20 comedy castaways | The best of Desert Island Discs

20 comedy castaways

The best of Desert Island Discs

As Desert Island Discs celebrates its 75th birthday on Radio 4 today, here are 20 comedy figures who have appeared on the show, including the luxury item and book they wood take, and the favourite of all the tracks they chose.

Victoria Wood

Year: 2007
Interviewer: Kirsty Young
Favourite track: What a Fool Believes by The Doobie Brothers
Book: A big book by Charles Dickens
Luxury: A bumper book of Sudoku with blank pages & pens
In this frank interview, Wood described how, as a teenager, she felt she was a misfit - she had few friends, she struggled with her weight and at school she used to steal other people's homework - yet found herself when she joined a youth theatre.
Listen here.

Les Dawson

Year: 1978
Interviewer: Roy Plomley
Favourite track: Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte by Maurice Ravel
Book: Trustee From The Toolroom by Nevil Shute
Luxury: Piece of Georgian furniture
Dawson can't help himself cracking jokes – saying that when he learnt piano 'My father used to help me keep time by banging the lid up and down on my fingers' – but also reveals some of the stories of his life.
Listen here.

Michael McIntyre

Year: 2011
Interviewer: Kirsty Young
Favourite track: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered - Ella Fitzgerald
Book: The Complete Prose of Woody Allen
Luxury: A pen

McIntyre spoke of how he ran up debts of more than £30,000 before making it as a stand-up, and how he was stung by criticism, especially from other comedians, at the British Comedy Awards. 'Quite a few people were making jokes at my expense,' he said. 'It just made me feel awful, because I am there with my wife and she has gone out and bought a dress. And it is my big night and I won, and yet the overriding experience was that of nastiness. For what reason, I don't know. I don't know what I was doing – just making people laugh.'
Listen here.

Bob Monkhouse

Year: 1999
Interviewer: Sue Lawley
Favourite track: Adagio for Strings, Opus 11 by Samuel Barber
Book: The Adventures of Alice by Lewis Carroll
Luxury: Clarinet
The slick comedian let through a glimpse of his real life behind the smarm in this interview, not least in a touching discussion of his son Gary, who was born with severe cerebral palsy – and how he used comedy to cope with tragedies in his life.
Listen here.

Ricky Gervais

Year: 2007
Interviewer: Kirsty Young
Favourite track: Lilywhite by Cat Stevens
Book: A coffee table book of art
Luxury: Vat of novocaine
Gervais explained he won't have children because 'babies are scroungers', and saud: 'We are worried about being pretentious, but there is nothing wrong about putting art into comedy'
Listen here.

Dave Allen

Year: 1975
Interviewer: Roy Plomley
Favourite track: Canon In D by Johann Pachelbel
Book: Ballard of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde
Luxury: Painting by Van Hook
Only ten minutes remain of this episode, but they are available on iPlayer. He tells of how he records 250 sketches for a six-episode series, and cuts away the ones that didn't get a laugh, and how priests and nuns enjoy his comedy - but laypeople get upset on their behalf
Listen here.

Russell Brand

Year: 2013
Interviewer: Kirsty Young
Favourite track: Triple Manta byNirinjan Kaur
Book: Bhagavad Gita
Luxury: A stuffed Noel Gallagher
Brand said that despite his wild past 'in the end I'd just like to sit down and watch telly with someone and hold hands', and that he thought the Sachsgate scandal had blown up because of an 'anti-BBC agenda'.
Listen here.

Vic Reeves

Year: 2003
Interviewer: Sue Lawley
Favourite track: Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams
Book: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome
Luxury: Potato seeds
When offered the Bible he said he wouldn't want it – and would use it for firewood, and his song choices included a track by Marxist avant-rock group Henry Cow
Listen here.

Billy Connolly

Year: 2002
Interviewer: Sue Lawley
Favourite track: Long Gone Lonesome Blues by Hank Williams
Book: Oxford English Dictionary
Luxury: Banjo
Since recording this show, Connolly developed Parkinson's disease which makes it impossible for him to play his beloved banjo.
Listen here.

Johnny Vegas

Year: 2010
Interviewer: Kirsty Young
Favourite track: Hurt by- Johnny Cash
Book: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
Luxury: A kiln
'I found popularity through self-destruction,' Vegas admitted to Young, 'And that can be quite addictive'. But this interview came as he started to clean up his life and cut back on the drinking. 'Life's actually turned around and been very good to me,' he said.
Listen here.

