composer or artist, and each guest who picked them is listed, with the relevant selection alongside — and ranked in order of frequency. Which means I can tell you, for instance, that Rita Hunter and Enoch Powell hold the joint record for Most Wagner, with four selections (out of eight) each. Read one person's selections, and each entry comes with a link to see ALL guests who chose that artist/composer/author/luxury item. Who shares Mirella Freni's love for the Latin American folk group Inti-Illimani? Why, Emma Thompson, of course, thirty-three years later.
I am in database love. I've always been a fan of this show — it combines music and list-making, what's not to like — and seeing it all catalogued like this is just, well, cool. Also addictive. I can't stop trawling it.
So I now know that both Roberto Alagna and Isobel Baillie would take a guitar to their island (as would Colin Firth), that Anthony Rolfe Johnson wanted "a parquet floor and tap shoes", that Janet Baker loves Jane Austen's Persuasion like I do, and that Beverly Sills's #1 choice of music was Ljuba Welitsch singing Salome. I know that only Imelda Staunton and Bernard Cornwell would take my favourite singer, Alison Krauss with them, and that they'd both take the same song.
Speaking of my favourites, 34 guests selected something by Janacek, and most of them had something to do with opera or the arts in general. 152 went for a bit of Britten — including Peter Pears, whose second appearance saw him choose only music by himself, Ben, or both of them. And Richard Strauss? 218 fans, of whom 28 picked the trio from Rosenkavalier. 5 of them chose "Grossmächtige Prinzessin"; nobody chose "Es gibt ein Reich." Figaro outranks Cosi and Don Giovanni and Kristin Scott Thomas likes Strauss's "Morgen", as if we needed more proof of her greatness.
All Three Tenors picked a Caruso track, and so did Jon Vickers and Roald Dahl. Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders both included some Wagner: Tannhäuser overture and Parsifal Act I Prelude respectively. Stephen Sondheim has appeared twice, twenty years apart, and has not wavered in his choice of book: the works of E.B. White. Anthony Horowitz likes Tippet and Britten. John Cleese wants to take "Michael Palin - stuffed" as his luxury item. In 1953, Geraldine McEwan was a Paul Robeson fan; asked again today, she might change one of her song choices. And yes, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf famously picked only recordings of herself, but five years later, Birgit Nilsson came very close to doing the same.
I must stop. This is already far more than anybody other than myself could find interesting. The point is, I (obviously) recommend this site to your attention. Amuse yourself for a few minutes — or, as in my case, an entire day. It's not perfect: there's a bug and an error here or there, which is hardly surprising and easily forgiven. (My favourite is a cataloguing glitch which has all Debussy's works, regardless of pianist, credited as compositions by James Rhodes.) But it's such an impressive achievement and So. Much. Fun.
And now, for having come this far (if anyone actually has!) here's a thematically appropriate musical reward. Patricia Petibon with an aria from Haydn's L'isola disabitata.