On 7th August 1961, Gerald Durrell was the guest on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs programme.
For those unfamiliar with Desert Island Discs, it is a weekly show that invites a different guest – well-known figures of course – to imagine they are about to be cast away on a desert island. The guests are asked to choose eight pieces of music, a book (guests are told they automatically get to take the Compete Works of Shakespeare and the Bible) and a luxury item (which cannot be something they could use to escape the island or communicate with the outside world) to take with them, and are asked to talk about each choice.
Through their choices, listeners can of course get insights into the guest’s personalities, histories and tastes. Excerpts from each choice are also played on air.
The show has the distinction of being the longest-running factual programme in radio history, and is also one of the world’s longest running radio shows.
When Durrell appeared on the show, he was interviewed by its original creator and host, Roy Plomley, who passed away in 1985.
Sadly, the BBC does not have available the recording of Durrell’s appearance, but it does have a record of his choices, which are interesting.
Durrell, who I imagine would be most at home (although terribly lonely) on a desert island as long as it had sufficient wildlife and some sort of bar, chose writing materials as his luxury item, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica as his book.
Durrell’s eight music choices reflect both his sense of humour and his interest in world cultures.
His favourite track is Symphony No 8 in F Major (Opus 93) by Ludwig van Beethoven.
The other seven choices were:
1. Rex Harrison: A Hymn to Him (from My Fair Lady)
2. Zulu Music – Guabi Guabi (a traditional South African folk song in Zulu)
3. Chorus with Mandolin and Orchestra – The Almond Tree
5. Flanders and Swann – A Gnu (hardly surprising Durrell chose this wonderful comic song about a gnu!)
6. Eartha Kitt – Just An Old Fashioned Girl
7. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Der Hölle Rache (from The Magic Flute)