Kenny Everett

Year: 1994
Interviewer: Sue Lawley
Favourite track: Symphonic Prelude by Giacomo Puccini
Book: Eagle annual
Luxury: Bathroom suite
'I'd like to die serene,' Ev said. 'I haven't been very serene in this life; it's been a turmoilish sort of life… I think I'd like to try a bit of serenity.'
Listen here.

Paul Merton

Year: 1993
Interviewer: Sue Lawley
Favourite track: Spreading by Kronos Quartet
Book: Buster Keaton Biography by Rudi Blesh
Luxury: Bed
An early appearance for a young Merton, describing his 'painful beginnings at London's Comedy Store, and his graduation from there to radio and television'.
Listen here.

Ernie Wise

Year: 1990
Interviewer: Sue Lawley
Favourite track: Bring Me Sunshine by Morecambe And Wise
Book: Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
Luxury: Yellow Rolls Royce
Six years after Eric Morecambe's death, Little Ern talks about how he had to carve out a showbusiness career on his own, as well as looking back on partnership of nearly 50 years. 'I do dream about him,' he confessed. 'We're always doing the double act.'
Listen here.

Juen Whitfield

Year: 1990
Interviewer: Sue Lawley
Favourite track: The Trolley Song by Judy Garland
Book: A do-it-yourself manual
Luxury: Supply of cocoa butter and hat
Ever-modest Whitfield describes herself as 'an actress with a vague understanding of comedy'. Quite the understatement for a stalwart of the genre from The Glums in the 1950s to Absolutely Fabulous.
Listen here.

Kenneth Williams

Year: 1987
Interviewer: Michael Parkinson
Favourite track: 1st Movement from Spring Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven
Book: The Golden Treasury by Francis Palgrave
Luxury: Crate of cologne
Amid his usual anecdotes, the Carry On and Hancock's Half Hour star admits that when he looks back at his diaries he thinks of himself: 'What an arrogant little nasty person' and regrets his compulsion to 'show off at someone else's expense.'
Listen here.

Steve Coogan

Year: 2009
Interviewer: Kirsty Young
Favourite track: We Have All the Time in the World by Louis Armstrong
Book:The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
Luxury: Fully-restored Morris Minor Traveller with wooden detail.
Coogan told Young that he didn't deal with his early fame very well, and that lurid accounts of his personal life being splashed across the tabloiad made him 'hysterical'. He said: 'I was staggered that anyone would be remotely interested in my personal life. I didn't really understand that I was famous and so it was a shock to me.'
Listen here.

Spike Milligan

Year: 1978
Favourite track: Yesterday by The Beatles
Book: Future Shock by Alvin Toffler
Luxury: Barclaycard
Milligan thinks 'eventually you'd get haunted by being on your own' when stuck on the island and shares his thoughts about overpopulation and vegetarianism.
Listen here.

Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran

Year: 2015
Interviewer: Kirsty Young
Favourite track: Gran chose You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman by Aretha Franklin; Marks chose St Matthew's Passion
Book: Gran declined the Bible, which all castaways are offered, and took the Koran (in case he was rescued by Somalian pirates he'd have something to talk about) ) the Collected Works of Evelyn Waugh; and Marks took his own diaries, which he'd never read.
Luxury: Gran chose a noisy drum kit and Marks chose a selection of wines, and a refrigerator
Writers for Frankie Howerd and creators of Alan B'Stard, and Birds of a Feather, Marks and Gran told of how first met as ten year olds at a youth club, growing up to have 'real jobs' in the civil service and journalism, before embarking on their comedy writing career.
Listen here.

Marty Feldman

Year: 1968
Interviewer: Roy Plomley
Favourite track: Concerto in D Minor for Oboe, Strings and Continuo (Opus 9 No 2) by Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni
Book: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Luxury: Piano (as he wasn't allowed his wife)
In this rather poor-quality recording, Feldman said he would enjoy the solitude on the island. Among his choices were Will Hay's theme tune Oh Mr Porter, as played on the mighty fairground organ built for the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. 'It's awful,' he admits. 'But it's lovely in it's awful way'.
Listen here.

Benny Hill

Year: 1959
Interviewer: Roy Plomley
Favourite track: Le Gamin de Paris by Yves Montand
Book: Collection of language courses
Luxury: : Film camera
Another episode for which only a few minutes exist, but it's still of historic interest as Hill explains how he started in the business. In 2006, Hill would make another appearance on the programme – when David Cameron chose his comedy song Ernie as one of his selection.
Listen here.

• Click here for all the comedy figures who have appeared on the show. The 75th anniversary edition of Desert Island Discs, featuring David Beckham, is on Radio 4 at 11.15am today.

Published: 29 Jan 2017

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