Desert Island Discs at 75: What tracks did Flintshire celebrities pick?


Jamie Bowman

ON Sunday, BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs will sail into its 75th anniversary with former professional footballer and ex-England captain David Beckham as the castaway.

On-air celebrations will begin tomorrow with a special three-hour programme on BBC Radio 4 Extra featuring some of the wonderful voices from the archive and extracts from recently rediscovered episodes, which will also be restored to the show’s online archive.

Sunday’s episode of Desert Island Discs will also pay homage to the occasion by re-introducing the sound of sea wash to the opening and closing of the programme for the first time since the 1960s.

Since it was first heard on January 29, 1942, the programme has invited over 3,000 guests to talk about their lives and choose eight songs, a book and a luxury item that they would take with them to a desert island.

Of those 3,000 there have been very few from Flintshire, Wrexham or Chester, with famous names including Ian Rush, Rhys Ifans and Jade Jones never having appeared on the much-loved show.

In fact, only two locals have been cast adrift on the famous desert island, with none since 1990 when actor Jonathan Pryce appeared with presenter Sue Lawley on Friday May 25 of that year.

Fresh from the success of his all-singing, award-winning performance in the West End’s biggest hit of the year, Miss Saigon, Pryce talked to presenter Sue Lawley about about his accidental entry into the acting world and the pitfalls and pleasures of his profession while also revealing a lot about his early life growing up in Carmel, near Holywell, where he attended Holywell Grammar School.

“I wasn’t exactly expelled, but it was suggested that I didn’t return by my then headmaster Mr Sidney Davies,” he says, describing his time at the school.

“We didn’t get on for the five years I was there and most of our meetings were in the corridors of Holywell Grammar School.”

He also remembers his first performace while on a day trip to Rhyl, adding: “My earliest public singing was on the beach front at Rhyl when I won a talent show singing Lonnie Donnegan’s My Old Man’s a Dustman.”

Pryce picked songs by JJ Cale, Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Ella Fitzgerald before picking Franz Schubert’s Cello Quintent In C as his favourite track.

For his favourite book, the actor who was 42 at the time of the interview, chose Short Stories by Bernarad MacLaverty and went for an endless supply of rum punch as his luxuary item.

Following his Desert Island Discs appearance, Pryce went on to star with Madonna in Evita and as a James Bond villain opposite Piers Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies.

In recent years he has featured in hit fantasy series Game of Thrones as the High Sparrow and can currently be seen on BBC One as Sir Stuart Strange in Taboo.

Fourteen years previously on Monday, May 3, 1976, Sir Willliam Gladstone appeared with the show’s original presenter and creator Roy Plomley.

Sir Willliam, who is now 92 and lives in Hawarden Castle, was invited on to the programme in his role as Chief Scout of the United Kingdom, a title he held from 1972 to 1982.

He talked about being the great-grandson of the former prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone, and his education at Eton, where his father was a tutor.

Sir William joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in 1943 and saw action in the Second World War, mainly based on destroyers in the Indian Ocean.

Upon leaving the navy he received an honours degree in history at Christ Church, Oxford. He then entered the teaching profession, with positions at Shrewsbury and Eton, and he became headmaster of Lancing in 1961. He retired from the teaching profession in 1969.

In between his chosen tracks, which included works by Elgar, Beethoven and Mozart, Sir William described the Hawarden Estate, saying: “We have two castles, but one is a ruin and the other is a Georgian house made to look like a castle.”

When Plomley asked him what he’d least miss about being stranded on a desert island he replied: “The noise and the rush of life.”

He added: “With my musical choices I wanted to cover European society from the end of the 17th century to the early 20th century and that will provide me with all the company I want.”

For his book, Sir William didn’t hesitate in picking The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon and for his luxuary he chose a painting of the Chinese Temple at Virginia Water by landscape painter James Baker Pyne.

Today, in the hands of current presenter Kirsty Young, Desert Island Discs continues its reign as one of BBC Radio’s most loved programmes with a weekly on-air audience of 2.8 million.


Desert Island Discs at 75 will air on BBC Radio 4 Extra tomorrow at 9am and will be available to download as a podcast after broadcast.

Desert Island Discs Revisited begins its run of notable guests on Radio 4 Extra on Sunday at 10.15am.

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