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Saturday, 30 March 2013

days of the living dead

I've been spending quite a long time with the living dead recently, and I've been having a whale of a time.

I've not become a zombie I hasten to add. No, I've been treating myself to hours and hours with some of the great minds, intellects, musicians, singers and comedians of the twentieth century. At the moment, I'm still having a ball back in the 1950's, where the dead are still very much alive.

It all started back in January here...
A New Year and a treat for 2013

So, I started off with morning coffee tea with  the actress and writer Naomi Jacob, lunch with Joan Sutherland, the opera singer, tea with film director Paddy Carstairs, wine with Alfred Hitchcock, and was washing my smalls as Benny Hill the comedian tried so hard to please.

Over the last few months I've been listening to the most amusing conversations , some stilted ones which just did'nt quite jell,and some which made me want to know so much more about that person..

Most of the people who I'm listening to have perfect diction....received pronunciation for some, their voices conjure up a different world. A different country, a post war world, where one keeps one 's innermost feelings to oneself, and one is oh so polite.

I'm listening to Desert Island Discs...not just a couple of programmes , but the complete archive of Desert Island Discs which is available on the BBC website, in chronological order from the very first broadcast presented by Roy Plomley.

Imagine you've washed up on a desert island. Alone. You can choose eight records to listen to, a book to read, and select one luxury while you're on the island. That's the premise of the programme since the 1940's  - so simple, yet still so entertaining.

As I said, I'm immersing myself in the fifties at the moment, and I've decided to ban myself from listening to current Desert Island Discs programmes for a while...because although the format of the programme is still the same, what you hear is so utterly different. These days there's a real warmth to presenter Kirsty Young's questioning, and the interviewees, as a whole ,are so much more open and candid about their lives.

Back in the1950's, the programmes were amusing half hour interludes, but without the depth of today. For example , the comedian Jimmy Edwards was interviewed for the first time in 1951. He'd attended the same school as Roy Plomley , who devised and presented the show for nearly 2,000 editions.There was a sort of gung ho humour and banter between them, but it wasn't until I googled Jimmy's life that I found out that during the war, serving in the Royal Air Force, he was shot down over Arnhem.

 I remember seeing Jimmy Edwards on TV as a child, and always wondered why he wore such a large handle bar moustache. Well, it was to hide the facial injuries he's sustained in the war, and he was actually a member of the Guinea Pig Club. The club consisted of patients of a surgeon called Archibald McIndoe who underwent experimental reconstructive plastic surgery generally after being burnt in aircraft during the Second World War.

There's so many aural treats here listening to the archive....listening to those who knew names that we are in awe of these days. At school, our choirmaster would always wax lyrically about Sir Malcom Sargent, the composer and conductor, who lived as a child so close by in Melton Mowbray and played at the deMontfort Hall. Thanks to Desert island Discs, I can hear him ...the man who got his big break from Sir Henry Wood...and who continued Wood's legacy of the Proms.

It's all such fascinating stuff. ..why don't you just dive in, and listen to a few programmes? Tex Ritter, Dave Brubeck, Sir Thomas Beecham, Paul Robeson, Count Basie , a very young David Attenborough,...the list is endless....and that's just from the 1950's.....

And you'll find some lovely people who you would really like to have known. I'd never heard of Naomi Jacob, before I began to access the archive, and there's sadly only a five minute clip available, which was recorded six years before she died. A writer and actress, she was such fun to listen to, with such interesting stories. Serving as a VAD in France during the First World War, she got trench foot...yet so jolly with a  wonderfully rich Yorkshire voice.

And there's so many more like her to discover over the coming months. These castaways are waiting for you, as well as me on that desert island.They'll be there with their favourite records'll hear some wonderfully stirring, sad, funny songs and they'll share their luxuries with you too.

Today's track is from David Gilmour..called On the Island. It's a brilliant, live performance of a beautiful song, performed at the Albert Hall . Apparently David wrote about it..."It's an atheistic song, you could say, about how people live on in your dreams and your memories. And that's the only place I can meet up with these people. It's a very sad thing, remembered with joy."



  1. What a great idea - and isn't it wonderful that the BBC has hung onto this programme - it has adapted with the years, but the basic premise stays the same. And it's often full of surprises - the guests who you think might be interesting are tedious, while someone you've never heard of turns out to be fascinating! Happy listening.

    1. You're right...there's lots of surprises when you's like meeting people too.I always thought that I wouldn't like Diana dors...but when I did meet her, and she invited me to lunch , she was fascinating..adn so funny...

  2. Gosh I didn't realise you were still listening to that. I can't access it on my iPad which is infuriating!

    1. Oh yes Ros, and I will be listening for years at this rate...there's thousands of programmes to go too! And I know you are surgically attached to your iPad, but do have a listen on one of your other computers! You won't regret it...