Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Dad's Army's Desert Island Discs - Part 1 : Arthur Lowe

Desert Island Discs has the distinction of been the third longest running radio programme in the world, after The Daily Service (1928) and A Week in Westminster (1929).

Roy Plomley, the series creator developed the programme concept in 1941. His initial idea was to make a series of programmes where personalities from the world of stage, science, film, politics and music would become "castaways" and be sent to a desert island, armed with eight 78rpm records. The “castaway” would then reveal their musical choices and also the relevance of the records to their lives.

A year later, the idea became a reality when the BBC Home Service broadcast the first ever Desert Island Discs programme, presented by Plomley himself with his first castaway; Vic Oliver. The programme opened with its eternally famous signature tune, Eric Coates 1942 recording of “By the Sleepy Lagoon”', and the rest as they say is history...

Over the years, many personalities have been stranded on the famous desert island, but of particular interest to Dad’s Army fans are the appearances of five of the shows regular stars, Arthur Lowe (Captain Mainwaring), John Le Mesurier (Sergeant Wilson), Clive Dunn (Lance-Corporal Jones), John Laurie (Private Frazer) and Arnold Ridley (Private Godfrey), all who made appearances on the programme between 1970 and 1976, on BBC Radio 4. Over the coming weeks Retrospace will take a look at these appearances and shed some light on the actors choices...

As with many BBC programmes from this era, TV and Radio shows of non-repeatable value were not kept by the BBC archives. This unfortunately seems to include Arthur Lowe’s appearance on Desert Island Discs which was broadcast 39 years ago this week on December 12 1970.

However, Roy Plomley did record Arthur’s choices for posterity in his book ‘Desert Island List’s’ of which author Graham McCann referred to in his 2001 book ‘Dad’s Army- The Story of a Classic Television Show’.
Arthur Lowe’s choices were well thought out. Referring to his biography by his son Stephen, it is easy to see how meticulous he was at keeping a diary and recording every single acting engagement. His love of music was obviously recalled in a similar manner as his choices adopt an almost chronological feel.

His first choice was Tosti’ “Parted” by Peter Dawson which reminded him of his father singing the song from happy musical evenings during his childhood in Manchester. His teenage years were remembered with fondness as he listened to “Love is The Sweetest Thing” performed by Al Bowlly with Ray Noble and his Orchestra.

Glenn Miller’s standard “At Last” was a recording that both Arthur and his wife Joan adopted as their own. Arthur recalled his own early theatrical days from the Jack Hylton production of Irving Berlin’s “Call Me Madam” in which he played Senator Brockbank. Shani Wallis and Jeff Warren’s version of “It’s been a lovely Day today” from the same production was featured as his fifth choice.

Debussy’s “La Mer” was revealed as his favourite recording, and his eighth and final choice brought the listener bang up to date as it was “Who Do You Think You are Kidding Mr. Hitler?” by Bud Flanagan, the theme to Dad’s Army, and a song he had recorded himself only a year earlier.

Arthur Lowe’s Desert Island Choices In Full :
  1. Tosti ‘Parted’ Peter Dawson 
  2. Love is The Sweetest Thing Al Bowlly / Ray Noble and his Orchestra
  3. At Last Glenn Miller and his Orchestra
  4. Litolff, Concerto Symphonique No.4 in D Minor (Scherzo) Clifford Curzon piano / LPO/Boult
  5. Berlin, It’s a Lovely Day Today (from “Call Me Madam”) Shani Wallis & Jeff Warren
  6. Bach’s Concerto in C Minor Paul Badura-Skoda and Jorg Demus pianos / Vienna State Opera Orchestra/ Redel
  7. Debussy,‘La Mer’ NPO / Boulez – Favourite recording
  8. Who do you think you are Kidding Mr. Hitler? - Bud Flanagan
When quizzed by Plomley as to what luxury he would take to the Desert Island he replied “a dozen cases of my best claret”. And a book apart from the Bible, complete works of Shakespeare and big encyclopaedias? Arthur responded practically and in true Captain Mainwaring style. He would take a book about tropical plants so that he would know which of the island’s berries he could eat.
  • The recording of Arthur Lowe's appearance on Desert Island Discs no longer exists, however if you are able to provide any information regarding to his appearance on the programme, or even a recording I would be more than pleased to hear from you. Any updates will be included in future posts.
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